When blobs of white began perching in my hair and wedging themselves in the cracks of my binoculars, it was just as unexpected for me as it was for the scattering Verdins and Pyrrhuloxias bounding across the boughs of the trees, now laden lovelily in fragile white.
Only the cardinals, filling in their timeless role as winter Hallmark cards, seemed to fit together with the blank landscape. For just an hour earlier, this sheet of white had been a desert. Not just any desert: a sandy, desolate desert complete with rattlesnake burrows and the occasional Cholla and Yucca plant in Southwest New Mexico.
I had never been birding in snow before. Rain- check, 117 degree weather- check, private property- check. But snow offered an unfamiliar expedition. Without gloves, my hands were a solid block of ice colliding with the warm puffs of my breath, unoiled and creaky. I struggled to operate the camera without fear of receiving frostnip. Snow permeated my dilapidated running shoes, camera lens, and binoculars, turning into a destructive slushy mixture.
In another few hours, the camera would have been the death of me. Operating it was starting to spell a slow, chilly death for my unsheltered hands. Thankfully, the sanctuary had been evacuated with the first falling of the snow, so noone was present to shoot strange glances at the huge bulge formed from my camera and binoculars under my jacket.
On the final steps out of the park, a White-winged Dove flushed from the last snow-free tree in the entire park out into the snowy world. I wondered what its miniscule dove brain made of what must have looked like, to the dove, millions of pellets of white bird poop bombing down from the heavens.
I ended the trip by smearing a nasty mixture of slush and mud all over the rental car, and a few Hallmark card photos to make up for it.