A March pilgrimage reveals resurgent wildlifeby Peter Smith, Minnesota Public Radio
Chaucer says April is the month for pilgrimages. But Peter Smith prefers to set out on a late March afternoon. Smith makes his March pilgrimage through the beautiful Minnesota countryside -- wildlife and all.
St. Paul, Minn. — I have an old friend -- a sharp-eyed wildlife lover. This time of year, he'll take long, rambling, Minnesota back road nature tours. Sometimes I ride along.
The guy is amazing. He spots birds and animals you thought you'd never see anywhere, let alone a few miles out of town.
One Sunday afternoon recently, riding section roads west of the Twin Cities, we saw huge flights of migrating ducks, geese, deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, and hawks. And bald eagles. Lots of bald eagles. I thought I was watching one of those cable TV nature shows.
And just when I thought we'd seen everything the area had to offer, a bunch of wild swans flew past my window in perfect formation.
It's part eyesight -- his is exceptional -- but it's mostly mindset. You have to want to see what, more often than not, is right there in front of you, hiding in plain sight.
Experience has something to do with it, too. You learn to scan the edges of fields, near wood lines. And to watch for certain shapes -- the hunched over, "Bogart-in-the-rain" look of an eagle on a branch, for example. Or the jaunty, Nike swoosh-like profile of a pheasant picking gravel at the edge of the road.
The more you look, the more you see. And the more evident it becomes that we're awash in remarkable comebacks.
Canada geese were all but gone a quarter century ago. Now, roving gangs of them fly in from the country and take over our city parks every spring, intimidating the very young, the very old and the jogging. Bald eagles have come back. So have wild turkeys, owls, and, these past few years, swans.
My buddy and I came around a curve up near Lake Mille Lacs a while back and came face to face with a couple of tough-looking timber wolves.
"What you looking at?" they seemed to ask.
In a surreal convergence of technology and nature, we once pulled the truck over and watched a sand hill crane perform a dance for his mate in more-or-less perfect time to Dean Martin singing "That's Amore" over the truck's sound system.
If there's an ounce of nature lover in you, you really ought to make a pilgrimage yourself.
Take the closest highway out of town. Turn on the first section road after the last housing development -- and start looking. You'll see.
It's Saint Francis of Assisi in a Chevrolet with power seats and cup holders. It's not exactly a Chaucer-like pilgrimage to the cathedral at Canterbury in England. But you never know what you might see this time of year just a few miles the past the racetrack at Canterbury Park in Shakopee.
- Morning Edition, 03/24/2009, 6:55 a.m.
Peter Smith lives in Hopkins, Minn.