Of Place and Perspective
by C.D. Dollar
The success of an outdoors experience is a matter of both perspective and opportunity. I offer a recent experience as example. What began as strictly a duck hunt turned into an extraordinary astronomy lesson, switched back to its original purpose and concluded as a bird-watching expedition.
The previous evening a storm front dumped much-needed rains throughout the region, leaving strong, northerly winds and brilliantly clear night skies. The lack of cloud cover was a boon to skywatching. I was driving through Dorcester County, bouncing along backcountry roads to the public landing in the very late evening - or very early morning, depending upon your perspective.
Once away from the glaring lights of civilization, the heavens revealed a magical fireworks display. Though I am quite certain that this event was public knowledge in most parts of Maryland and beyond, I was caught off guard by the meteor shower in progress. I counted more than two dozen shooting stars, each unique in its intensity and trajectory, by the time I launched my skiff. Rolling down the Blackwater River, on several occasions I had to steer away from the marsh bank at the last minute because the cascading stars had mesmerized me so. Yet once I reached the salt pond where I would set up to hunt, my focus changed from the galactic to the earthbound.
As the blackness grudgingly gave way to light, ducks began to fly. I was hunting with several friends, and we split up in pairs to better conceal ourselves. The very first part of the morning offered its chances: mallards, teal, gadwall and black ducks made up the bulk of the squadrons flying. Some of these encounters were capitalized on, yet others left me shaking my head in disbelief as a Teflon-feathered fowl made its escape unscathed.
By mid-morning as the hunt slowed, I watched a marsh hawk work the lowlands with keen precision. This particular northern harrier was a female, her body streaked brown with a russet carriage. The bold, white band marking her tail feathers was like a tattoo symbolizing initiation into some select club. She flew deliberately over the brown grass, letting the steady currents take her over prime hunting ground in search of nutria, muskrat or whatever other prey she favored.
As the day progressed, the flights of ducks diminished and the marsh hawks became more visible. At noon, water from the flood tide - which had been engaged in an epic struggle with the wind all morning - gained enough momentum to allow my skiff to float out of the marsh. Overhead, the sorrowful sounds of whistling tundra swans were clear and distinct.
Traveling over the same road from which I came, kestrels stood post on the power lines like miniature sentries. They are smallish birds, no bigger than swallows or jays, their faces patterned in a black and white mustache design. They hover over the corn and soy fields for mice and other rodents, their wings a furious blur. American kestrels are part of the family of falcons, and they act like it. They are very aware and proud of their lineage.
At the end of the day, as I drift off to restful sleep, I am left with one fading thought: the last 15 hours once again proved that it's not only what I see but how I see it that enriches my experience.