The morning, quiet, bright. We were on our way to Stuttgart to cover more of the Wings Over The Prairie Festival when we saw the snow-covered field to the north of Highway 165, just outside of Humnoke. It was a chilly day, but not warm enough for snow. We realized what we were seeing was not cold precipitation but thousands of white snow geese.
Our assignment awaited a short distance down the road, but the view we were taking in was one of those rare things you never get in the city. Grav whispered “… stop.” I found a place and turned into a dirt road beside the field.
He held a finger to his lips. “Don’t scare them… just yet.” It seemed such a strange request, being so close to the road where traffic was passing by intermittently. But I followed his cue and turned off the engine.
Grav took his camera and quietly walked out into the field, watching the birds as he made his way closer. He took a shot, looked at it and looked back. I sat and watched, wondering what would happen next.
Further out into the field, he took another shot. The birds were paying him no attention. The sound of their quiet honks and twitters sounded like strange static on the wind.
Grav later told me “it was really still out there, even with all the birds at rest.”
He stood for a moment, taking one more shot. And then without any warning he took off running towards the birds. “OOGA BOOGA OOGA BOOGA! OOGA BOOGA OOGA BOOGA! FLY!” he hollered, waving his arms. He nearly lost his pants in his mad dash out into the field. I couldn’t help but start laughing hard.
And the air -- it was as if someone had turned on this celestial air unit… there was a significant uptake in the air, even as far away as I was. Grav was shooting constantly. The noise… that quiet static that had been punctuated softly with
squawks and honks, was now a cacophony of sound, a vastly out of tune symphony of thousands as each bird sounded their alarm in the wind, taking to the wing and moving as one, a gigantic wave of motion somehow acting as one gigantic hand, undulating back and forth like a conductor’s open palm, first rising and then sweeping out over the field and back towards us before rushing away again. The sound of wings flapping was like an audience of angels applauding, a thousand little waves crashing. They circled back and forth, their snow white wingtops alternating with gray bellies and the occasional goose that had not achieved that all-white plumage, a never ending pattern of alternating gray and white against an impossibly cyan blue sky.
Grav shot up into the sky, capturing a moment of insanity in the wind, the whipping back and forth of the current of birds above. What he could not capture was the sensation of motion in the crisp atmosphere, the almost shrill screaming of hollers from the avian onslaught, the light and almost imperceptible patter of bird scat hitting the ground. The echo of the crowd above reverberated all around the scene.
Grav started heading back towards the car. The birds were just beginning to settle again, peppering the ground again until it one more appeared to be covered in snow, not far from where they had lit before. The erstwhile photographer was grinning open-mouthed, the sheer power of the experience apparent in his squinted eyes.
“That was incredible.”
“Do you always stir the birds like that?”
“I have before… up in Wisconsin, once out in Michigan on the Upper Peninsula.” He was almost breathless. “But never here.”
I grinned and started the engine. We had an assignment to capture.