The snow geese flew overhead the other day. I could hear them nearly a mile away, their resonant calls echoing across the lake, then the fields before they emerged in the air far above me. A hundred at least, their pale bodies barely visible against the cloud-filled sky.
It had been a hectic day. I made a rare trip to the city to visit with a friend. There was a weather advisory, but somehow a blizzard always seems to threaten when I plan a trip so I stubbornly ignored it. The drive there was skittish but uneventful, the drive back a much firmer warning. A massive accident just ahead of me compressed 50-plus cars and semis like a trash compactor, spewing crushed metal remains down the steep embankment. I tried to tell you, the warning said, more sternly this time. After an hour I broke free of the mass of wreckage and emergency vehicles and followed the dicey back roads home, still shaken and mostly exhausted. I fed the animals and went to gather the mail, and that’s when I heard them.
The snow geese.
The sounds of peaceful urgency, of hurried migration, of collective effort and bitter cold. The sounds of the seasons shifting in front of me. Winter had arrived.
Not long ago Alan introduced me to the concept of phenology. It is a farming term – part science and part intuition. Instead of planting and harvesting based on frost dates or weather details, biological markers are used. When the lilac is in bloom, the ground is warm enough to plant beets. When you hear the spring peepers, plant peas.
And when you hear the first blizzard warning of the season, stay home, safe and warm. The roads will be better without you, and surely you without them. After the sun sets and right before the darkness swallows the sky, bundle up and go outside and listen for the snow geese.
Winter has arrived.