Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Petit Jean State Park -- four life birds today!
Today Greenturtle and I went to Petit Jean State Park in Conway County, AR, which is in the Ozarks. The road to the park is narrow and steep. Greenturtle commented, "They love these crooked roads in Arkansas." "Just like their politicians," I quipped.
First off, I have to say that Petit Jean is FANTASTIC, beyond the scope of superlatives to describe. The first trail we walked, Seven Hollows, started in an open plain type landscape, with pines and dead trees scattered around the rocks. On top of one of the trees, singing, was a BEWICK'S WREN (life bird!), which I just know will make Sunwiggy jealous because we both love wrens. And let me say for the record...the Bewick's Wren is extra cute (though still not as cute as my favorite, the Carolina wren).
Before long, the trail meandered into a canyon, kind of like what Starved Rock would be without the crowds of people (although Petit Jean is very popular, nothing like the crowds that throng to Starved Rock), very peaceful...and I saw a pair of summer tanagers, very beautiful birds.
After a while in the canyon, the trail opened up again to a sunny ledge with a fabulous view...and a blue grosbeak (life bird!) flew by. Greenturtle was geo-caching, so I sat on a rock and just admired the view, and the birdsong. It was so peaceful and beautiful.
This was a four and a half mile loop, and the entire trail was just stunning, scenery-wise: a grotto with a waterfall (two pigeons were perching on the rocks of the grotto, looking quite at home there and very lovely, their feathers shimmering with purple iridescence. They looked like they belonged right there...but I confess I've always had a secret soft spot for pigeons), an arch of rock forming a "natural bridge," lots of weird rock formations that look a lot like the topography of southern Illinois. I'll post some pictures once Greenturtle and I get home and I can pull them off his computer.
Normally I would just be completely enthralled by all of this, but my mind kept going back to the tragedy in the Gulf. I kept it to myself, not wanting to be like the ancient mariner, bumming out dinner guests with the tale of how he got stuck with an albatross around his neck, but as I admired the beauty around me, I could not help visualizing a black stain the size of Connecticut. Vast plumes of oil fanning the water. Dead sea turtles. Pelicans and gannets diving into that poison, dolphins playing in it.... Several times I had to blink back tears. It's such a cliche but the only way I can express it is to say my heart is breaking. I feel like the legions of Sauron are invading this beautiful world and what's worse, sooner or later they're gonna win.
I think what's bothering me is not only the horror of that oil spill, but also that the spill has reified the worldwide devastation that humans are wreaking on the planet for me. It's the tragedy of itself, and also symbolic of all the other tragedies, which I'd always been aware of, which upset me...and now this is the straw that broke the camel's heart.
But there were whole half hour stretches at a time that I could just enjoy myself before remembering that again. We had lunch at the lodge, and just like yesterday at Mount Magazine, the food was good. The staff had put leftover biscuits from breakfast out on the bird feeders, and a crow kept cramming his beak full of the pieces and flying off with them. I know that leftover biscuits are not very nutritious for birds, but it was fun to watch.
Then, after lunch, we took the trail behind the lodge down to see the waterfall, and on the way I saw a Louisiana waterthrush (life bird!). The waterfall was beautiful, though the trip back up was an ass-kicker! We also walked to the Bear's Den, a huge rock formation that forms corridors between the boulders, kind of like at Giant City State Park in Illinois.
I had a bad experience with Arkansas several years ago. I lived in Russelvile for six months...it was not good. Ever since then, when I go to visit my in-laws, Arkansas has had a "blech" factor for me. But that was before I discovered birding! This trip, I'm delighted with the state. It's nice to see green fields and pasture-land instead of cornfields and subdivisions, for example. I've found the people to be very friendly. The Ozarks are quite beautiful. Still don't like Russellville, though. And replacing the factory hog farms that stink up the landscape back home are...factory chicken farms. They don't smell anywhere near as bad but the misery inside those warehouses is just as horrible.
When we returned to my in-laws--after watching my niece Alex, a very talented young lady, sing in a school program--three whip-poor-wills scattered in front the the headlights. They sing every evening around the house, but I don't count heard-only birds so...fourth life bird of the day!