Battlefield Bird

[Cynthia Via]

After sabotaging much of the morning with a long breakfast deserving of hobbits, I headed to the Saratoga National Historical Park late October. The landscape was still painted in orange, yellow and red trees, standing full in the distance.

Max drove down a road that stretched out to green lawns on both sides, marked off by white picket fences, neatly circling small red barns and stables. “It’s beautiful,” he said, “Don’t you think?” I laughed since none of the words in my head could describe it.

We were on a road with orange trees on each side after being in the Adirondacks where the trees had all but lost their leaves to the desolation of autumn. The car flew down the rest of long road to the historic site. On the side, a stone staircase led to the entrance of the visitor center. Tall trees cast a shadow below as we walked up.

I didn’t know much about this historical park except that it was part of the American Revolution. Once inside the center, the park ranger gave us a map with all the sites and trails. I said, “Why don’t we just walk to all of them?” He informed us, they would be closing at five, which was an hour away. “You may want to drive around.” Someone had thrown cold water on my face. I realized I had no idea what time it was, or where I was. I looked around at the memorabilia on display: posters, stickers, key chains, paintings then at the clock hanging above the cash register. Max was giddy, looking at stamps for his National Park passport. I looked through the blue passports, thinking how many stickers you needed to fill all the pages. I placed it back on the table.

We hurried, driving to each site, reading the descriptions of the battles that took place under what generals, and if the British or Americans advanced, documenting in photos the fall landscape with views of the Hudson River. I imagined what life was like in the 1700s, what war meant then, and what it means now. It was an autumn day in 1777 when the British surrendered to the Americans in the village of Saratoga, a turning point in the war that would result in foreign intervention by the Spanish and French. In the distance I saw a white animal dash across; I walked towards it in blind reverence hoping to see it again. Max followed me. We stepped over the tall grass, walking back to the car. “Are you a patriot or a loyalist?” “A loyalist,” he said, laughing.

The final stop was a mile-long trail, leading to a general’s burial site. Strangely enough it was the one site I was excited to see. I’m not sure why death attracts me. By going down this trail, we risked getting locked in. It was already five and getting dark. The gates on the road would close at 5, and we would be stuck in this empty land full of warring ghosts. We walked on towards the great sadness of the past.


Further ahead we saw an apple tree, the only color among mostly dry land. I contemplated climbing and getting a fruit to eat. In front of us was a small canal. The small dry land next to it was the site of a hospital. I wondered if it was wise to have a hospital when there was only one way out and the canal being small would not provide with much fish; maybe then, the land was fertile. Also in rules of war, hospitals were left out, but you couldn’t say the same for modern war.

We kept walking down the path. Max went ahead until reaching a small bridge. From my view I saw a large tree with crooked branches looming over him. The outline of a large grayish bird with a curved spine sat on a low branch. I froze, unable to speak. I whispered, look, and pointed to the bird. “You should take a photo,” he said, and the bird left. It’s large, heavy wings flapping, slow and away from us—taking away some part of our memory. The bird flew towards the darkening sky and we were both left standing under the tree with crooked branches. Max said he was sorry for spooking it away. He continued taking photos of the surroundings, including what appeared to be the burial site. I wondered about the bird and looked into the distance, hoping it would reappear. I thought, could it really be, the great blue heron?