I sat in the blind, camera in hand, anticipating the moment. I’d waited nearly ten years to witness the great migration, unsure it would occur, hoping against hope, afraid to know for sure.
What had been a damp, cold morning opened into a warm afternoon. The sky was an azure blue, with high fluffy clouds begging to be imagined into dogs and sailboats. I had already shed my gloves and hat. Soon the coat and hoodie would be discarded for short sleeves. The day was simply glorious.
I adjusted the lens again and aimed for the sky. Snapped a picture just to make sure everything was a go. I checked the battery, the shutter speed, made sure the device was working perfectly so I could get the big shot.
I leaned back into my chair and waited; anxious for the moment to come yet hesitant knowing that once it arrived it would vanish just as quickly. The best things in life were always like that…fleeting.
My mind wandered to other cherished moments that were spent too quickly. Moments in time that, if preserved, would have made for perfect lives. Powerful, thought provoking conversations with friends. Soft kisses from a secret love. Tender times spent with babies on a porch swing. The times of our lives were we barter with God to make the moment last and then immediately curse Him when it is dashed away, swirling like smoke heavenward.
The professor with the funny hat next to me glared in my direction. My sniffling nose had disturbed him. He put finger to lips and slowly, solemnly shook his head at me. I got the message: no crying in the field. Okay, I would just have to cope in silence.
The minutes passed quietly as I grappled with my thoughts. Soon I heard hushed whispers from the others in my party. Quiet. Excited. Disbelief evident in their tone. I craned my neck for a better look when I caught the very edge of the flock. My eyes widened at the magnificence of it all. I could not look way.
Coming towards me was a beautiful flock of wild North American Umbrellas. Vivid yellows, reds and blues flying overhead in typical staggered formation. My mouth gaped open as they glided softly past me, shading me with magnificent spans of nylon and gleaming metal. As they passed overhead, I simply stared skyward, barely believing what was right above me. My professor took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his own eyes. Crying now clearly permitted in the field.
The flock was silent as they passed. They merely floated softly and slowly on their way to the warmer southern climate where they would spend the winter. I watched raptly, not wanting to ever forget the moment.
Years later, I would recall with joy and melancholy the encounter with the North American Umbrellas. Joy in seeing those magnificent creatures once before they were rendered extinct and melancholy because I never snapped a picture.