The drive to my kids’ middle school can be absolutely magical. The road hugs the side of a meandering creek, and depending on the time of year, we see some spectacular wildlife. In spring and summer, we’ve looked down the creek to see five startlingly white Snowy Egrets gathered to fish. We see Great Blue Herons camouflaged in the shallows hunting their breakfast. Perhaps most striking to me are the plain old mallard ducks, still floating in the icy waters all winter long. I see them as I drive by, in my layers of clothes, still shivering though my seat heater is blazing, and I marvel at their ability to float all winter with a soggy bottom.
Right now, late fall, is miraculous for the variety of birds we see as they pass through on their way south. I can’t name any of them, but I enjoy their variety nonetheless. Large geese walking the bank. Tiny black and white bodies bobbing on the water’s surface in impressive numbers.
Last week, I was driving to the school at what was, for me, an unusual time. It was late morning, and I was returning my son, Richie, to classes after a doctor appointment. It was a sunny fall day and many of the leaves had already fallen off the trees lining the creek. This meant that as we drove along the road, we had a clearer-than-usual view of the creek, which is very shallow but about 60 feet wide.
As we turned onto the creek road, I scanned the water to see who was enjoying the warmer-than-usual swimming weather. But instead of seeing birds in the water, my eye caught on a large goose flying right down the middle of the creek, about 15 feet above the creek’s surface. For a moment, it seemed that we were flying in formation with her: she was probably 40 feet to my right, but she was flying parallel to our driving path, and she was about 40 feet ahead of us, so I could easily watch her while driving without looking away from the road. I checked my speedometer; we were going just over 35 miles per hour. And that goose? She was leaving us behind. Something about her impressive speed as she flew over the runway of the creek was just breathtaking, and I suddenly wanted to make sure Richie got to experience this, too.
“Richie!” I called to him in the backseat, “do you see that goose?!?”
The calm tone of his reply made it clear that he, too, had been watching her impressive flight. “Oh yes. It is very, very fast.”
I continued following the road, accelerating a bit to match her speed. Richie and I fell back into silence as we watched her steadily flap those powerful wings and easily stay ahead of us. We flew together down the creek bed. My windshield faded away as her grace, speed, and proximity pulled me right into formation with her. My stomach lifted as I experienced the sensation of flying more tangibly than I ever have while riding in an airplane.
Then I heard that calm voice from the back seat again.
“Mom? Can you please keep your eyes on the road?”