Yesterday afternoon around 4:30 PM as my husband and I drove eastward along the Columbia River on the Oregon side, I happened to glance up and saw a small gray cloud, in an otherwise clear sky, floating about a hundred feet above the pavement. It was the size and shape of a large oval kite and it twisted and turned as if buffeted by the Columbia Gorge’s usual hearty wind. Then the “kite” unexpectedly turned from a non-descript gray color to black, then gray again; it nearly disappeared and then slowly shifted itself back into view. My mind processed several possibilities. Was it my tired eyes playing tricks, a “dust devil”, a school of fish that had blown sky-high, or a simple apparition aloft in the softening light of a blue-gray sky? But it wasn’t a cloud or a ghost; my sighting was very much alive and made up of multiple parts, working as one.
“Do you see that?”, I exclaimed. My husband nodded and wordlessly we watched as the form changed shapes and direction randomly but in a coordinated aerobatic dance. The “body” undulated, tumbled, soared, and turned inside out. Together we shouted, “It’s a flock of birds!” Sure enough, it was a giant flock of small birds flying in tandem. This miracle continued for a few moments and then by collective consent and perfect timing, the group split off and became two. As we watched this choreographed cluster dance their aerial ballet in perfect unison, they split again to become three. Then, as if guided by a heavenly hand, they dove ground-ward, swooped to the left to glide and soar above the calm surface of the glistening Columbia River.
I twisted around to watch these tiny birds sustain their wave-like motion, with dramatic pauses that seemed to defy gravity. How and why these birds flew in such perfect aerobatic formation I may never know. Was it to keep warm, as the temperature hovered around freezing at ground level, or was it for protection from an approaching predator? Were these tiny birds simply celebrating their “togetherness” in a serendipitous moment? Or was the baffling behavior characteristic to this species of bird at this time of year in this particular location? The questions still nag at me.
Ten or so miles down the road we turned north, headed to Washington State, and just as we crossed the river at Umatilla, my husband pointed to a singular dark cloud suspended high above the river to the west. “Are those the same birds?” he asked. I squinted in the dimming light and with the pinkish-red sunset in the background I saw the outline of a giant black “balloon”, with a smaller one beneath it and a black “string” linking the two together.
“It could be,” I answered. “It’s at about the same spot.”
The more I think about the phenomenon, the more it haunts me. What prompted hundreds of birds to fly together like that? I’m sure someone wiser than me would have a scientific explanation for the miracle we witnessed above the Columbia River on a cold December afternoon.
I am constantly amazed, awed, and appreciative of the beauties of nature; especially of God’s living creatures. We will remember our two or three minute miracle in the sky for a long, long time and hope that somehow, somewhere we will see an encore of that glorious aerial ballet.