Sunday, November 23, 2008

Prairie Wings

I took my two canine walking buddies, Becker and Sunny, out back through the pasture late this afternoon. It was a gray afternoon, but the weather had warmed to a reasonable level and there was little wind.

As we walked, an orange marker caught my attention. I'd been debating leaving the flags until next spring, but now I went over to the long piece of wire and pulled on it. The damp soil released it easily, so I started slowly working my way through the grasses, pulling up every one I could find. It would make finding the emerging plants harder in the spring, but if we burned, I wouldn't be stuck with lumps of melted orange plastic on almost invisible wires all through the healing grassland.

Prairiewolf, who was out hunting, called on the cell phone, so I stopped to talk with him, facing north as I stood with the dogs wrestling at my feet. A movement caught my eye, a flash of white.

It was a female northern harrier. Her rich brown plumage tended to melt into the background of the leafless trees above the grass, but the white rump patch marked her every movement. I stood mesmerized as she skimmed along, just a few feet above the tops of the grasses, dipping from side to side, floating a bit, then taking a few wingbeats and doing a sudden abrupt turn-about to float back the way she'd just come. Every once in a while, she would hover for a bit, raising my hopes that she was about to stoop on a cotton rat in the grass, but she never did. They must have been taunting her, though, with brief glimpses or tempting rustlings, because she kept patrolling the same area over and over, sure that there would be an unwary tidbit for her if she was just persistent enough.

For a while I sat in the grass watching, my head at the same height as the seedheads of the silver bluestem. It made it harder to see her from far away, though, so eventually I abandoned that perspective and stood again.

Some neighbor teenagers pulled their truck to the back of their property and started target shooting, distracting my attention. By the time I looked for the harrier again, I couldn't find her, so I resumed my walk, pulling flags as I went. I caught a glimpse of her twice more, but never for long. I hope she feasted bountifully today; she certainly fed my spirit well as she shared time with me, however briefly.

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