For me, this is a magical period, a time when it no longer seems prudent to believe only in those things which can be quantified and explained. Textbooks and peer-reviewed papers can never deal adequately with twilight.
At twilight, land and water and sky are charged with ancient mystery. Reality shifts. Secrets lurk in the darkening shadows. Things best accommodated by old knowledge—tales told round a fire by gray-bearded elders, stories passed via careful whispers in pine-fragrant glens.
Anything is possible…
A few nights ago I was sitting on the bench overlooking the river. The sunset had not been spectacular, merely a dwindling of the light in the west. Moments earlier, I had managed a photo of the vanquished sun’s final orange gleam as the fiery light bounced off the high crown of a big, white-barked sycamore upstream to be mirrored in the pool below. A sort of reflection-of-a-reflection shot.
Now the sky was the color of old pewter, barely distinguishable above the island’s treeline. The swallows were long gone and the earliest-feeding bats were already fluttering about. That’s when twilight favored me with a rare gift and I saw the nighthawks.
Migrating nighthawks are one of the quintessential last-of-summer sights in Ohio as they head for winter quarters in South America. Over-flights of birds typically begin passing through anywhere from the last week in August to the first few days of September. Late afternoon and twilight is their preferred travel time—or at least the time I generally spot them sailing along overhead.
The flight I observed the other evening was by far the largest I’ve ever witnessed. First there was a single nighthawk…then two. Then a handful, perhaps a dozen scattered loosely, then five or six, ten, four, a single…fifteen! Group after group they came, an unhurried, steady progression that might have revealed two or three dozen birds total at any one time.
A hundred nighthawks crossed overhead. Then two hundred. And still the birds kept appearing from the northwest, heading southeast. Twos, threes, a half-dozen. I was now straining to see them in the gathering darkness, missing many, losing track of others before I could make out their count.
How many were there? I honestly don’t know—but certainly several hundred. A thousand or more was equally possible.
Unlike a traveling skein of geese, the nighthawks were totally silent. And yet, long after it became too dark to see anything, I believe those migrating nighthawks were still passing above me—I seemed to feel their moving presence up there in the ebony sky.
Wishful thinking? Fantasy? Perhaps.