It is not until I leave the interior of the Fez medina and drive the perimeter road circling the ancient fortress walls that I observe the large teredactyle-like bird skimming by the car.
Qu’est-ce que c’est? I ask my guide pointing up at the sky.
He does not notice the bird. He is avoiding slamming into on overburdened donkey.
The bird is swooping by at eye-level. He is huge and dirty white with coal-black wings that spread out two meters. As he flaps by in slow motion, a hefty catfish wriggles in his gigantic beak.
“A stork!” I yell. The driver is not paying attention to my excited hand-flailing as yet another tipsy, tired donkey steps into the traffic.
I recognize the bird as a stork because it looks just like the ones depicted on greeting cards carrying a baby dangling in a diaper from their beaks.
Another stork lifts off from lush cattail reeds crowding the murky stream running down the wadi (riverbed) next to the road.
The sky is filling with storks. Clouds of swallows converge mingling with the giant, wheeling birds. A hawk hovers—a still point in the dance of the birds— and then to punctuate the grays of the stork, the tans of the hawk, and silver blues of swallows’ wings glinting in the harsh sunlight, a troupe of pure-white ibis lift off from the reeds and join the circling celebration of birds overhead.
I crane my neck in wonder, amazed that these birds are abundant in Fez, in Morocco, in a modern era when pesticides and herbicides have eliminated many species.
I feel the timeless being of birds. Clouds and carpets of birds. The trill and twitter of birdsong alive and well.
Alhamdulillah!, I exclaim. As I say this beautiful Arabic word that means “praise be to God,” my driver looks up at the circling birds and smiling, says, Allah ho Akba—God is great.
I wrote this story during my recent trip to Fez, Morocco, with Deep Travel Workshops, I had the good fortune to study travel writing with legendary Tim Cahill. He is the reason I pursued adventure travel writing over 40 years ago. I read a story he wrote for Geo Magazine about an expedition to Angel Falls in Venezuela and knew I wanted to write like him. First person, highly detailed and intimate—yet chock-full of botanical, tribal, historical, political information. He wove an enthralling tale.
Four decades later, just this March 2017, I got to sit next to him and thank him. He was our master teacher on the Deep Travel workshop, teaching a 3-hour class daily with many great writing prompts and critiques. This story was born from one of his prompts.
The photo is taken from a lovely rooftop restaurant in Fez that provided not only exceptional wine and food, but at sunset was the perfect place to watch the dance of the birds overhead as they flew home to roost. Latifa, whose family has lived in Fez for many generations, enjoyed their choreography as much as I did and joined me nightly for the show.
If you enjoyed this story that takes place in Morocco, consider reading my story Two Muhammads about how I almost married my son off to a Berber baby that turned out to be a boy.
Another lovely Moroccan treasure in Marrakech is Yves Saint Laurent’s Majorelle Gardens. Read my story about this blue heaven here.