Something was going on at the mountain this morning, but I have no idea what it was. At dawn the crows were already cawing nervously, crisscrossing the area as though looking for some danger they could not find. The turkey vultures, who normally wait an hour or so after dawn to take to the skies (so the heat of the morning sun has a chance to create thermals) were already airborne. The white-breasted nuthatches, who have been silent with nesting duties the past few weeks, were noisy again.
I’ve learned to pay attention to what goes on in the forest. Just because I can’t sense or see something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The forest animals can sense things that are invisible or imperceptible to me. Often, if I have time to stop and wait, I will find out what it is—a fox, perhaps, or a raptor. This morning, I suspect some kind of airborne threat, simply because the rabbit and local groundhogs behaved normally, unconcerned.
Once, I was up in the Adirondacks, already deep in the woods in the early morning, when the normal morning activity of the birds suddenly quieted and then stopped entirely. I sat down and waited and watched. After about 20 minutes of sitting, I saw a Cooper’s Hawk slip out of the pines and move deeper into the forest. Within a very few minutes, the forest birds were active again, going about their morning routines. The threat was gone, and they knew it. I hadn’t known the hawk was there, but the birds around me sensed or saw its presence and their reactions told me something was up.
Sometimes, I can sense a threat only to find out it isn’t really “here.” Several years ago, in mid-summer, I smelled smoke, wood smoke. Since I live in the woods, my first thought was a forest fire. I turned on the police scanner but heard nothing. The smell got worse, and with it my feeling of unease. Before long, I could see a haze in the air that I knew was wood smoke. I tried to pinpoint the location of the smell, to no avail. I hiked around the edge of the mountain and around the foot of it, trying to find the source of the smell. Finally, the smell faded, a bit, and I gave up my search, only partially satisfied by the results of my hike. Later that day I learned that smoke from forest fires in Canada was affecting our region.
This morning, I was reminded of that incident by the way the birds behaved. They knew something was going on but couldn’t locate the source of their unease. I could see their unease in the ways they behaved and that warned me. For me, today is a work day, and I couldn’t linger to try and find out what caused the birds’ distress. I’ll probably never know, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.