“Now I thought I have seen the best of the peregrine; there will be no need to pursue it farther; I shall never want to search for it again. I was wrong of course. One can never have enough.” John Baker, The Peregrine, 1967
When I first read The Peregrine many years ago, I fell under the spell of author J. A. Baker, who traipsed the countryside of Great Britain for ten winters seeking peregrine falcons. His observations culminated in this masterpiece of nature writing via journal entries spanning October through April of one year.
Each time Baker looked “upward for that cloud-biting anchor shape, that crossbow flinging through the air” he reveled as if a first sighting. Then, he translated revelation into poetic verse–never the same and always revealing.
Now that Halcyon Journey: In Search of the Belted Kingfisher is in the hands of readers, I am returning to The Peregrine with renewed contemplation. Did Baker influence my decision to immerse in kingfishers? I hadn’t thought so, but subliminally?
I didn’t set out with a promise of returning season upon season to the same creek in Montana seeking kingfishers. Impelled by curiosity and by the transformative power of North America’s dashing avian anglers, I found abiding happiness within the realm of “queen” and “king” fishers, a feeling that continues in my Oregon home.
Just yesterday, I followed the thrilling water-flowing-over-stone calls of a kingfisher as she skimmed the Deschutes River. Her muscular yet slender wings graced the whitewater in each downward stroke. A few minutes later, I scrambled to the water’s edge with a downriver view of a high earthen bank where northern rough-winged swallows whorled and yellow-rumped warblers sang rolling waves of melody. There! I saw her perched on driftwood with that identifiable paprika dash of a belt. Sure enough, she arrowed straight into the round opening of a nest hole.
Never enough. Like the infinite variations of water rippling, whirling, rushing, and pooling, the ways of a kingfisher form a mesmerizing free-flow dance. And yet, just as an expert paddler knows how to read a river, I have become attuned to the ways of skittish kingfishers–alert to the slightest rattle, the white neck ring shining from within a leafy tree, a potential perch on a limb or boulder by riffling waters or a deep pool, and a possible nesting cliff with soil that’s not too root-filled, rocky, or crumbly.
Never enough. As the chill morning unfolded in an azure sky and western wood pewees slurred two-note peeeee…er songs like arcing rainbows, a male kingfisher flew from a ponderosa pine across the wide waters and not at all in the way I’d anticipated. Like a skipping rock, he dipped his spear of a beak once, twice, and thrice before he settled on a branch of a dead tree. Did he see a silvery shine of tiny fish en route and thought he might scoop one up? Sipping water? Or simply finding a bit of splashy joy?
Today, in the dawn stillness, I open The Peregrine toward the end to read: “Gliding, spiraling, hovering, sculling, he seemed to be freed at last from his orchard obsession. Free! You cannot know what it means till you have seen a peregrine loosed into the warm spring sky to roam at will through all the far provinces of light.”
Oh yes. Freedom. Spaciousness. Room to breathe. I’m there. The peregrine draws us to the skies. The kingfisher connects us to sentient waters nurturing fragile life. From page 220 of my book in the last chapter:
“I believe our kinship with all life is at stake. Unless enough of us spend time in the field immersing, noticing, reveling, and wondering, we won’t act in time to save ourselves. We don’t have to be biologists; we only have to be curious.
When it comes to belted kingfishers, their trilling, consonant-rich calls above waterways send a message the Salish people have known since time immemorial. Water is life. Treat waters as you would an elder. Listen to their wisdom. Honor the complex web of riparian plants and forests vital to shading, cooling, and nourishing thousands of species converging on these living ribbons of lush green.
I’d come to know the kingfishers on one stretch of a home creek as family. Their well-being mattered in the way of love that is reciprocal, supportive, and essential.”Halcyon Journey: In Search of the Belted Kingfisher
The journey continues. The kingfisher leads. I follow. Never enough.
Updated note: I presented on Wednesday, June 1st, for Oregon Wild on the belted kingfisher as the best possible ambassador for wild waterways across North America, and for the passage of the River Democracy Act in Oregon. I sharped excerpts from my book to deepen my case for a bird that can lead us to kinship, reflection, and yes…falling in love with wild places and inspiring us to step up to save them. Watch the Recording here: In Search of the Belted Kingfisher.
Where are you reading Halcyon Journey? Without my asking, friends and family are sending me photos of reading the book outdoors. If you’d like to share, my email is email@example.com. Thank you!
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