Sandhills

When I’m living and working in Bosque Farms, I don’t have to put forth much effort to find a beautiful view. All it takes is five to ten minutes of walking from my back door — past our fields, down the road a short ways, and then along the acequias to the bigger plots devoted to corn and alfalfa.

Peaks, Plains And Skies

As the houses and cottonwoods shrink with distance, the jagged profile of the Sandia-Manzano fault block rises into view. It’s almost like a time-lapse of the mountains’ actual growth over the course of the last 17 million years or so, as the country between here and California stretched and cracked, allowing enormous chunks of crust to float steadily higher on the mantle below.

Along the Rio Grande, the land — which is made up of material eroded off the precipices — is flat and fecund. Where subdivision hasn’t carved out morsels of suburbanite-friendly real estate, expanses of open earth stretch surprisingly far. In these places, the sky above is deep and wide. Crane your neck just so, and it’s all you’ll see. Layer upon layer of empty atmosphere.

Dusk And Birds

In late summer, when the monsoons hit, this cerulean copula serves as a stage for all manner of sturm und drang: lightning, thunder, mountains of cloud miles high, fantastic gusts of cold wind heralding the coming rains.  

But as I leave the house this evening, it’s winter, and the air is still and dry. Limbs are empty of leaves; acres lie fallow; quiet webs of cirrus are catching the last of the sun.

It is now, in the gloaming, that the heavens will finally spring to life after a day of relative inactivity. It is now, in the faint violet light, that thousands upon thousands of sandhill cranes will take to the wing to find a place to sleep for the night.

Simple Thrills

Though I’m holding off on becoming a serious birder at least for a few more decades, watching the cranes pass overhead gives me a taste of the simple thrills that captivate the ornithologist. I love the way the cranes’ smokey bodies are illuminated at this hour like waning  gibbous moons. I love the sound of feathers cutting through space and the melancholy timbre of the “words” they cry out to one another.

Most of all I love imagining the relentless unspooling of DNA inside each cell of each bird I see. As the eons have worn on, complex bauplans and behavioral patterns have emerged from this din of microscopic activity, behaviors optimized for the environmental constraints of Earth.

How is it that the rending and suturing of molecules produced the shimmering wedges and lines sedges form when they fly? How is it that these creatures have come to summer in Siberia and winter in New Mexico? How many evenings like this are written in strings of guanine, adenine, thymine and cytosine? How many words can you spell with the letters “GATC”?

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(Today’s photo of sandhill cranes comes from Natalie Rae Good’s Tumblr.)

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