March has blown onto shore with great gusto. This isn’t unexpected. March is known for her windy ways and breezy personality. Standing on a beach on certain days can have a sandpaper effect on my skin. I generally don’t see much on days like that since my eyes are closed most of the time to keep the stinging sand from blinding me. And yet, I continue to walk, turning my back to the wind as quickly as I can, scanning the water for sea ducks and loons as I watch the whitecaps race to shore where they collapse into powerless foam.
From the car one day this past week I watched the gulls in the air. They were neither flying nor soaring. They were more or less levitated in the air, not moving forward or backward, up or down. Did they enjoy this feeling of being suspended in space? I think I would, so I watched them for clues. Half a dozen gulls joined the first gull and they all hung in the air, moving a bit as the wind moved, but mostly they seemed content to just stand still in the air. When the wind current changed the gulls flapped their wings and moved on.
A marsh hawk, a northern harrier, soared low over a small row of dunes as I watched. The wind was pushing it back, but it persevered, wings tipping one way then another, seemingly using the wind’s resistance to its advantage. This hawk can hover over suspected prey but in the fierce wind it didn’t need to move its wings at all. It was stopped in the air above a grassy spot until it tilted its body and moved on, soaring on the wind currents, barely moving a feather.
Watching a bird use the wind to move without moving its wings or only moving them to steer is one of the small pleasures in life. We cannot know how the bird feels. We can only imagine how we’d feel if we were held up by air, safe and buffeted all around. We can’t imagine the tiny adjustments being made to feathers, muscles and nerves as the bird makes almost imperceptible movements to accommodate the changes in air pressure and velocity. We just imagine the fun element we think we’d have. Perhaps it would be more like sheer terror, though, a loss of control and no way to move forward. I’ll never know. The birds aren’t telling, no matter how carefully I search for clues.
The harrier didn’t succeed in catching anything while I watched. It moved across the road to another area of marsh and dunes which hopefully offered up some voles or mice.
Small birds can get blown about by the wind and usually stay close to the ground or in a safe roosting spot. Seabirds can be blown onto the beach, from which they cannot take off to fly. Many will die on the sand. After the gale winds of last week, I found half a dozen of these along the sand as I walked the beach: eiders, scoters and common loons. Even as I mourned their demise, others of their species were floating, diving and feeding offshore. Nature is a neutral mistress. Some will make it through hardships, and some will not. Those that remain will carry on. The wind blows on, unimpressed by life or death.
In the woods the wind takes down old, rotting branches and sometimes whole trees. If one is going to walk in the woods on windy days it is good to be aware of the condition of the trees, not just in the immediate area, but within a large tree-fall range.
Wind moves out old leaves and branches. It pushes and pulls water. It carries seeds and even insect egg cases to different locations. It both cleans up a space and leaves it a mess. We can’t see it, but we can see what it does. We can feel it, smell it and hear it, or the effects of it.
Wind is a powerful thing. As spring arrives on our calendars we can only hope that the March winds blow a little spring-like weather our way. I don’t know about you, but I need it bad…