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Flying low, beneath an invisible sun the Great Egrets return. Not white on white but gray on gray and their long legs laid behind them There is no wind. They make no sound. An adornment of plumage trailing is bride price and dowry in which the beating heart of migration, all purpose, all destination resides. To feed. To breed. To continue. To exit, and enter once again. What syntony, to reappear on this the first true fog of the year.
The fog is a soporific. Mesmer in his cups might dream of a fog like this. That sponges light. That muffles Time. That drowns all the remaining senses into deafness. So thick, no curl of turbulence follows them. So dense, it swallows them. An obliterating fog in which that brief exegesis which makes them visible is almost illusion. The mind is slow to grasp and for that the amazement of spirit is large, and lingering. The day will cling to this and I know it. The days that follow in a subtle way will be moistened by what is seen right now and therefore will not be the same.
On the downbeat and the upswing all together, wide wings beating slow that their speed deceives. How fast they go nine in a row riding the wet the all-obscuring element neither water nor fire. So low, a rogue wave might swallow them. An errant snag capture them. A fallen oak collide. Like planes, lost and pursuing the crude serrations of the shore hoping for a familiar place of landing they cannot land until they know and are sure. Millennia of passage are their guide.
And in the length of one held breath the gossamer billows and divides and they are gone.
At last and as the day is ended one alone follows on. Straggler, late as late can be and hold to the way she comes, as certain as absence, quavering, and the grainy dusk thickening with night. This is the Grand Finale. She will not pass this way next year. And yet, and still, her path a revelation All Wise: That birds when they die do not return to dust, but into air.
MARK SETH LENDER’s Salt Marsh Diary is a regular feature of "Living on Earth" (nationally syndicated on NPR). His nature photography and writing can be seen at www.SaltMarshDiary.com.