The high and the mighty

There’s a 1950s John Wayne movie in which the actor wore not a cowboy hat but a commercial airline pilot's cap. It's called The High and the Mighty. It featured a melodic whistling theme song written by the great film composer Dimitri Tiomkin.

On a walk in the country last week, I found myself humming it after I’d seen nature’s “the high and the mighty” – a flock of wild geese that winged overhead as I walked.

They come from over the horizon. If it’s a clear day they fly high in the sky. If grey clouds cover the earth they fly lower, and you can hear their garrulous conversations as they leisurely chatter, gossip and confer with one another while flapping their big wings to keep aloft.

Of all the migrating birds in this season, the wild geese seem the most emblematic of autumn.

Where I live, the flyway is probably from northern Minnesota or possibly even from the permafrost bogs of nothern Manitoba. In other locales of the country, they might be coming from Alaska or from Hudson Bay. Their journey to the south is an epic one, fraught with difficulties and perils, and repeated twice a year.

The sky is theirs, and far places as well. The sight and sound of them brings a sense of longing for locations over the horizon you've never been to, even a kind of nameless nostalgia for the infinite.

They come from over the horizon, like autumn itself … following summer southward. Earthbound, you're left with a haunting memory to remind you of autumn’s footloose travelers, the proud, talkative, high-ranging geese.


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