Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Best foot forward

I've been spending quite a bit of time staring at my feet lately.

The snow storms of the last few weeks have made treks around town quite interesting, especially as the regular thaw-and-freeze cycle makes each journey different from the last. Watching my feet is a sort of exercise in self-preservation, although I confess I have still landed on my behind more than once.

As I've focused on the placement of my feet upon snow I've seen the tracks of animals, people, skis, bikes, and cars. Interesting patterns of ice. Crusts of frozen slush castles. My wet bootlaces. Feathers of birds-become-meals. And today, a dollar bill. (One of those a-typical rewards for being observant.)

Yesterday, however, I remembered how to look up.

Friends gathered from near and far for our annual Christmas Bird Count, and we were out at first light to tally up a sense of the fortunes of the feathered mortals. Oh, BRRRR! The time-and-temperature sign at the bank proclaimed 0 degrees Fahrenheit as we headed to the first stop at Sands Lake.

The lake was a wonderland. Mist rose from the surface in great clouds and froze in crystals on every twig, blade, and stone. Ducks and geese were floating spectres, appearing and disappearing in the fog, their heads tucked over frosted backs and down between wings. (It wasn't a scene particularly conducive to identifying and counting species, mind you. We decided to come back later.)

We spent the rest of the day distracted by every little movement, every odd shape in tree or shrub or sky, every chirp or squeak or chip. Nearly 300 pinyon jays swirled over a house on a hill-- a blue and gray (and much more raucous) echo of the earlier lake mist. A lone northern harrier quartered a barren field. Juncos perched on deck railings. Nuthatches bounced downside up through the trees. When the sun disappeared in the west we were still out, peering through the darkness at a great horned owl's silhouette just visible at the top of a power pole.

73 species and copious amounts of pizza after that first ethereal goose, we called it a day. One more look up, into the red-cheeked and weary smiles of my friends, and then? I only had eyes for my pillow.

1 comment:

  1. Great story from the bird count. You really do have a way with words...good job. It was a wonderful day.