Snow Geese, Calligraphy and a Cold Dawn


Yesterday we made a pilgrimage I’ve made a half dozen times before. We drove to Freezeout Lake near Fairfield, Montana, to witness the annual spring fly-out of a hundred thousand snow geese. Our road trip was short and easy compared to the birds’ many thousand-mile journey. All we had to do was get up at 4:30 am — a totally uncivilized time of day for me (*whine*) — and drive a couple of hours. The geese (up to a half million) weren’t even midway along in their migration from central California to Alaska and the Yukon. Before arriving at Freezeout, the massive flocks of geese had made a 15 to 18 hour non-stop flight. Now that’s a journey!


Imagine sitting in your car in dark. Waiting. It’s too cold and windy to wait outside. For now. The engine is running so you can keep your feet warm. You roll the window down and hear a far off murmur.

Just before dawn the sky barely lightens. The murmur resolves like a jazz chord, into low-pitched honks and calls. You sip your hot coffee … turn off the engine. You are quiet. The prairie is quiet.


Suddenly you feel a pounding downbeat as several thousand geese erupt from the water’s surface.

Snow Geese Lifting off from the surface of Freezeout Lake

The mass of black dots becomes a cloud of white. Throngs of geese lift in unison, creating a huge black and white spiral. Smooth backs reflect the twilight.  Then the flocks head towards you out of the western darkness.

Snow Geese Flying Over

They are directly overhead in just minutes. Jump out of the car and listen! The sound gives you shivers. So many voices!

Snow Geese Flyby

Look up! Life’s artistry lifts your soul. Snow geese fly in formations that shift and flex — they are writing poetry in calligraphic lines across the sky.

Snow Geese Lift Off

The incredible sound of that many geese flying overhead … going somewhere … makes me feel so connected to life. The sky and the prairie are inside me, those sounds are in my heart and my soul … I am filled with longing. To go … to explore … to belong.

Gleening the Grain in the Wheat Fields


17 Replies to “Snow Geese, Calligraphy and a Cold Dawn”

  1. You’re right. I love it.
    Totally worth the pre-dawn excursion.

    I love watching Starlings all flock to a tree and fill it completely with their cacophony.
    If you wait long enough they will all suddenly go dead silent and take off as a group.

  2. Maureen, What wonderful and extraordinary photos! I felt that I was there with you and your Mom. I was touched by God’s creation that I don’t see very often. I am going to show the pictures to those who work with me in the office on campus. They always want see the photos
    of family and creation.

  3. The snow geese are indeed very stunning. You’ve captured the beauty of their journey so well. Here in PA, the robins and sparrows have come home for Spring. When they arrived, we were near zero. They were perched in
    woods behind us, and rejoicing in beautiful chatter. I felt for them, as the cold spell has finally broken a week later.
    I too thought of taking photos, but the birds look like specks in my camera! We’ve so many different kind of birds
    here, it’s a bird watchers paradise. Pheasants are roosting right across from my home, I hear them cackling all the time, and my Bruno Leo always wants to chase them out! Crazy thing too, we’ve seagulls flying around our
    area, no ocean to be found!

  4. Aunt Dorothy, thank you for your lovely compliment about my photos. It makes me feel really good to know that you are reading my writing and looking at the imagery. I appreciate your comment. And I’m glad you’re going to show them around. I feel deeply connected to all of Creation and I’m glad you could feel that and see it through my art. I’m smiling a big smile right now. 😀

  5. Oh, Jo I can totally imagine the robins and sparrows hunkered down in the shrubs and bare tree branches — maybe surprised to have arrived and not to find Spring quite yet. Or maybe just accepting it and rejoicing anyway that they were “home.” I’m sure you took better photos with your eyes/mind/heart than you could have with a camera. Sometimes a camera just gets in the way of seeing deeply.
    We have seagulls here in Montana too — and we’re nowhere near an ocean. They hang out over Canyon Ferry Lake, Flathead Lake and any other body of water … and not so romantically from our human perspective — they hang out near dumps. heh.
    Thanks for commenting. It’s always good to know people appreciate!

  6. Starlings are awesome. I love their calls — almost comical. Would be amazing to record a large flock doing their thing. We don’t see them around here often. But when we do they are “en-masse!” Any birds that flock by the hundreds and thousands give me shivers when they rise all at once. It has a powerful effect.

  7. Thanks, Mum. Maybe we’ll have time and energy to drive up to Freezeout Lake while you are visiting, and see the last remnants of the huge flocks.

  8. What timing. Drinking my morning coffee near the window this morning, and over the course of 15 minutes a couple small flocks of geese flew overhead. Listening to them honk always makes me stop. Makes me thankful for life. And makes me laugh and miss our beautiful lab Yukon who used to get SO excited, bark and try to jump into the sky when he would hear those honks. About 30 minutes later I see your post. As I read your words and stare at your photos it compels me… I want to jump into the sky just like our silly boy Yukester used to try and do! What a magnificent experience for you, Maureen! Thank you for sharing, and for adding such goodness to this morning!

  9. Thank you so much for reading, Kathleen — and telling me about your experience this morning. Makes me feel more connected to you. Sweet/sad about missing your lab. I know that feeling. Enjoy this gorgeous weekend. <3

  10. Nice! Giving the birds the credit they deserve. Can I share with a friend?

  11. This sounds so beautiful! I can feel the sounds. Thank you so much for sharing.

  12. Wonderful! I felt like I was there – almost – wish I could hear the honking.

  13. I have been twice now since coming to Montana. It is a spiritual experience, regardless of your religion.

  14. Kathleen, it’s been a few months since you wrote this comment. Sorry I didn’t see it right away. Thanks SO much for reading. I miss seeing you once in awhile. Hope you’re doing well. <3

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