Early one May, I was walking along the rocky lakefront at Park 566. A low, gray sky, 62 degrees, with a gentle southwest wind. Big Lake Michigan was like a sheet of glass. About one hundred yards ahead, I spotted a group of Willets gathered on the rocks, their heads cocked as they eyed me quizzically. They didn't seem skittish, though, and they stayed calm as I approached slowly.
They were perched on several hunks of the US Steel South Works slag that forms this coastline, and in the early morning gray light, with the calm water as a backdrop, the scene was a Japanese ink painting. I was mesmerized. At about forty yards away I decided that was close enough. The Willets seemed like they planned to be there a while, and I didn't have anywhere I needed to be, so I found a comfortable rock and sat and watched.
They stood like bored bovines, staring at the tips of their beaks. I almost expected them to start chewing their cud. Every minute or so, one would lazily open its beak and let out a squawk, like a drunken seagull. A few of them bathed and preened, but mostly they just stood there, staring toward the still lake.
A few minutes after I sat down, I noticed that the breeze was no longer at my back. It had swung around and was now coming in softly off the lake, from the northeast. It was a cold wind, and it brought with it a bank of fog—a solid wall of white, closer and closer, blocking out the rising sun, and coming to a stop less than fifty yards off shore.
The world had suddenly shrunk. It ended at that wall of fog. Beyond it, there was nothing. And within the small circle where I now found myself, I saw only—rocks, water, my own feet, nine Willets. The only sounds—a splashing Willet, my heart. The smell of the wet rocks. The world had reduced itself to its starkest simplicity. It was one of the most eerie, peaceful, mysterious moments I have ever experienced. That stuff you read, about experiencing the universe in a single moment. This was it. It was wonder-ful.
The temperature dropped about ten degrees, and I had to warm myself. The Willets continued staring, bathing, preening, as I backed away and moved on.
Dan's Feathursday Feature is a weekly contribution to the COS blog featuring the thoughts, insights and pictures of Chicago birder, Dan Lory on birds of the Chicago region.