The Mast-Head: The Wind Birds

A sure a sign of the impending change of season as turning leaves.

Each year, the shorebirds that have just finished nesting far to the north arrive around the end of July. If they were successful as parents, their young of the year will be on the flights too, landing along the shore of Gardiner’s Bay to feed and fatten and, soon, to rise and fly south toward their wintering grounds.

The wind birds, as the great Peter Matthiessen called them, set down on the sand beaches, in the marshes, and along the ocean, as a sure a sign of the impending change of season as turning leaves. Though it is still high summer, their cheeps and whistles speak of urgency, the need to keep moving, an inchoate fear. Fall is coming, they say. The unspeakable, far worse, will be close behind. 

Even though the wind birds have never experienced ice and snow and frozen ground, somewhere deep in a brain shaped by tens of thousands of years of trial and error, a signal flashes to move and keep moving.

We, too, are the same in our own way, always trying to distance ourselves from the inevitable winter, though we will not know it even after it arrives. But as the shorebirds race along the wet sand, it also is a time of abundance. The invertebrates they need to continue south are almost ridiculously abundant here, bouncing like popcorn in a hot pan as I walk barefoot on the beach. Small knots of sandpipers pick at them with remarkable speed. 

Spooked as I pass, they lift off quickly and land a distance away to resume their work. Life is good, they say. Let us feast. Their whistles sound of joy.