Friday, May 13, 2011

The season shifts again (also unbearably cute goslings)

(Before I begin my post, I would like to say: if you recently left a comment, and it disappeared, my apologies. Blogger had a hiccup and some comments were lost. It was not intentional. I love it when people leave comments!)

I feel a constant tug between the desire for novelty and the solace of repetition. Some of my best memories are of singular visits to dramatic or unusual places, but nostalgia comes from remembering those places that I went back to time after time, over a period of months or years. For example, there was a park that I used to walk to throughout the year in the small town of Alma, Michigan, where I went to college and then later returned for another three or four years.

Central Michigan is about as scenic as central Illinois (by which I mean: not at all), and I can't say that Alma is a very exciting town. My dad (who grew up there) tells stories of its heyday but it has gone the way of so many other towns of the mid-western "rust belt" -- not much left.

Overall, I can safely say that I have zero desire to ever return to Alma, especially as all my relatives there have either moved away or passed on. But, sometimes, when I'm least expecting it, I remember walking around Conservation Park in the fall, when the leaves crunched under my feet and the flocks of blackbirds gathered in the trees; in the austerity of winter, trudging through the snow and yet relishing the solitude; seeing the marsh marigolds spreading like a golden quilt along the banks of the stream in the springtime. I remember the huge oak, that had such a pagan presence to it that it freaked out me and one of my college friends as we traipsed around the park after dark, or the time I watched a bat swooping back and forth above the river. And when the memory strikes me, in a certain reflective or solitary mood, I am hit by a stream of pure longing, to go back to that park and experience it once again. (This time with binoculars in hand, it goes without saying.)

When I kept going back, it was from propinquity rather than true affection--I would have much rather been exploring California (where I'd gone to high school) or Hawaii (where my dad was stationed during my college years). Being in central Michigan was not only far from my first choice; it felt like being exiled to the middle of nowhere. And yet, without intending to, by my daily routines I was weaving the park into the texture of my life. It's part of who I am now, no matter how far I am from it.

I've been thinking a lot about this process, lately, of allowing a particular place or routine to seep into one's being, as my morning walk around Angler's Pond -- and my evening and weekend strolls through Tipton Park and along the adjacent Constitution Trail -- are working their way into my long term memories, I have no doubt. If you have read my musings and explorations of Urban Birding and Urban Nature, you will probably recall how I cannot help but feel that these approximations of what used to be a truly wild landscape, long ago, always feel second best to me. I am a reluctant urbanite; I would much rather be in a cabin Way Up North somewhere, listening to the eerie call of a loon as I wander, the only human for miles around, along a deserted lake shore.

But that is not my life. Few people want such a life; and even fewer can achieve it. Still, it has occurred to me, in calmer moments, that my morning walk, as it is repeated day after day, could be a sort of moving meditation. Or hands on nature study. It starts to feel like a discipline, an intention to wake up and take notice, a sort of commitment.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.
-- Mary Oliver.

As I go back again and again, I cannot help but pay attention. One thing that always surprises me, each and every spring, is how sudden and exuberant the explosion of greenery is. In the space of a week or ten days, the foliage around the pond has become twisted, tangled, dense and viney. It's almost like science fiction (anyone else recall the episode of Doctor Who from the Tom Baker years, when the alien plants tried to take over the world?)...the Plant Invasion!

This is the view from my Work Place Lawn.

For comparison, this is what it looked like in February.

You can barely see the apartments anymore! And the Canada geese are back.

And they are producing reinforcements!

It's one of those moments of the seasons that I have begun to anticipate: May is gosling time at Angler's pond.

Other indications of the season progressing: this week, as I strolled around the pond, I noticed the bugs starting to ping against my face, and the stickiness of spider silk as I walked along the trail.

It was chilly until this week. My co-workers predicted it would go right from "need a sweater" to "need air conditioning," and they were right. The temperatures have rocketed up to almost ninety, and the algae scum has already begun blooming across the pond, as you can see in the above photo.

It also seems that the Warbler Explosion is tapering off. Compared to the bounty I saw last week, this week I have only added to my year list three species: Wilson's warbler, Canada warbler and eastern wood pewee. That might have to do partly with how much the foliage has come in, though. I can see the little birds flitting about -- way, way back in the leaves -- but good luck actually identifying one! Unless I happen to spot them over the weekend, it looks like I will miss out entirely on the hooded and black-throated blue.

The number of coots on the pond has vastly diminished; now there are only three left.

The wood ducks are still there--it seems like I flush them, unintentionally, each morning on my walk -- and occasionally I spot a green heron.

Mostly what I see and hear now are the summer residents: gray catbirds galore.

Northern cardinals.

And house wrens.

Finally, I promised some incredibly cute gosling photos, so here they come, taken this morning at my Work Place Pond.

The first batch I spied were hiding behind their parent.

Then I saw another group, hidden away in the corner of the pond behind some leaves.

Oops, Mother Goose has spotted me.

She rounds up her goslings.

And the whole family takes off across the pond.

What a large family!

And you know what? I don't think it can get better than this gosling moment, no matter where I was on the planet. I might live in central Illinois for the long haul, or I might not. Either way, the seasons of Angler's Pond are becoming a part of me. I will remember springtime here, and the goslings, forever.

Is there anywhere that has become a part of your life, past or present? How long did it take before you felt that way?

1 comment:

  1. What adorable babies! Dad and I saw 2, with their parents, in Wisconsin, and at first we couldn't figure out "what the little birds are"! Seems to soon for babies. I miss my old central Illinois haunts, and, now that you mention it, I guess "let's go for a walk to the beaver pond" (in The Scrub) is becoming a ritual. Mom