زمین شگفت انگیز را صدا می زند

مجموعه: سهم من از کوهستان / کتاب: کوهستانِ شگفت انگیز / فصل 18

زمین شگفت انگیز را صدا می زند

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  • زمان مطالعه 26 دقیقه
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متن انگلیسی فصل

IN WHICH The Earth Calls Frightful

And then it happened.

Frightful hopped from limb to limb until she reached the wispy top of the ancient hemlock. She turned her head slowly as she took a bearing on the sun’s rays. She fixed on a longitude between ninety and seventy degrees. After many takes, the direction was indelibly printed on her brain. She pointed her head and body along the invisible line. She bent her knees and ankles. She lowered her wings.

“Alice,” Sam whispered. “Frightful’s leaving us!”

“How do you know?”

“Look at her. She has that southward concentration of migrating birds. I’ve seen it in robins and blackbirds.”

Frightful flew. She did not look back.

“But she loves you,” Alice cried. “She can’t go. She doesn’t know what to do without you.”

“But she does,” said Sam, watching her disappear. “She’s flying south.

“Come back in the spring,” he called, then added, “I’ll be waiting.”

Sam climbed the old hemlock, trying to catch one last glimpse of his beloved bird. She was already far away.

She rode the prevailing wind over the familiar mountains and rivers and beyond the Catskills into unknown territory. She did not hesitate or turn back. She memorized the landscape as she flew—forests, rivers, highways, and cities. In one hour she saw the Atlantic Ocean ahead. Its plantless expanse told her it was not the way to go.

She came down on a tor above the Hudson River and perched in an isolated ash tree. A Cooper’s hawk and two red-tails were hunting not far away.

Frightful noted the moisture in the air, the clouds, the wind, and the other migrating birds passing overhead. Blackbirds swarmed over the cattail swamp at the bottom of Hook Mountain.

In the morning the sky was clear and blue. She perched in the top of the ash, waiting for the earth to warm and the wind to rise and carry her on her way.

She took off about nine o’clock.

“Peregrine!” a man on the top of Hook Mountain shouted with gusto. He was seated before a spotting scope.

“That makes forty peregrines for the month,” said a woman sitting on a camp stool. She put a check beside “peregrine falcon” in the raptor counting book. The tor top was speckled with men and women who came to Hook Mountain in the autumn to count the birds of prey. Each year these people, like thousands of others, tallied raptors along the four migratory flyways in North America—the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific flyways. They counted because the birds of prey were losing ground in the fight for survival. By comparing their numbers each year, the counters could tell whether or not their efforts to ban pesticides and pass laws protecting the birds were working. The birds of prey were vital to the health of North America.

The people on Hook Mountain cheered when Frightful went over. A peregrine was a thrill to see. The bird had been eliminated by DDT and pesticides in much of the United States in the forties, fifties, and sixties. Even now it was still a rare sight—a beautiful rare sight.

Frightful’s wings cut circles in the wind that sped her southeast toward the ocean. Abreast of New York City, she sensed she was off-course. Her internal compass and the increasing moisture in the air sent her westward. Rough air bounced her back and forth, but she found her longitude again over the New Jersey marshlands.

She dropped down to rest on the post of a duck blind. A shotgun blasted.

She took off, skimmed low over the tops of the sedges until she found a thermal, and rode it, ringing swiftly up, barely moving her wings as it carried her out of the range of the duck hunters’ guns.

Soaring, tipping, circling at the top of the thermal was Drum.

“Creee, creee, creee,” she called. Her first tiercel eyas answered with nestling talk, “Pseee,” then adult talk, “Creee, creee, creee.”

They sped out of the thermal together and started down the coast. They flew extremely high, keeping the ocean on their left. Drum had taken this trip last year. He picked smooth winds between towers of clouds as he led Frightful through the sky.

Frightful and Drum and several other birds of prey kept each other in sight. Traveling together, they formed a sky club. Before long they came to know each other and passed on information about the weather and the terrain. The experienced ones knew to come down early before a storm. Others sensed turbulence approaching and took detours around destructive winds.

Over Virginia a sudden gust of dry air pushed Frightful ahead of Drum. She had learned at Delhi that such a wind would be followed by a cold front. She flew faster to keep ahead of it. Six hundred miles from Hook Mountain, she came down on a utility pole on Cape Hatteras. Fifteen minutes later Drum joined her. Dropping out of the sky by twos and ones came the goshawk, the kestrel, the red-tailed, and the sharp-shinned—the bird club. They spread out over the vast wetland.

Frightful looked down on black ducks, mallards, blue-winged teals, plovers, godwits, yellowlegs, sandpipers—all the migrating birds that loved wetlands. At the sight of a peregrine falcon they vanished. Frightful did not chase them. She was looking for pigeons and rats but actually was not very hungry. She was living on her migratory fat. Perched on the pole, she oiled her feathers, which had become dry at the high altitudes. Drum oiled his on the mast of a sailboat that had been dumped in the marsh by a long-ago storm.

In the morning Frightful did not follow Drum southward. The wind was wrong. It was coming from the south-east, bending the trees to the northwest. She recalled the winds that had preceded the storm on the Schoharie Reservoir and flew inland to the little town of Plymouth, North Carolina. She landed on the bell tower of a church. She knew a church tower well, found one of the open windows, and walked in.

Drum had not gone far before he realized the winds were wrong. He back-flipped in the air and came down on a water tupelo tree about three miles from Frightful. The tree had grown great buttresses to support it in storms and in the watery soil.

Frightful in her church and Drum in his tupelo sat quietly through screaming gusts and dead calms. They preened. Frightful watched a duck fly into the reeds and a willet find shelter behind a dense clump of sedge.

The next day the winds were stronger. Lengths of clouds became stringy clusters of gray. Frightful stayed in her church tower, Drum settled closer to the bole of the tupelo tree.

Two nights later, windblown rain began to fall. First in light dribbles, then in gushes. The ducks and geese and herons hunkered down in the sedges and reeds. The warblers had gone inland to the pine forests. They pushed close to the tree trunks. The falcons and hawks sought shelter in forests and buildings. Those that had felt the lowering pressure of the storm, before Frightful and Drum had felt them, had flown west to get around it. They were sleeping in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Around two o’clock, Frightful’s church tower vibrated in the high wind. A shutter was torn from the rectory. It clattered down the street, breaking into splinters. The lights in the town went out. Frightful awoke from time to time, when the wind blew so hard it rang the church bells. She shook off the rain coming horizontally in through the windows, then put her beak into the feathers of her back and went to sleep.

Drum was not as comfortable. His tupelo tree lashed and coiled like a whip in the wind. He crouched, tightening his grip on the limb, and faced into the storm. Hours passed.

Just before dawn, a tidal wave six feet high roared across the marsh. It was seawater that had been lifted up into the center of the hurricane by the low pressure. It hit the base of Drum’s tree and rose so fast that Drum was forced to fly. He could not see well, but he knew the direction of the forests. Beating his wet wings, he was carried, rolling and tumbling, low over the marshland. He crashed into a hill of groundsel bushes and wedged his way into their dense center. Then he climbed away from the rising water. Drum went lower into the bushes just as a 110-mile-an-hour wind struck. It ripped off every groundsel leaf, leaving the limbs bare. Gripping with all his strength, Drum faced into the storm, his streamlined body minimizing the wind.

Then came the calm. The eye of the storm passed through Plymouth at about two in the afternoon. Frightful was awakened by an all-encompassing silence. Drum sat still. This was no time to fly. Half awake, half asleep, he waited.

In the morning the eye of the hurricane was off to the north, and the far side of the storm struck the marshland. It was less forceful. The winds blew west now. Frightful stayed in the church tower. Drum stayed in the flooded groundsel bushes. The rain slowed, and the tide receded. By the end of the day the hurricane was off Cape Hatteras, on its way north. The sun came out.

Frightful caught one of several wet rats that had retreated to the church and crawled up to the bell tower. Drum shook the water from his feathers and flew inland. He climbed high, found a brisk wind, and sailed down the coast toward Florida.

Frightful took off around noon. She also climbed high. Although she had never seen the swamps and forests of Georgia and Florida, she sensed their place and recorded them on her visual mind. Navigating with her were members of the bird club. They had weathered the storm in trees and docks inland from the cape. Left behind were gaggles of ducks and geese. They had found their winter destination. The peregrine falcons flew on.

Two days after the storm, Frightful came down in a Florida sable palm and noted her global position again— eighty degrees longitude. She took off and flew over the tip of Florida. The club had dispersed. Each had gone on to its own ancestral wintering grounds. Two new companions joined Frightful, one an older peregrine falcon and the other a young tiercel.

The winds were light, and Frightful had to work hard to keep up her speed in the warm air below the tropic of Can-cer.

She stopped overnight in Cuba and flew on the next day.

Immediately she was over the open water with no landmarks. She guided herself by the rays of the sun. When clouds piled up in the late afternoon, she came down on a key off the shore of Belize, caught food, rested, and went on.

She was alone now. She followed her directional line over the Caribbean Sea and caught up with Drum as they were approaching the Isthmus of Panama.

Drum looped in greeting. They flew in tandem to the palms and ficus trees on Barro Colorado Island and came to rest in black mangrove trees. They did not eat. A great urgency drove them on. In the morning they were over the Pacific Ocean, headed for Chile.

The winds changed from smooth glass to bumps. Drum recognized the edge of a tropical storm and turned east.

Frightful flew west. She also recognized the texture of the air and the color of the sky that foretold atmospheric trouble, but she chose to fly around the disturbance. Drum’s course took him back to his wintering grounds on the Chilean shore.

Frightful flew for almost an hour to get around the storm before turning south. No land was in sight. She flew on.

In the late afternoon she held her wings straight out to glide and save energy. She dropped closer and closer to the surface of the ocean. She saw no resting place, not even a boat.

She flew all night.

At sunup she was still just above the water, her wings outstretched, gliding to find a badly needed bit of land. All was water.

As she looked and glided, a flock of storm petrels winged by. They wheeled in the orange sunrise. A flock of blue-winged teals flew with them. These were no birds of the ocean. They were birds of the land.

Land was near. Frightful summoned new energy and climbed into the sky. In the distance she saw a green-gray island.

With a last effort, she pumped her wings and flew straight ahead and came down on a palo santo tree on Espanola Island. Birds flew lazily above it. Male frigate birds with bright red balloonlike sacs under their chins cruised the shore. Not three feet from Frightful, seven little black Darwin cactus finches were busily gleaning food. She waited for them to flee. All birds fled from her. The Darwin finches kept on hopping and eating. They did not know they should beware of predators. Frightful had arrived in the Galapagos Islands, six hundred miles out in the Pacific Ocean, where the birds and reptiles had lived for hundreds of thousands of years, perhaps millions, without predators. They were totally unafraid.

Frightful was unable to chase the friendly birds. They did not fly away from her, and because they did not, she was not inspired to chase them. She was exhausted and hungry amid friendly creatures. She was watching them, growing listless from hunger, when a wheeling flock of sanderlings and whimbrels from the continent flew past. They acted familiarly. They flew together and apart at the sight of a predator, and Frightful dove into their midst. She gave chase and finally ate.

Returning to the palo santo tree, she rested not far from a group of Galapagos mockingbirds. They were not as innocent as the little finches. They were attacking everything— iguanas, birds, other mockingbirds, and Frightful herself. They did not know she was a predator, but they did not like any other living thing in their territory. They swooped and dove and pestered. She returned the compliment. She swooped and dove—and they all stayed away.

From her perch she watched young sea lion cubs and their mothers tumbling on the beach. The huge bulls were in the water. They roared and bellowed when another male came near their harem and offspring.

Something moved at the foot of Frightful’s tree. She focused. A three-foot-long land iguana was chewing cactus fruits. His dragonlike spines and thick skin sent a strong message to her. He was not food.

For several hours Frightful bobbed her head and looked from one strange animal to another in this world of ancient survivors.

At sunset, clouds piled up like purple mountains, forecasting rain. Frightful flew to a shelter she had pinpointed on her arrival. She crossed the water to Gardner’s Island and alighted on a steep lava cliff of cracks and niches. All were occupied by blue-footed boobies, big birds with startlingly blue feet. They chased her off their properties. She dropped to another shelter and was ushered out by Galapagos penguins. These perky, upright birds had been lost from the ice islands of Antarctica hundreds of thousands of years ago and, unable to swim back, had adjusted to the tropical heat. They cooled off by lifting their wings, panting, and jumping into the icy water.

Frightful left the penguins and blue-footed boobies to their caves and niches and rounded the island, looking for shelter. She came upon another cave on the western cliff, facing the oncoming storm. The cave was scoured by wind, sea, and water, and was deep enough for shelter. She walked into it.

That night a downpour pelted the cliff side. Frightful shook rain from her feathers without awakening. In the morning, bright sunlight turned the roughened water into patches of flashing silver. The clouds were gone. Frightful flew back to Espanola Island for food.

It was vacation time for peregrines, and Frightful sensed it. She flew for the sheer pleasure of flying. She winged out over the water to be rocked by warm sea winds. She climbed up into storm clouds and rolled out of them into sunshine. She turned loops and spirals.

Each morning for the next two months, she played with the air currents high above her rocky little island, then streaked to her palo santo on Espanola Island. When the daily tourist boats arrived around ten o’clock, she flew back to her island, leaving the sea lions, Darwin finches, marine iguanas—all the original residents—to entertain the people. They did this admirably, since they were totally unafraid of the two-legged mammals. Until three hundred years ago, no humans had come to these isolated islands, and the birds and reptiles had not learned to run from them. Their inherited memories covered one million years without people, and so the birds hopped close to tourists and fishermen. The sea lions did not move when photographers walked among them. Lizards challenged lizards while people watched, and marine iguanas walked between human feet on their way down the beaches to feed in the sea.

On December 21, the day of the winter solstice, something happened to Frightful.

The image of the one mountain among thousands, the one tree among millions, and the one boy, Sam Gribley, flashed in, then out of her mind.

Three days later she left Gardner’s Island. She stopped on Espanola for a week, eating well and putting on fat for the long flight ahead. She was going home. The sun had changed only a few seconds at the equator, but it was telling her body to migrate.

She pointed her beak south. In New York, shorter days had told her to go south. Here in the tropics the days were now growing shorter, and Frightful pointed her beak the wrong way.

She was ready to take off when a Galapagos hawk landed on a cactus in front of her. His feathers were dark brown, his eyes yellow. He flew into her face. Frightful fell backward, twisted onto her wings, and sped. Two other male Galapagos hawks came after her. They were a family of three males and one female. The males were defending their nest on a cactus not a hundred yards from where Frightful had sat. They all helped one female raise her chicks, each of which had a different father. The hawk family passionately attacked falcons from the north. Having sent Frightful on her way, the three males came after her, but Frightful’s tapered falcon wings were faster than their broad hawk wings. She sped to the end of the island and rested on a lava rock.

Frightful was facing north. Suddenly the iron bits in her brain clicked a strong message to her—fly straight on. Her brain was feeling the pull of the earth’s magnetic field, slight as it was.

Frightful flew north.

She flew along longitude ninety degrees, the longitude along which the Galapagos Islands lie. After a half hour’s flight, she landed on a palo santo tree at the top of a dead volcano. She lingered uncertainly among complacent woodpeckers from the north. They contused her. They were busy being home lovers. Their ancient ancestors had found the Galapagos Islands so pleasant that they had not returned north. Frightful might have remained with them had not a flock of pintail ducks come down on the shore below. She chased them. Three left the island, headed north. She followed them, sensing that her inner compass had finally kicked in and was correct.

Frightful and the ducks came to rest on Darwin Island, the last outpost before El Salvador, a thousand miles away. Frightful was now north of the equator, but only about ten miles. She lingered on this bird-rich island to put on more fat.

In early January the sun’s message was stronger. The days were several seconds longer—spring was coming to the north. She crouched low, straightened up, and bobbed her head. The one mountain among thousands, the one tree among millions, and the one Sam Gribley were pulling her home. She flew up the Galapagos longitude, headed straight for El Salvador in line for Wisconsin.

For many miles, she flew over the Pacific Ocean with a flock of red-rumped storm petrels. They dove for tiny fish. Around her, gulls screamed and pelicans flapped laboriously. Then the land birds vanished and she saw only birds of the open ocean, the albatrosses and snowy terns. Frightful sensed she was far from food and land.

The sun set orange-red on the ocean, and in seconds it was night. There is no true twilight in the tropics. The stars instantly appeared in the black sky, reflecting their light on a quiet ocean.

Alone in the starlight, Frightful flew on.

She breathed steadily as she followed her internal homing equipment. To save energy, she flapped her wings strongly, then soared for long periods on the errant winds.

She kept going.

In the morning she was on a clockwise wind that was carrying her east. She turned to get back on course when she saw land birds in the distance. She caught up and flew with them. They grew more numerous, then floating seaweed told of land not far ahead. Frightful held her wings outstretched and glided on the wind.

She put her feet down on a coconut palm on Cocos Island.

Sandpipers ran along the beach; gulls screamed and looped through the air. Migrating birds rested and gathered strength for the long flight north.

Frightful rested, then darted around Cocos Island for three days, eating and sleeping and gaining weight. When the sun had added another two minutes to the day, the mountain, the tree, and the boy appeared in her mind. Taking another reading on the sun’s rays, feeling the magnetic pull of the earth, she flew north on the fateful ninety-degree line headed for Wisconsin.

Three hundred miles beyond Cocos Island, Frightful knew there was land to the east. She did not see birds or seaweed, but she felt the mass of a continent.

Ignoring the sun, she turned and flew east. After an hour manipulating bumpy winds, she arrived at the Isthmus of Panama.

Frightful flew directly to the mangrove tree on Barro Colorado Island where she had rested in the autumn.

She ate and slept. For three days she stayed on the island, looking northward from time to time, realigning her compass. When the rays of the sun and her magnetic sense lined her up with eighty degrees longitude, she was ready to fly. The one mountain in thousands, the one tree among millions, and Sam were straight ahead.

“Creee, creee, creee.”

Drum slammed down beside her.

They exchanged soft noises of recognition, then swooped over the island, chased each other, ate well, and started home.

The trip progressed slowly at first. Frightful and Drum stopped in Cuba for ten days and along the northern coast of Florida for a week. As the days grew longer, they went faster. They lingered in South Carolina for only five days, flew over North Carolina, and came down for a day in Virginia. Cape May, New Jersey, was their next stop. On the narrow peninsula they met hundreds of other raptors going north to their aeries, their nests and scrapes. Frightful barely noticed them. No sooner was she rested than she took off for the one mountain among thousands.

Navigating now by the sight of familiar forests and rivers, she arrived home in three and a half hours and dropped into the one tree among millions.

“Creee, creee, creee, car-reet,” Frightful called.

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