A spiraling sound in the desert

Out in this desert, you never know when you’re going to intersect with a strange new noise.

I was traveling north on 447, on the stretch of road between Nixon and the left turn to the Pyramid, where you just get over the hump of the highway and bring the playa of old Winnemucca Lake into view. There, I saw something that prompted me to pull over and take a longer look.

Out over the lake bed, there was a large flock of one of our great birds, the white pelican. I counted 55-65 of them, and they were all flying in a loose, lazy, circular column high in the sky. It was quite a sight, since the sun was hitting them at an angle that allowed for their gleaming white wings with jet black tips to be highly highlighted.

So I pulled over and got the camp chair out of the back of the truck, fixin’ to sit a spell and watch them. Why not? Didn’t have anything better to do, and who knew what kind of vicarious pleasures might be had in watching these characters do their thing on a hot, stress-free summer afternoon? While comfy in the chair, slurping on a cold, fizzy water (so much zippier than just your standard old flat-ass bottled water), I noticed the big flock was getting bigger every few minutes because new, small groups of satellite pelicans, about 10-15 birds apiece, would just sorta ease into the Big Bunch every few minutes. This was a pleasant thing to contemplate; this great group of pelicans, all merging together to achieve a physical oneness. Good, finger-poppin’ Taoist action. In the distance, there were more small groups, slowly heading toward the Big Bunch, awaiting their chance to join The One.

Then, in the total, almost extreme silence since there was zero traffic, I heard this odd new whishing, whushing noise directly overhead. It was loud enough to cause a bit of a start. I had no clue what it could be. The answer floated into my field of vision. This sound was that of a new, incoming group of pelicans, 20 of these big suckers, wingspans of 7 to 8 feet, coasting at about 50 feet above ground and headed in the general direction of the Big Bunch.

Wwwhhhiiiiiisssssshhhhhhhhhh. Not the easiest noise to spell, the noise of floating, lightly rustling pelican wings. But that’s sorta close.

This new group glided off and, soon enough, joined the thickening spiral of brothers, now at least 100 strong. I kept watching them, finding it lazily pleasing to do so, and I floated off myself, slipping into that curious dimension between waking and dreaming. The zone of Nodoff, where siestas live and thrive. There I stayed until the 18-wheeler thundered past, shattering the Spell of the Spiraling Pelicans.