When I was a senior in college and things had begun to weigh heavily on me I got in my car and drove north through Mercy County to the Polk water preserve with my binoculars. I left behind uncertain futures and strained friendships, and came for woods and water, and to look for birds. Houses, trees, and streams were painted with bright jewel tones, and the country roads wound through places I had not seen before. With the fresh new air in my face and the sweet scent of the countryside, the world seemed to conspire with me in my plan for rejuvenation.
I found the preserve without much trouble and parked my car in a small gravel lot on the edge of a green field. The old scarred signboard told me with faded paper that this place was open to hunting at other times of the year, and that there were pair of ponds not far, hidden now by the tall mid-spring grass. The place was overwhelmed by red-winged blackbirds and their distinctive, brilliant kreonkaleeee. I watched them for a while flitting back and forth from telephone wire to tree to tall grass, then took my binoculars and set out to find these ponds. I was attracted by some strange-looking birds, ones that I had never seen before and followed them to a large rectangular body of water, obviously man-made. I realized soon enough that these were juvenile blackbirds, not yet with their glossy black coat, but the wing bars were already distinctive. Flashes of iridescent blue caught my eye, and I spent some time watching field swallows wheeling about over the water.
These darting bolts of blue held my attention so that I was startled out of myself by a great commotion of water, wing, and air somewhere behind me. It sounded like a great tumult, coming from the other pond still obscured by the grass; but what could make such noise? I scrambled hastily through the grass in time to see rising into the air a pair of bald eagles and a great blue heron. There was almost no time to register the sight – what luck! here to stumble upon them, and the hefty majesty of the eagles strange against the elegance of the heron – and they were nearly out of sight, the eagles gaining altitude quickly on the warm air, the heron speeding toward other water and other fish. Silence then. Even the locusts had stopped. I thought that they were, like me, in awe. Then I realized that they were waiting for me to explain the authority upon which I had stumbled into this holy conference. Had I traveled to a different world? Is that why holiness seemed to hang heavy as altar smoke? I was suddenly aware of the clumsiness of my clothes and my upright gangling gait. Sobered, I walked down to the creek, took of my shoes and washed my feet and my face in the water.
I stayed for some time longer, then got in my car and returned. When I arrived back at the school it was an unfamiliar world, like one seen in the wrong end of the binoculars. I saw some of my friends in the parking lot, and we went out to get some pizza. It took a while for the haze to shake from my mind, the pond and the sun and the black spots disappearing into the sky.