Snow Geese Sendoff

Last month my husband and I visited the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge. We spent the morning hanging out with a giant gaggle of snow geese.

By now, the geese are making their way to the arctic tundra.  My hometown lies about 950 miles due north, between the Missouri and Sioux Rivers in South Dakota. 

I like to imagine the snow geese found their way from San Bernard to Elk Point, enjoying the hospitality of the friendly fields and ponds of my people. (Though I would advise the geese to steer clear of the hunting spots.)

When nature essayist Barry Lopez died in December, many of my favorite magazines and writers posted tributes to him and his best writings. It was the first I had heard of him, and I’ve enjoyed getting to know his body of work.

Lopez’s 1982 article for Outside Magazine “The Staging of Snow Geese,” is about the annual migration in California. It struck me for its eloquent bird words, as well as its ongoing relevance as a commentary on the state of migration routes in America.  

Below are excerpts from Lopez’s snow geese essay, paired with photos my husband Steve took that February day in Texas. 


“What a visitor finds as startling…is the great synchronicity of their movements”

“..long skeins of white unfurl brilliantly against blue skies “

birds riding the towering wash of winds with balletic grace, with a booming noise like rattled sheets of corrugated tin…”

Video: Gaggle of snow geese at San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge

When they fly with the sun behind them, the opaque white of their bodies, the white of water-polished seashells, is set off against grayer whites in their tail feathers and in their translucent, black-tipped wings.”

Up close these are the dense, impeccable whites of an arctic fox. Against the grays and blues of a storm-laden sky, the whiteness has a surreal glow, a brilliance without shadow.”

I remember watching a large flock rise one morning from a plowed field about a mile distant.”

There was something vaguely ominous in this apparition, as if the earth had opened and poured them forth, like a wind, a blizzard, which unfurled across the horizon..”

“…becoming wider and higher in the sky than my field of vision could encompass…”

“…great swirling currents of birds in a rattling of wings, one fluid recurved sweep of 10,000 passing through the open spaces in another, counterflying flock …”

“…while beyond them lattice after lattice passed like sliding walls, until in the whole sky you lost your depth of field and felt as though you were looking up from the floor of the ocean through shoals of fish.”

3 comments

  1. I agree with statement above of combing photos and Lopez’s words. You know, I think my husband and I spotted this flock between Beresford and Sioux Falls the other day. We tried to point this out to our grandson, Steven, but he was lost in the world of his Ipad. I love spotting the snow geese on their migration.

    Liked by 1 person

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