Last weekend, Hoot Owl Karma headed to Blowing Rock for our annual "tree trip,"
and we lost ourselves among the peaks and valleys of western North Carolina.
Seven days later and some three hundred fifty miles to the east,
we found ourselves gazing at a gathering of grebes on the waters of Bogue Sound.
At the shutter's first snap, these salty synchronized swimmers dive deep,
leaving us to reflect on a vast and empty expanse of ripples.
A bit farther east, brown pelican splashes down to break fast in the midst of a school of tasty minnows,
while great egret serenely stalks shrimp in the still waters nearby.
As we approach the dunes, berries abound;
smilax smothers a thicket of yaupon and myrtle,
offering its bounty to all;
subject to the approval, of course, of the highly territorial and vocally dexterous mimic,
Seaside sentinel, strangely silent, eyes us, then the berry, suspicious of our intent.
We slip mutely past and mount the dunes, silent but for the squeak of bare feet on cool dry sand,
leaving the feathered forager alone with its fruit.
Before us the Atlantic,
waters crystal clear and cold as the mountain streams from whence they've flown.
And another forager, in the foam,
sanderling perhaps, or sandpiper,
one of the ubiquitous avian denizens of the desert beach,
finding life and sustenance beneath the barren sand,
probing with perfect precision along the fluid, ever-moving margin of beach and tide.
Winter plumage is already in vogue,
though November's not quite gone,
as ruddy turnstone tucks one leg up against the chill.
Conserving energy, or simply doing what comes naturally,
our avian acrobat seems completely at ease with all its weight upon a single leg,
even in the face of breeze brisk enough to ruffle a few feathers.
Just beyond the jetty,
gentle breakers dissolve into foam as a lonely wader strides deliberately down the shore.
Even on winter's eve,
sand fleas burrow just below the mingled and shifting surface of saturated sand,
filtering the waves for food,
converting tiny organisms to larger links in a living chain,
extending for the moment directly into the gullet of a drably clad winter wader called willet.
Farther up the beach, just beyond the reach of the chilly waters,
but directly in the path of the brisk breeze,
our intrepid turnstones seem determined to find a place in their down
for every possible un-feathered appendage.
Or, alternatively, improving circulation through constant motion,
dancing a dervish with their shadowy twins ;
whirling ever closer to the beach's other chilly wanderers,
and offering an up-close glimpse of their incredibly rich and vivid and
decidedly un-drab winter plumage.
Finally, it's back across the dunes for shelter from the relentless wind, only to encounter a most handsome raptor perched in the weathered branches of a long-dead juniper.
American kestrel, North America's smallest falcon;
and at this moment, in this light,
it is without a doubt North America's most handsome falcon.
Our all-too-brief trip to the beach is at an end,
but we count ourselves blessed to have spent it as we did -
in the company of each other...
and the birds.
So long, sparrow hawk;