Certain exquisite experiences in the natural world arise because of the precise alignment of unpredictable paths. We can never know exactly where and when they’ll occur, if at all, and that, perhaps, is the very essence of their charm. Other than being out on the land as often as possible, I know of no way to encourage these myriad potential moments except being open to their possibility.
Driving down the valley with a crate of homemade jams ordered by a shop in a near fishing village, we were both weary from the long hours of making them. If it weren’t for the fact that we’d get paid once we’d delivered them, I don’t think we’d have left the house that day. But those converging paths, those unique articulations of wonder and connection, can be sparked by the most innocuous of outings.
Storm clouds budded in purple swells above the mountains as we levelled out onto the plain. While the isthmus burned with the slanting sun, the wing mirrors told another story. There we glimpsed the piled-up sky raging with winds as we raced away.
A falcon glanced over the road, and our first thoughts turned to the kestrels that commonly hunt across the scrub. But when a second and third falcon flashed beside us we pulled over. We stood at the edge of the road where we could see the pillows of storm hugging the hills; to one side the watery meadows glowed with light, to the other yellow daisies lit the scrub. The falcon flock wheeled low over the marshes, over the road and over us, scything their way through the glittering air as though swimmers of bright water.
Red-footed falcons are colonial breeders and nest well to the north of here, but they can pass through on migration in large gatherings. The storm funnelled our way, spilling over the mountain peaks and vanishing the valley we’d driven down. But the flatlands remained lit, washed with a sharp yellow light that tore through the twisting braid of birds. We tried counting them but failed; their weaving ways, like an ancient dance kept secret within a community, meant that guessing was our best measure.
The fifty or so falcons dipped and sheered, hawking the insects that make up the majority of their diet. I saw one snare a dragonfly from the air and eat it on the wing as it flew within a metre of me. While the females wore a cinnamon wedge on their undersides the males were like pockets of storm, outriders of the steepled clouds building up over the hills. Their plumage was the same turbulent shade of blue and grey, a vivid metallic bruise spreading from the deep red wound that lend these falcons their name.
The falcons fissured the air with sharp turns and then drifted in slow circles above our heads. While one laddered steeply another furrowed the grasses, emerging with its prize. The storm spread over the valley with a rumble of thunder. Seeing rain in the distance we remembered the crate of jams in the back of our open truck. Reluctantly we left, leaving the falcons shoaling before the storm.
About an hour later we stopped at the edge of the meadows, an empty crate in back and some money in our pockets. The falcons had gone, spurred south by the seasonal impulse, and the stormlight had subsided to a flat and quiet dusk. I’d never have guessed there’d been anything there at all.