I took a walk down by the Duluth/Superior harbor at mid-afternoon today. I’d been staring at a computer screen too long, and I needed a break. The sun was high. A few ribs of thin clouds floated out over Lake Superior.
When I got near the water, I could hear the unmistakable honking of Canada geese. Not a lot of them, just a few intermittent honks and ka-ronks. The geese are just making their way back north. These were the first I had heard.
Pancakes and polygons of floating ice covered much of the harbor, but there was dark blue open water beyond. I strained to see along the far edge of the ice, trying to pick out the birds. I couldn’t see them. Finally, I stepped a few feet closer to the pilings along the edge of the water and looked down. There they were, two pairs of honkers standing on moving pans of ice near shore. No wonder I had heard them so well.
I wasn’t too far away from them, but they didn’t seem bothered by my presence. I watched them for several minutes. They were obviously paired up, and the pairs kept about 20 yards of ice between them. The geese would honk occasionally, stretch and shake their long necks, and step nimbly to the next ice floe. The floes rotated and bobbed ever so slightly.
The sun was warm on one side of my body, but a cool wind off Lake Superior kept the rest of me cool. I watched the birds and wondered about them. Where had they spent the winter? Were they planning to continue migrating north to nest, or would they find a spot on the St. Louis River once it opened completely? Had they been paired up for years or for just a few weeks?
Part of me wanted to know all the answers, but another part of me likes the idea that we can’t know everything about wild critters. Let there be a little mystery in our information-choked world.
The honking sounded good. I was reminded of a passage from Aldo Leopold’s "A Sand County Almanac." I’ll leave you with that: "One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring."