Whitewater Draw is about 1½ to 2 hours drive away from here. There is nothing else out there, so we stopped in Benson to buy drinks and snacks to eat in the car. Our route takes us through the historic town of Tombstone which is busy with tourists as we drive through the center of town. Just south of Tombstone we take a left on Davis Road and head east for 22 miles. Finally we see the sign for Whitewater Draw and head 2 miles down a dirt road. As we get closer to the entrance to the Conservation Area we see the cranes wheeling in the sky. Waves after wave of cranes descends into a flooded field past the entrance. We drive past the entrance and pull off the road and park.
By the way, Gus shot over 800 pictures this day, and I met some really nice people as we walked around the rest of Whitewater Draw. We met a couple of beginning birders from Tucson named John and Mina. We had fun watching a flock of snow geese and a couple of wading avocets. Then I met a woman from Pennsylvania named Nancy B. She has an orchard out there but every winter she and her husband try to take a trip out here to see the birds. While we were talking with John and Mina, something must have startled the cranes for the huge flock rose noisily into the sky and started whirling about. Some cranes broke off and flew over us until they felt safe enough to settle down again. I had to remember to keep my mouth shut as I tilted my head back to watch. Fortunately none of us got bird bombed!
It’s still hard to grasp that I saw that many cranes that day. Until then, the most I had seen at one time was maybe 50 birds. This has to count as one of the best birding experiences of my life. On Saturday I received a gift from my friend, Kathryn. It is a book by Jonathan Rosen called The Life of the Skies, Birding at the End of Nature. Though I have only just begun it I am already hooked. Rosen writes about why we bird and why we are so drawn to birds. He writes about his love for birds in one passage describing it this way, “Just as I love watching birds, knowing full well they couldn’t care less about me. Their existence is still bound up with mine, we share a secret, though I am hard pressed to tell you what it is.” For me, part of the attraction is the mystery of flight. Oh! to soar on silent wings above the world without boundaries! Part of the attraction is what Rosen also writes about; it is the chance to glimpse a bit of the wild even in our urban and suburban landscapes. It reminds us there is a natural world out there, that all is not artificial and manmade. Finally, it is the beauty of the creature, the endless color combinations, the exotic plumage, the shining feathers, the wild discovery, the chase. It is pursuing without harming and the serendipity of the thing. You go out expecting one thing, and come back with a basket of surprises. Birds bring us closer to nature and closer to God, and, as Rosen says, they help us to more fully understand ourselves.
My birthday ended with dinner at the Longhorn Restaurant in Tombstone. By the time we arrived most of the tourists had left. Then we wandered across the street to the Silver Hills Trading company where we met a woman named Claudia who visited Tombstone, fell in love and moved there permanently. Gus also bought me 2 pairs of earrings for my birthday, though I was already overwhelmed with all the goodness the day had brought me. But it was not over yet. When we finally pulled into our garage and I started unpacking the car, Gus came walking in with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers from my oldest son and his wife. I went from an expectation of a lonely birthday to a day of abundance and joy. It will be a day I will remember for the rest of my life.