As the Long-tail Flies

When the Long-tails come, they come
Crawling out from the curvature of the earth
Emerging from the heat shimmer formed
By a lake warmer than this new northern air
They travel, in dense, low lines
Towards Superior’s south shore
Towards me, standing there

They’re not long departed from the tundra:
One flight; two flights; maybe even this flight
Accompanying them: a few Surf Scoters and Green-winged Teal;
Cold fingers and a dripping nose
Icy gusts tailing them off Superior, chafing my cheeks
Accompanying them: tears; some–not all–from wind.

It all is achingly beautiful: literally. Physically. Frigidly.
But to stand out amidst such movement
Is to become possessed by migratory urges, desires
When the Long-tails fly, flocks of several hundred
Build days of several thousand–
Days of movement, incarnate

Through a spotting scope, I decipher this stretch
Of their long traverse from summer to winter
It’s a journey navigated not with straight lines
But with serpentines: as the Long-tail flies
Is not as the crow flies
As the Long-tail flies seems unconventional in form
Yet dedicated to direction, to motion.

The way the pied flocks spiral and scatter
Carve through the heat shimmer and wave troughs–
These their own dimensions of movement
The way their voices ring out, louder than wind
The way their choreography illustrates,
With shapes and lines, black and white
A canvas cold and sallow with purple puffs of cloud
The way their flight beckons, implores, casts spells…
Summons the feelings never far beneath the surface

As the Long-tail flies is not how most ducks fly
And I wonder, sometimes, about the other species
Caught up in the migration
Do these ever pick up with a flock,
Find that the keeping up with the zigs and zags,
The heres and theres,
Is just too much?

At this site, as the Long-tail flies is west.
As the others fly is east.
Migration counters describe motion
As “expected direction of migration.”
And when the Long-tails fly,
I sometimes forget what exactly that is.
To question the expected is not at all bad.

Standing there on Superior’s south shore
I unravel the horizon; the flocks; the feelings
The outer movement engages the inner restlessness
The Long-tails fly into and out of the heat shimmer
Into and through my being.

Standing there on the threshold of setting off
Into the heat shimmer and all its uncertainties
I shed tears–not just from the wind
But from the beauty and magnitude of their flight
From the migratory urges the motion stirs up
From longing conjured up
By the way the Long-tail flies.


10 thoughts on “As the Long-tail Flies”

  1. This was, by far, one of the most delectably, emotional and moving pieces of literature I’ve read in a long time. Beautifully written descriptions with feeling. You are amazing.

    1. Thank you so much, Lily! I am glad the emotion came through…there were definitely days this fall where I was just utterly overcome watching stuff like this, I think sensing how broken the world is this year definitely factored in all this. Happy New Year <3

    1. Depends a lot on ice–if they don’t get froze out, they’ll winter in pretty large concentrations on the Great Lakes (Muskegon is a known “close-to-home” area). Significant numbers on Lake Ontario, as well, and in the Atlantic, off New England and the Maritimes.

      You can visualize some of this on eBird:
      2. Click on “large map” (on upper right of the range map)
      3. Along the top bar of this, click on the “date” selection and put in the winter months.

      Hope that helps! 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *