Red-Winged Blackbird | Mark Lindsay

A red flash! I blinked, thinking it to be some kind of short circuit deep inside my retina. Another red flash! Was it an illusion? Or was there something in the brush ahead? I left the path and walked lightly among the dead reeds, trying not to make noise. Stealthiness was an impossible task. The dried, hollow sticks snapped easily under my weight. Flash! Flash! The red flash moved further yet away. It was toying with me.

It seemed like it might be some kind of alien lure, the type that would lead an unsuspecting citizen into a spaceship for capture. Shaking my brain of pubescent conjecture, I discounted this notion. The only flying objects nearby were coming from the small, local airport.

Flash! Flash! And flash again!

My stalking wasn’t working. The damned thing was on to me and watching my every move. I couldn’t get closer. Each of my crunchy footsteps was followed by an equidistant movement of the red flash. It was like the bouncing ball of one of those old, sing-along cartoons. Hop, hop, hop…FLASH! Lost in my tracking, I was now getting close to the perennially wet part of the swamp. The crunchy footsteps changed to the sound of giant plungers as my feet sunk deep into the muck. The release of my sneakers caused a loud, smacking sound somewhat like the kiss on the cheek by one of my dead, great-aunts. Then the red flash teased me by not moving, pretending to not hear my suction feet. Then it darted off again before I could get too close.

I found a spot where the ground was hard with a layer of crazed clay—no dead reeds or muck of any kind. Finally I could tiptoe my way closer and closer. But at that point I saw nothing. So I stopped. The air was still; nothing moved. I was determined to stay all day as I crouched into a position where my legs wouldn’t cramp nor lose circulation. The red flash and I settled into a waiting game. A vintage plane from the airport broke the silence. As the plane took off it veered south and away from us and the swamp. Silence and the waiting game again prevailed.

Suddenly a song! It betrayed the identity and location of the red flash. It was no alien lure nor an illusion at all. No, it was a red-winged blackbird, the flash coming from its unearthly, red-tipped wings. The game had now changed. Camera dangling from my neck, I lifted it slowly to make a photo of the him. The song got louder as I was now able to tiptoe without notice. Closer and closer. Click! The shutter release now gave away my location and identity. The red flash shot off—this time for good—leaving me with one, single image to remember him by.