In a flash of orange and red, the first red-winged blackbird of our drive north glides along a fence line parallel to I-35 just shy of Missouri. Corey, a black pug, snores between my mother-in-law, Agnes, and me in the backseat of the blue pickup, my husband John and his dad Jim up front. John and I, now living in Polonia, often travel with his parents on their annual trek from Texas to their hometown in Stratford. Once home, they’ll stay for part of the spring, all of the summer, and a good part of the fall, migrating just as many birds return to a northern home.
John is at the wheel at the end of our first day, where we’ve made good time through Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Jim scrutinizes a thick map book to find the town of Cameron in the corner of Missouri and the hotel we’ll stop at for the night. The dog-friendly inn has a garden for dog walking or bird watching the next morning, chickadees swooping over the arbor and plump robins hopping on the grass.
After breakfast, we’re back on the road. On our way through Iowa, we pass sprouting corn and soybean fields that turn silver in the wind. The second day is the longest, an 11-hour trip with a few changes of drivers so everyone can rest. We cross into Minnesota, making a turn over the Mississippi and into Wisconsin with its rows of pines, red and white barns standing in sharp relief against the rain’s bright grass. Canadian geese in pairs fly over a rural truck stop we take a break at, the cries they make almost dog-like. Corey, meanwhile, has slept most of the trip, although he perks up at this change of climate, the humidity and heat at the start of our drive replaced by sharp, clear air.
It’s evening once we reach our in-law’s house. We have just enough light to unpack the blue truck and for Agnes to fill the bird feeder for morning. The next day, early arrivals waste no time in helping themselves to the seed and suet, midnight-colored purple martins and orange and black-splashed orioles swooping in and out of the feeder. Cardinals take turns in red and green pairs, along with checkered blue jays. After a night of sleeping hard we sit on the deck with our coffee, Corey at our feet, birds of all kinds lounging in the sun of this home up north.