WHEN A DEAR FRIEND DIES — for Alan

Christmas Fog Brig Tasha Alan 2015

Alan MacIlroy and Tasha O’Neill birding foggy Brigantine on Christmas 2015

The news we always knew, but never believed, slashes out of morning, startling and impossible as thunder snow.

Although creativity is the heart of the matter in the home Alan MacIlroy has left for our true home, — neither words nor images come to my summons, as mourning descends upon me.

My dearest Tasha is widowed anew.  Alan’s ruddy car sits in their driveway with its subtle license reminding us of his priority:  TH JRNY.   Now he has embarked on the universal journey.

Over more years than I can tally, Tasha and Alan and I have shared priceless rituals, from fireside lobster in Maine to Christmas picnics at Brigantine Wildlife Refuge.

The day of our foggy Christmas feast, a peregrine falcon had stationed itself upon a speed limit sign — “15 mph” — just beyond the Brig’s northeast corner turn.  My camera does not do justice to this monarch holding court for a rosary of reverent automobiles immobilized upon the dike road.  Alan, Tasha and I quietly slid out of his Christmasy car to stand in silence, worshiping.

After a significant interval, Alan announced, “Let’s not go over to Scott’s Landing for our Christmas dinner.  How could we leave the peregrine?”

Only as I type this, do I realize, the word peregrine means wanderer.

Alan is the consummate mentor.  “Mr. Fix-It.”  Every problem solved, especially in advance, especially for his cherished Kingston church, and local businessmen and women.  Each wooded trail at their Maine home maintained.  Every lobster boat observed upon stormy or tranquil bay.  Each wood fire, kindled on a cooling summer’s night.  His dazzling, impeccable TR 4, shining on the driveway, ready for a jaunt.  He is each woodworking project magnificently accomplished, including caning two chairs for me, burnishing the Provencal olive wood cutting board that had dimmed since I lived there.  Grace, gentleness, generosity.   Smiles and that quiet voice we will no longer hear.  Alan was the essence of tranquility.  Alan is love.

His quietly merry  spirit will be with us on every future excursion. Yet the glow of that luminous man has become memory.

Mary Elizabeth’s crystalline phrases echo as I find myself bereft of words.  May her inspiration be with NJWILDBEAUTY readers  — in this dire era, –in which too many days begin with yet another cancer call:

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.

 

I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;

 

I am not there. I did not die.

***

 

Brigantine Christmas PIcnic 2015

Tasha Prepares our 2015 Christmas Feast

***

“How can we leave the peregrine?”     Now, our wanderer has left us…

Territorial Peregrine Brigantine Christmas 2015

DEEP FREEZE BIRDING — BRIGANTINE in QUEST of SNOWY OWL Jan. 2015

The ranks are swelling, of intrepid birders, willing to go out in all weathers to find winged miracles.

Tomorrow morning, despite near-zero temperatures lately, Jeanette Hooban and I will set out on the trail of sandhill cranes in Somerset County.  Somewhere near Mettlers Lane, past the Rose Garden, at the north end of Canal Road and beyond.  Neither of us has ever seen a crane.  Stay tuned…

Thursday, an uncharacteristic day off, Mary Wood, Cathy Cullinan and I left Lawrenceville at 8 a.m., for the Bakery in Smithville, then the birds of the Brig — especially the newly reported snowy owl.

The Bakery, Smithville, New Jersey, off route 9, just before the turn to the Brigantine/Forsythe Refuge at Oceanville

The Bakery, Smithville, New Jersey, off route 9, just before the turn to the Brigantine/Forsythe Refuge at Oceanville

Glowing Interior, Bounty of Healthy Real Local Food, at the Bakery, Smithville, NJ

Glowing Interior, Bounty of Healthy Real Local Food, at the Bakery, Smithville, NJ

Hearty Birder's Breakfast, The Bakery, Smithville

Hearty Birder’s Breakfast, The Bakery, Smithville

Old Mill, without the Mill Wheel, Smithville

Old Mill, without the Mill Wheel, Smithville

Sinuosities - virtually the only open water, The Brig, January 8, 2015

Sinuosities – virtually the only open water, The Brig, January 8, 2015

Horseshoe Crab and New Snow, January 8 2015

Horseshoe Crab and New Snow, January 8 2015

Frozen Geese, Heads Tucked In so No White nor Black shows, Atlantic City in the Background

Frozen Geese, Heads Tucked In so No White nor Black shows, Atlantic City in the Background

Miserable Great Egrets -- January Deep Freeze, Brigantine, January 8, 2015

Miserable Great Egrets — January Deep Freeze, Brigantine, January 8, 2015

There Has to Be a Snowy Out there, Somewhere!

There Has to Be a Snowy Out there, Somewhere!

There IS a Snowy Owl in this Expanse, tucked underneath turf, the same size as every snow clump

There IS a Snowy Owl in this Expanse, tucked underneath turf, the same size as every snow clump

YES, we DID find the SNOWY.  No, my camera will not show it to you.  But this is the landscape in which we seek them, and the whiteness they require.

Fox Tracks in New Snow, Brigantine/Forsythe, January 8, 2015

Fox Tracks in New Snow, Brigantine/Forsythe, January 8, 2015

FROZEN BIRDERS:  There has to be a snowy out here someplace!

Frozen Birders  Can That Be the Snowy Jan 8 2015

Persimmons on High, Await Hungry Birds near the Experimental Pond

Persimmons on High, Await Hungry Birds near the Experimental Pond

OK, now I set the scenes in which we hunted, so to speak, for the snowy owl and other rarities.

That snowy, in Cathy Cullinan’s splendid picture, is no larger than my little fingernail.  It was parallel to the bank on the northeast corner of the dike road, breast not visible, so we don’t know whether it had the black distinctive marks of the female, or the mostly white feathers of the male.  It was as miserable as we were, out of the car, in that fierce southwest wind that daunted even those Canada geese.  It did not change position, in all the time we spent in its presence.  Occasionally we were more or less aware of the golden eyes, but I would NOT say we saw it actually blink.  Yes, it was worth the entire trip, to honor the presence of this new visitor.

However, as NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, I cannot photograph most birds with this camera.  And the miracles that were ours that day remain only in our hearts and memories.  Here they are, not necessarily in order of appearance.

Great egrets / Canada geese / buffleheads / hooded mergansers / tundra swans / snow geese / great blue herons / a peregrine, imperious upon an evergreen bough across the Gull Pond / gulls, including one very late great black-backed gull / no crows / no brant / the snowy owl / snow geese / one very late female red-winged blackbird / we don’t know whether salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrows – but tiny birds gleaning sides on and immediately off the dike roads / ring-necked ducks / mallards / blue jay / flock of robins / American bald eagles everywhere – including over ABSECON BAY! – but not intense, not fiercely fishing — I would say playing, kettles of eagles, relaxed, merry, sure of themselves   one immature who may be the electronically monitored nearby youngster named Nacote / no bluebirds / no Northern pintails / no shovelers

Well, you see, the Brig was mostly frozen.  Cathy, –tne burgeoning birder of our trio, who has hawk eyes, eagle eyes, snowy-owl eyes now — described what we were seeing:  “It’s as though the tide froze, and somehow went out, and everything collapsed.”  Huge plates of ice, zigging and zagging, careened, juxtaposed, oddly blued by the pale sky, were everywhere.  Barely any open water for birds, and inescapable winds.  Temperatures in the teens.

Harriers were on all sides, probably all females — possibly one ‘grey ghost’ male, but we can’t be sure — now THEY were intense, intent, hunting madly over the grasses, ‘great display’ over and over, white rump spots almost blinding.

The egrets looked the most miserable, the eagles most insouciant.

Cathy revealed that the snowy was the first owl she’d ever seen out of captivity:  “Nothing like starting at the top of the line!:

I really hand it to Mary and Cathy, out of the warm car, scanning every snow lump, trying to find that snowy or freeze in the attempt. Mary set up the scope with frozen fingers, over and over that day.

We spent most of the day there, very very slowly making our way along the dike road and between impoundments and the Bay.  Beauty everywhere, birds or no birds.  Wildness prevailed.

Nature’s kingdom, and we mere courtiers.

Remember, the Brig/Forsythe is a preserve, a national one.  All preserves are sacred, and all need your constant donations to non-profits, your constant vigilance and letters to senators and representatives and especially in OUR state, the Governor — so that these wild reaches continue to welcome and sustain wild creatures in this Anthropocene era of ours, hurtling toward the Sixth Extinction.

Go to the Brig.  Let her creatures inspire you.  Do what you can, every single day, for their preservation and that of their crucial habitat in all seasons.