Sunday, May 9, 2010

Grasslands & woods



Today was the penultimate birding trip with my mom. For Mother's Day, I packed us a nice picnic and we headed off for the Nachusa grasslands, a restored prairie owned by the Nature Conservancy in Lee County, IL. We went last year, in July, and it was one of the best birding trips of the year. The prairie was blooming with wildflowers, especially the lovely purple spiderworts, and we saw, for the first time, BOBOLINKS.

Although the prairie flowers were not yet in bloom, it was a lovely trip today. Not only did we see bobolinks, we saw them flying and giving their wonderful bubbling song, all over the grasslands. They are such beautiful, precious birds. We also had a couple of excellent views of yellow warblers, and heard their lovely "sweet sweet" songs...a quick view of a grasshopper sparrow...some nice flickers and orioles. I like flickers so much that I invented a word to describe them, "flummacious." You won't find that word in any dictionary, but as far as I'm concerned, it means, flicker-like, embodying the essence and wonderment of flickerhood. Usage: "What a flummacious flicker!" Or: "That flicker was particularly flummacious."

I was also quite pleased to see some mockingbirds, almost first thing. I have only seen mockingbirds in Illinois once before, and that was a few years ago. Even though when I go to Arkansas next week to visit my in-laws I am almost certain to see mockingbirds all over the place....

The grasslands were so beautiful today. Perhaps I am becoming attuned to the open space beauty of Illinois, but over time, I appreciate grasslands more and more. The common yellowthroats, the meadowlarks, the blackbirds...not to mention the BOBOLINKS. And the sense of space, of openness. But today, there was an emptiness to it all. No matter how hard I try, that damn oil-stain colors everything I do. I remembered last year, our trip to Nachusa grasslands. Sure, I had problems then, I had my "issues." I hated my job (nb: Esmerelda Crow is a pseudonym for my job-hating self), I was stressed-out and what-not. But when I saw birds, any birds, I forgot it all. Now I cannot forget. Remembering last year is so bittersweet...the happy memories, but it feels like a lost era, a vanished innocence. Last year was before IT happened. Even last month...before the disaster. Before my heart broke. Before the empty bubble of death started spreading.

Last night I woke at 2:00, and could not fall back to sleep. The oil spill would not leave my mind, and in addition to scenes that may, someday, form the basis of a horrific novel, in my hypnagogic visions, I thought of a recent Doctor Who episode. In that story, in the future, the citizens of England are able to survive on a spaceship propelled by a tortured, enslaved creature...but at a terrible cost. Every election day, they are told the truth, the real cost of their survival, and given a choice: FORGET or PROTEST. Almost everyone chooses to forget.

That is what we are doing, our whole society: FORGET FORGET FORGET. I don't exempt anyone, least of all myself: the cute pajamas I bought a couple weeks ago: FORGET the sweatshop labor that enabled me to get them so cheap. The trip to the grasslands today: FORGET the cost in oil, to the environment, to other people (look up the history of Shell oil in Nigeria, FYI): FORGET. The waste I create, every time I get bottled juice, a microwave lunch: FORGET FORGET FORGET. And I am someone who wants to do the right thing!

So it's really kind of hard to have a carefree day, with all that in the back of one's mind. Sorry birding buddy...happy Mother's Day and here's your dose of doom and gloom.

Before I could get too depressed, we decided, after the grasslands, to skip local forests -- despite seeing some nice thrushes in the area, the midges/gnats (not sure the actual term for this pestilence) were SO BAD we decided to head on to Matthiessen State Park, even though my Birding Buddy can barely breathe going uphill, and there are plenty of hills there, because of a lifelong smoking habit contributing to asthma and COPD. So if anyone else reads this blog, take note: if you smoke, and want to keep birding into your middle years (providing there are any birds left when you reach them---ooh, so exciting, house sparrow and rock pigeon again!!) DON'T SMOKE!! I quit and so did my mom -- it's gross, it's expensive, so bad for you, and you can quit, too!

Nice walk at Matthiesen, the River area 'cause the Dells were just too crowded, plus my wheezing mom was afraid of the stairs. It was peaceful, very pretty. We saw a LIFE BIRD -- veery -- and my mom got her first rose-breasted grosbeak of the season.

I feel kind of scattered today -- up and down, hope and despair, tolerance and rage -- now it's late and my birds (and I) are ready for sleep.

Good birding, all! And please -- don't smoke and just say NO to offshore oil.

From, the Crow

P.S., the photos in this post were actually taken last fall at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie--I didn't have any from this trip and I wanted to show some grasslands.

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