The Stare Down

“What’s so special about those? I see them all the time.”

Yes, we see them. And if you live in Colorado, you definitely see them all the time. They are in parks, fields, the county courthouse parking lot, on the side of the road, often in the road, and sometimes, even in our back yards. They are, as my mom would eloquently say of my ranch, “like horse crap. They’re everywhere.” But have we ever slowed down to actually look at these creatures and appreciate the true beauty that can be found in them?

These are scary times. With the COVID – 19 outbreak interrupting the usual hustle and bustle of daily life, I find myself reevaluating the world around me and noticing simple things that I often take for granted and don’t typically think so much about.  Take, for example, Canadian Geese.

I feel as though I just heard a collective groan from a bored audience. There was a time I would have felt the same way – believe me, I felt the twinge of a groan forming as I wrote the words “Canadian Geese” – but I have had a change of heart.

Like many of you, I have been under house arrest due to COVID – 19, isolating myself from the world as much as possible. However, the restlessness of being confined finally got the best of me and a change of scenery was calling. I grabbed my camera and decided to take a short drive and participate in an activity I refer to as being “a bird nerd.” This is where I go out with my camera and attempt to photograph birds of prey. Today, the forces of nature were against me, as my usual locations for bird sightings came up empty. Eventually, I found myself at a small, local lake, hoping to see anything with wings.

As I started up the path to the lake, I noticed movement on the path ahead but couldn’t make out what was there. Moments later, I found myself in a stare down with a Canadian Goose that was also using the same path. It was heading straight towards me, and it didn’t seem thrilled that I was there. It immediately started making noise, squawking and flapping its large, dark wings as it continued straight for me. I was caught off guard and froze for a moment. This wasn’t the greeting I was expecting from the usually quiet lake with its serene atmosphere. The black and white bird courageously charged down the path towards me. I was about to turn and run when it abruptly stopped several feet in front of me and just stared at me. This bird was looking me in the eye as if to say, “what the hell are you looking at?” I was thinking I should probably leave and get out of its space, but I decided to snap a few pictures with my camera instead. I wanted to have evidence of what was about to kill me since I was certain it could run faster than me on the muddy path.

The Stare Down

I have heard that geese can be territorial and downright mean when they feel their space is being invaded or they feel threatened. When you stop and think about it, people often have these same instincts, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that this bird wasn’t happy to be sharing its path with me. It stood still and gave me the stare down. I felt like I was in a staring contest and it was daring me to blink first.

In a sense, I did blink first. I slowly raised my camera and snapped a few pictures. The dark eyes of the bird didn’t waiver for several minutes as it refused to take its eyes off of me. With the exception of a little camera noise, I remained still, admiring the bird as it stood before me. I couldn’t help but notice the smooth curves of its neck and head and the strong lines of its wings.  And the colors were spectacular – the shiniest of black on its head and neck and white on its body that gleamed with golden brown highlights on some of its lower body feathers.

After a few minutes, the goose lost interest in me and seemed to be surveying the path, deciding which direction to go. It eventually left the path and took to the air, landing gracefully several yards away in the cold lake water. As it swam away, it was joined by several others, and the atmosphere became rather noisy with their dialogue and flapping wings. They reminded me of a large family cajoling and teasing one another. Some were happy, some seemed annoyed. But they definitely had each other.

The Canadian Goose from my encounter flying to the water’s edge.

Canadian Geese are known for their courage, loyalty, devotion, fellowship, and fearlessness. Unlike people, they will not leave one of their own kind behind. I witnessed all of this in one day. Mother nature has an amazing classroom.

I not only ended up leaving the lake with some insight into these rather stately birds, but I also left with a sense of peace and an understanding that even if we see something all the time, it still has a place in the universe and shouldn’t be taken for granted. I also couldn’t help but feel positive change will soon be on the horizon if we exercise some patience and understanding to get to that point. Like the Canadian Geese we see in our midst, we need to incorporate courage and fearlessness in our lives while maintaining a spirit of loyalty, devotion, and fellowship.

There is something to be said about the stately beauty of Canadian Geese and the quiet message of hope they bring to our world, even if we “see them all the time.”

~ Sandy Shiner-Swanson

If you enjoy the pictures from Birds, Boots, and Brews, please check out the artist gallery on Redbubble at

https://www.redbubble.com/people/sswan58

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My Unicorn, the Bald Eagle

Eagles are fascinating, powerful creatures that fly through my imagination and grasp the hands of time for me. When I see an eagle, its as though everything around me comes to a standstill except for the presence of the majestic bird I am blessed to be seeing.

As an amateur photographer, I spent years pursuing bald eagles, struggling to catch a glimpse let alone a decent photograph. It is a well-known fact that I have the world’s largest collection of blurry eagle photographs known to man. This is rather pathetic when you consider the fact that I live within ten miles of one of the largest bald eagle nesting grounds within the state of Colorado.

The fact that I could never capture a decent photograph of an eagle was not lost on my late husband. He used to laugh at my antics and adventures to photograph the ever-elusive eagle. One incident will forever stand out in my mind.

It was a particularly blustery day in Brighton, Colorado. I happened to have a day off from work in the middle of the week, and I was determined to make the most of it. I laced up my hiking boots, grabbed my coat and camera, and headed to Barr Lake in pursuit of the elusive bald eagle. I was determined that this would be the day my quest for an eagle picture would end.

Barr Lake is a small lake situated not far off Interstate 76. There is an 8.8-mile trail that circles the lake, and there are some nice spots along the way that are ideal for bird watching. And, Barr Lake is known as one of the largest eagle nesting grounds in Colorado.

My hike around the lake began in a rather non-descript manner. I noticed a few sparrows and pigeons as I set out and nothing more for what seemed like a rather long time. Not exactly the bird watching adventure I had been hoping for. Finally, a small gaggle of Canadian Geese came across my path, and eventually, a Northern Flicker Woodpecker. Things were looking up! My hopes soared as I looked to the sky and could see an eagle soaring in the distance. It was too far away to photograph, but there was no mistaking its magnificent wing span as it soared high above.

I continued walking. My feet were starting to twinge with a bit of pain. Unfortunately, my hiking boots were relatively new, and my feet were starting to feel it. “Carry on!” I told myself. I was so determined to photograph an eagle that pain be damned! This pursuit was ending today.

After walking for endless miles, or at least what felt like it, I arrived at the area where eagles could be seen and photographed. Allegedly. I had arrived at the area where a pair of bald eagles are known to nest, but naturally, the nest was empty and camping out there for 2 hours produced no results.

My quest to photograph an eagle was, in fact, a rather miserable experience in the end. The weather gradually deteriorated; the cold wind whipped my face. Dirt found its way into my contact lenses, and my feet were beyond painful. I had blisters above my big toe on both feet as well as my heels, and the bottom of both feet were screaming in agony. Defeated, I finally made my way back to my car and put my camera back in its case. I placed my camera behind the driver’s seat and headed home, blasting the heater as I drove.

As I pulled into my drive way, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, perched on a fence post in my yard, was the most spectacular bald eagle I had ever seen! At that moment, a string of expletives was going through my mind, many of which I cannot write down here. Let’s suffice it to say that my frustration and disbelief was at an all time high. Nothing like marching around an eagle nesting area to no avail, only to have one show up in your own yard!

By the time I got out of my car, got my camera out of its case and attached the action lens, the eagle was in the air, flying away at rapid speed. My hands were shaking, and I was fumbling with my camera. This was it! My opportunity to get the picture I had been longing for all day! I zoomed in on the magnificent bird as much as I could. I was snapping pictures furiously, praying to get a decent shot. It was not meant to be. I managed to capture another series of “blurry eagle at a distance” pictures.

After this incident, my husband declared the Bald Eagle to be my unicorn, the mythical creature that could never be captured. And my husband loved to joke about it! He never failed to remind me of my quest for eagles and some of the funny adventures that ensued as part of this pursuit.

When I see an eagle, I always think of my husband and often find myself saying hello. My husband is much like an eagle to me now; elusive but ever present. Like an eagle, he is soaring free, released from the binds, ties, pressures, and struggles of every day life that we all endure daily. He may not be here physically, but he is definitely present.

Sandy

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