Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Orders of Magnitude

A while back, I confessed to dispatching two black snakes who had been harassing our chickens. I threw the limp lifeless body of one snake into the tall grass at the edge of the woods, in order for it to be assimilated by the various and sundry woodland decomposers whose job it is to make such things right.

A few days later, I was walking up the driveway towards the pines when I was startled by a commotion to my left. Out of the deep grasses and scrub a turkey buzzard rose majestically and swooped across the driveway and garden. It grabbed great fistsful of air with its pinions, pulling itself into the sky with unimaginable power and grace, slowly gaining speed and altitude until it disappeared above the pines to the north.

I peered into the grasses from where this pterosaur had launched, and found what looked like a tiny scrap of frayed rope—the few remains of the snake, picked clean of flesh and skin. What the bird with a wingspan greater than my armspan found for sustenance in that tiny morel, and how it discovered it in the first place, astonished me.

The next afternoon, we sat quietly in the front yard, enjoying a leisurely afternoon in the warm sun. All at once, there was a commotion, and a turkey buzzard once again rose from the tall grasses, taking the same trajectory. But something amazing happened: The buzzard flushed a pileated woodpecker from a nearby oak tree, and in its haste, it followed a parallel trajectory with the buzzard. (Normally, a pileated woodpecker is one of the largest birds you will see in the woods, with a two-foot wingspan and a distinctive flight pattern—it is majestic and beautiful with its distinctive brilliant red-white-black plumage). And at the same instance, just before our faces, a few yards away, a ruby-throated hummingbird hovered in mid-flight:

So for one split second, all in the same line of sight, at the same instant—a turkey buzzard, a pileated woodpecker, and a ruby-throated hummingbird.

And they were gone.

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