Friday, November 26, 2010

Quiet Friday

Today begins the consumerist frenzy that will drag on for the next month or so. The Crow will not be partaking. Since I hate both crowds and shopping, I participated in Quiet Friday (am I the only one who finds it a bit disturbing that our Cult of the Consumer now has a de facto holiday in its honor?)by spending the morning working on my novel and then, entranced by the sunshine I could see pouring through the windows, went out for a nature walk in the afternoon.

I have not been birding in a couple of weeks because a couple of weeks ago I got the flu, which passed quickly but left a host of secondary infections in its wake, first some sinus deal and then some phlemgy coughing thing, which is still hanging on, in fact, but not acutely enough to make me go to the doctor. Luckily I now feel better, and also felt like getting some exercise outdoors in the sunshine would do miracles for my mental state.

It was sunny but extremely windy, so I decided to drive out of town a bit to Parklands Merwin Preserve, hoping that the trees would block the wind. And I realized that, while I stayed inside coughing and feeling sorry for myself, the seasons had changed.

The trees were bare of leaves, the woods a study in shades of brown and gray. The corn has all been harvested, the fields stretching bare to the horizon. The golden hues of the prairie grasses are fading. A thin film of ice coated the surface of the ponds....

The woods always seem a little unsettled on a windy day. The wind doesn't just create one sound as it shakes the tree tops but many, and other sounds carry oddly. The wind is like a presence, seeming to travel from one grove of trees to the next in progression.

I followed the trail to the river, where a mixed flock of starlings and robins were bathing and drinking water, flying back and forth from a small sandbar in the river to the nearby trees. Although they are both common birds (it wasn't like I was seeing any others to intrigue me!) I stopped and watched them for a while, enjoying seeing their behavior. It was clear from watching them, for example, that there was a flock of starlings and a flock of robins that both happened to enjoy the same moment at the river, rather than a true "mixed flock." They would stand side by side to get their drink, but then each flew back to its own kind.

I could see some people hiking on the other side of the river (the Preserve has trails on both sides of the Mackinaw River, but no bridge connecting them--to get from one side to another you have to drive around, unless the water's VERY low and you can wade), but my side seemed to be entirely solitary.

I had left the trail to stand by the edge of the bluff overlooking the river, and somehow, walking back, I couldn't find it again. For those who have never been to Parklands Merwin Preserve, let me explain that losing the trail is actually hard to do. Where I was consists of a narrow strip of woods with the river bluff on one side and an open field on the other. As I wandered back, I could see both the river and the field at all times, and I knew that the trail went right alongside the field.

There's no possible way to get lost, so I wasn't alarmed. But it was disorienting. Part of it was that even though I have been to Parklands many dozens of times over the past few years, and have seen it in all moods and seasons, the sudden change of season just made it "look wrong" to me. And the continuous whooshing of the wind provided an auditory confusion of its own. I thought of how in the movie The Blair Witch Project, the students end up going in circles and can't get out of the woods no matter what they do. I thought of the old faery myth of "stray sod," a clump of grass enchanted by the faeries so if you step on it, you'll get lost even if you're in your own back yard.

And still, where was the trail! I walked by a deer hunting contraption (a ladder with a camouflaged seat at the top, looking quite new) that I hadn't seen on the way to the river. I stepped over a dead raccoon. OK, I was just joking about the Blair Witch and the pixie grass, but where the flip is the trail?

And I found it. I had crossed right over it, and was skirting the other side. The thick ground cover of fallen leaves must have obscured it. Luckily the strip of land between the field and the river was so narrow that I was bound to find it fairly soon.

I kept walking, and even though I did not lose the trail again, everything still looked a bit "weird" to me. As I walked past the grove of pines, I realized that the wind sounded different blowing here than it had in the oaks... Just before the loop to swing back to where I'd parked, I found a nice flock of chickadees, and enjoyed all the different sounds they make; there were also a lot of cardinals, a red-bellied woodpecker, and a white-breasted nuthatch. (Which brings me to the sum total of all species seen on my walk, not impressive, I know.)

By this point, the clouds had blown in and it felt like the temperature was dropping, so I was glad enough to head back to the car (even though doing so was straight into the wind! OMG, life in the flatlands!) Although a little strange, and not very birdy, the walk surely did me good. For one thing, the story I am working on involves a strange woods, and it never hurts to have inspiration!

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