“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”
-Alan Wilson Watts, British philosopher (1915-1973)
This morning brought a welcome surprise to the creeping lassitude of Gerlach-in-fall: a small flock of greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) resting on the school’s sports field. They had traveled thousands of miles from their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic and were probably in town on a layover. As I approached with my camera, they slowly stood up from the grass, stretched out their legs and wings parallel to their tails—first one leg-wing pair, then the other—and waddled further infield. They looked plump and healthy, considering the distance they’d covered. They also looked slightly out of place. Ultimately they’ll overwinter on marshes and agricultural fields further south or west, wherever they can find open water and roughage to nibble.
According to biologist Fred A. Ryser, Jr., in his definitive Birds of the Great Basin: A Natural History, white-fronted geese “[are] of occasional to uncommon occurrence in the Great Basin…Up until recent years this goose was a regular winter visitant in Western Nevada.” That was written in 1985. He goes on to speculate that the loss of riparian areas to residential sprawl is at least partly to blame for their absence; I’d wager that Nevada’s prolonged drought and increased drilling for groundwater factor in just as significantly, if not more so. The goose is, at any rate, an unusual seasonal visitor to these parts. It won’t stick around for long.
In many ways I can empathize. Being somewhat transient myself, perennially unsettled and never fully “at home” in any particular place, I too yield to those migratory cues: shorter days, lower temperatures, scarcer resources. I feel an itch to move, so I scratch it. Does this qualify as compulsive behavior? It certainly could. Mainly I’m driven by feelings of impatience or fecklessness: Why am I here? What am I waiting for? What is it, exactly, that I’m trying to achieve?
The fuck if I know. Trying to answer such questions is an exercise in futility. (Trust me, I’ve grappled with them before.) Perhaps, as with the geese, our flight is a purely instinctual act. Some ineffable thing spurs us outward, onward, groping blindly through dark and fog and storm, and when at long last we arrive in the by and by, we’ll know from the feel of it.