Sometimes it’s all about happenstance, simply being in the right place at the right time. That’s just as true when it comes to outdoor life as it is in any other endeavor. Matter of fact, I believe it’s the case the majority of the time.
I’ve long been a keen observer of wildlife and the natural world. I’ve taken many a journey with particular sights and experiences in mind. I’ve logged countless miles, vaporized countless gallons of gasoline and worn out countless pairs of footwear attempting to catch a certain fish, see a certain bird, or witness a certain natural phenomenon. Often, these excursions involve meticulous pre-trip study, planning and strategy. Equally as often, the detailed preparation doesn’t amount to the proverbial hill of beans. Mother Nature, alas, is often absent from my planning sessions. She defies me. She has her own ways of doing things. She, not I, dictates policy.
On the other hand, her fickle attitude has taught me something. Namely the importance of keeping my senses attuned to whatever “business” she might be conducting at any given moment. “Pay attention,” she tells me. “I just might decide to show you something.”
Right place. Right time. Happenstance.
I exit my ground blind after three hours and no deer sightings. I’m frustrated. Something, however, tells me I should still-hunt back to my truck. Halfway there, a nice eight-point crosses my path. I take him. Had I left my blind a minute earlier or later…?
I’m late. I slept in. I linger too long over a third cup of coffee. I step out the door. Oops. Cup number three summons me back inside. A bathroom delay. Forty-five seconds. I look at the mirror. Oops. Forgot to tie back the ponytail. Another minute. Back outside. Halfway to the truck. Oops. Didn’t lock the door. Thirty more seconds. At the truck now, I chance to look upward.
A pair of red-tailed hawks is engaged in airborne courtship in the sky above. I’ve seen this but two or three times in 60-plus years. For perhaps two minutes the male raptor performs his aerial acrobatics before coaxing the object of his affection into a nearby copse of trees. What if…?
The Flint River shoal bass aren’t biting. Ease over to the bank and have lunch. Over there, near those rocks. As good a place as any. Mustard sardines and crackers. RC Cola. First bite. Yum. Whoa! What’s that?
Two diamondback rattlesnakes, that’s what. Big males. I know they’re boy snakes because they’re wrestling and sparring, behaviors exhibited when wooing a receptive female. It’s a legless-reptilian version of rutting bucks doing battle. I’ve seen it before, but only in a National Geographic video. If not for uncooperative fish and hunger pangs…
I can take any of three trails through the woods. Randomly, I choose. A mile into the hardwood forest I hear a noise. Noises, actually; spits, growls, rustling leaves, breaking twigs. Three juvenile bobcat siblings, obviously just old enough to be on their own, but not yet possessing the confidence to separate. They move along together, loudly and clumsily, pausing now and then to playfully slap and snarl at each other. I stand quietly camouflaged against a tree trunk. They never notice me. I’m amused. They’re just kids with much yet to learn about survival. Why did I choose this particular…?
The wildlife refuge is huge, sprawling. Hiking options are myriad. Away we go, with little rhyme or reason. A salt marsh is a salt marsh is a salt marsh. Hours later, fatigue. Who knew the loop was this long? Last leg. Thank goodness. The end is in sight. We’ve logged dozens of birds, counted umpteen alligators. Nature overload. Time to call it a day.
Enter the kestrel. The little “sparrow hawk” appears from nowhere, swoops down and hovers like a mini feathered helicopter over a low-tide sandbar. He hangs there, suspended, before at last diving down to pluck some hapless crustacean from the muck. Thus fed, the diminutive falcon makes its exit.
Hovering is a commonly seen American kestrel behavior, but one my hiking companion has never before observed. Despite the exhaustion, he is excited, fondly recalling the incident.
“Yep,” I say. “Right time, right place, happy happenstance.”
Say, that’s not a bad catchphrase.
Wonder if Mother Nature minds my using it?