Back around Christmas, the winds were blowing hard in Asturias. Most days were dry but a couple were patchy with dark clouds and stinging rain that within a few hours had blown on by; the following day, the sun would be out again. A few days into January, on an unseasonably warm morning, I drove into town, parked near the beach, and then walked across the bridge over the Piles River, which empties into the ocean there at the edge of the beach. On one side is the city park, on the other the ocean, and in front, facing the beach, is the line of high-rises. Above me, the gulls circled, wheeling and soaring. I watched as I walked. Occasionally they twisted abruptly to face the wind blowing in from the ocean. For a moment or two, they hung there, quivering with the effort, before letting go and being swept back. With the sun shining and everything aflutter, the gulls’ white feathers appeared silver, and they gleamed and flashed. I saw the birds dive into what appeared to be a stream of calmer air, where they maneuvered effortlessly before washing out of it and back into the tumult of crashing air currents to toss about, dipping, flapping, flashing.
Watching the seagulls, I was reminded of a stork pair I saw some years ago in a high wind trying to gain their nest on the top of a church tower in the city of Ávila. I’ve heard of storks in Asturias but seen their nests only south of the mountains. The nests are big—sometimes they seem to cover the entire top of an old tower—and the size of the target reassures a viewer, though the storks are also big and cannot dart in, but need instead something like an airy runway to taxi in on to a slow flap, legs out for landing, and it’s tricky in a wind.
One of the pair would make an attempt, approaching the nest, only to be caught up in a gust and carried past. Then the other sailed in, sank close, braked, stretched, and wobbled and then had to flap wildly to keep from crashing. They tried from different angles as we in the approaching car watched them foiled by the wind.
Once, at about sundown here at home, I heard great thumping wing beats and ran outside to see a lone duck come flapping over my roof, just clearing it, and sink onto the peaked roof of the horreo, the typical Asturian wooden storehouse on pillars, that stands in my yard. There it stayed.
Birds of a feather flock together, we say in English, and the Spanish say something similar: Dios los cría y ellos se juntan—God makes them, but they choose their own company—and just as in the English expression, the sense tends to be pejorative. But the saying didn’t help explain the duck’s solitary presence in my yard. Could it be an omen, flapping in with a message for me, having come on the winds of change?
The next morning at sunup the duck was still there, but when I looked again a little later, it had flown.
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