Up early on the coldest morning of the season, so far, hoping for a frosty etching of the marshscape at Great Meadows and a colorful sunrise. Seeing that neither will be offered today, I suspend my expectations, in time to share in greater gifts. As I walk into the open on the cross-dike trail, in the quiet darkness, a shiver of sound moves through the ice as geese awaken and push their breasts through the water's light crust. The sky brightens and small groups of geese arise (from the 250+ sleeping there) to preen in the frigid morning air.
A few attempt a bit more exercise, but have trouble on the icy runway.
Three mute swans swimming in the distance, take to the air for a long, breathtaking flight around the full circumference of the refuge's floodplain. Their bright bodies catch the earliest sunlight and the beating of their powerful wings fills the air with a loud, rhythmic sound like the turning of some mighty 19th c. engine. No matter one's feelings about the impact that these introduced birds might have on the natural order of our wetlands - their beauty, grace, and awesome power is humbling to behold.
Anticipating an early morning exodus, I wait patiently on the observation deck as the sun rises slowly higher. The swans' morning exercise stirs more of the geese awake and slowly small groups commence to honking and taking flight. Finally, the moment comes when the largest assembly directly in front of me bursts into cocophonous trumpeting and takes to the sky en masse, flying directly toward me...glowing in the dawn's warm light.
While I watch them fly west, off to their morning's grazing fields, I hear the warning calls of several crows behind me, and turn to see a young bald eagle entering the airspace above the marsh and circling ever closer toward a small flotilla of coots in the lower impoundment. After several unsuccessful attacks, it finally catches one of its favorite prey for breakfast.
With the privilege of all of these encounters warming me, I meet another early-rising refuge visitor and we finish walking the full circuit of the trail together. Then as I drive out the refuge road at 8:50 am, a fox turns out in front of me from the old rail trail and lopes up toward Monsen Road. Stopping to grab my camera, I then drive slowly behind him as he turns the corner and proceeds to sniff out all the neighborhood dog markings on mailbox posts and street trees. He trots, unfazed, down the middle of the road for half its length before turning off.
Another morning that reminds me to enter each day open, attentive, and ready to receive the gifts that are offered. In thanksgiving...