Friday, October 28, 2011

Grebe Games

The lake this morning has its usual seasonal complement of mallards and geese.  But among them, several grebes swim.  Watching diving ducks is one of my favorite passtimes.... they go down, the circles of wake quickly disappearing, and leave the lake flat, undisturbed, as if they never were... and then they pop up! in a totally different spot.  Try as I may, I can never predict where they will emerge.  It's like a game (that most people don't think is fun).

Nipping at my Nose

After some early threats in September, our first hard frost hit last night.  I kinda feel a little bit sad for the monarch butterfly we saw yesterday while on our tree-checking route.  I suspect it had a rough night... but that's how nature works!
Already as the sun peeks over the horizon this morning, the frost is disappearing... sublimating into a low fog that covers the fields, and collecting in pregnant drops at the tips of remaining leaves until, heavy, the drops fall to the ground.
A pool collects in an indent on a remaining sumac leaflet. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

I was a Sandhill Crane

My regular readers, if there still are any at this point, have surely noticed my lack of blog entries despite October being a phenologically interesting time of year.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is the class I'm taking.  It's on Trees and Shrubs, and one of our major assignments is to keep track of the peak color dates and colors of at least 40 species of tree/shrub.  In other words, it's a phenology project.  In some ways I like the assignment because a) I think phenology is a valuable pursuit, and b) this makes a lot of new people try their hand at phenology.  However, it has taken a lot of the art and poetry out of phenology for me and made it a data keeping exercise.  (When it's done I'll post it so you all can see that I have still been noting phenophases, if not in the internet.)  I guess my mind can't handle 2 phenology projects at once.  After I've gone all over with my spreadsheet looking at every tree and noting its progress, I'm in no place to take pictures or draw one of them.

The second reason is my recent fitness commitment.  There's a limited amount of time in anyone's life... so some of the time I used to spend meandering slowly with a camera at the ready I now spend jogging, too fast and focused to stop and make observations.  This isn't better or worse -- or, it's better for some reasons and worse for others -- but there you have it.  I do see things when I'm running, but most of them, with no photographic evidence, don't seem worth writing about when I get home.  (Two weeks ago: lots of garter snakes, for example.)

Not the case today.  First thing this morning, after starting laundry and fueling up with Kashi and Morning Edition, I went to Rollins Savannah.  At this point, the sun just coming over the tree line in the east, it was quite chilly, and I set out on my chosen 4-mile route, ear buds in place.  I was aware of the low light and the long shadows, the way the sun's rays caught the morning dew and made the plants sparkle.  I was aware of the crispness in the air.  But really, I wasn't paying that much attention to things external to me.

Running, to me at least, is a selfish pursuit.  It's not selfish in a bad way, not greedy, not taking anything away from anyone or anything else.  It's just... self-focused.  I think about the my rhythm, my goals, my life, my issues.  I listen to my music that no one else can hear.  I'm in my own head.  And that's where I am on this clear sunny morning when I feel a shadow cross over me, and I look, and there are four sandhill cranes flying overhead.  Like, right overhead, probably 20 feet in the air, and getting lower, and they land in a recently mowed field where two others await them.  I continue to jog along the trail toward them and I realize that, if I don't scare them, I am going to be among them.  I slow, and remove my earbuds... somethings are more important than my self... and they let me enter their midst.  The cranes are on both sides of the trail.  To my right, five of them walk parallel to the trail, the closest just 15 or 20 feet from me.  And to my left, the sixth bird is about 10 feet from the trail.  I take their pace, unconsciously start lifting my feet higher to walk as they walk.  I am just among them, part of them, one of them.  They don't seem to care.  We stay this way for a while, a flock of seven... maybe it was only a minute, maybe it was ten, I don't know... if I had been carrying my camera, I could have gotten a close up of their faces, their red heads.  I could have shown you the strands of their feathers, a few black ones poking out from under the gray tails, their whole bodies grey, not the brown of the mud with which they sometimes cover themselves.  But if I had had a camera, I might have scared them off.  And even if not, I would have made myself separate, an observer.  I wouldn't have been one of them, for a moment, a crane.

They stopped walking, threw back their heads, and called their haunting call.  Eventually, I ran on, still hearing, occasionally, their prehistoric calls piercing the air.  The rest of my run, I saw flickers and juncos, heard red-winged blackbirds calling their plaintive call that makes me thing of spring.  I got pretty close to them, too, maybe because this morning I was a crane, so I wasn't scary anymore.

So that was my larger moment with the world, born of my time with myself.