I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. -- John Muir
Yesterday the weather was just about perfect for a day in Nature: sunny, not too cold, a bit too windy for setting up my scope around the lake, but other than that, I could not complain. Greenturtle's ankle was bothering him, so I headed out for a solo stroll around 9:00.
I decided to make Mascoutin my first stop, since I had not been there in a couple of weeks, and someone recently saw a purple sandpiper in the "the boat launch area" around Clinton Lake. I'm not sure exactly where that is -- the Lake has quite a few places from which one can launch a boat -- but since the launch at Mascoutin is nice and rocky, I could envision a sandpiper flitting from stone to stone there.
The wind was so fierce I decided to walk the Houseboat Cove trail first. As I walked along, I thought how similar November and March look across the land, and yet how different they feel: one the advent of winter, the other the land's first wakeful stirrings afterwards. And yet, we have the same color schemes, the leafless trees, the swathes of tan grasses in the fields; the persistent windiness of both seasons; the general sogginess of the ground; the same mix of birds (American tree sparrow, junco, chance sightings of waterfowl in migration).
I wasn't expecting much, birding-wise, from my walk, and yet, the day surprised me. It was not that what I saw was unusual for the season; the surprise was the spontaneous surge of joy the sightings gave me: a bald eagle on the wing; crows harassing a red-tailed hawk; the shockingly red hue of a cardinal against the bareness of a branch; the profile of a flicker.
The wind made the water over the lake so choppy that I was looking forward to the part of the trail where the "cove" begins, a more sheltered area where I was hoping to find some resting waterfowl. Alas, I was not the only one hoping for this: I saw an unnatural white fluttering across the lake, and raised my binoculars to see artificial ducks flapping endlessly in the wind, while a flock of decoys bobbed in the water beneath. Oh, yeah: duck hunting season. Shots cracked out, sundering the stillness of the land, and a congregation of coots scattered for safety. If the hunters were successful, at least I did not have to see it. Instead, I hurried off on the "short cut" back to the woods, heading quickly away from the cove.
I dislike duck hunting because I love ducks; that said, not only some friends of mine but also several well-known conservation-minded birders have been hunters. My feelings on hunting in general are mixed, and therefore likely to please no one. On the one hand, humans have been hunting for their supper since time immemorial, and if someone is going to eat meat anyway, I don't see why it's wrong to kill it oneself. But in the past century or so, the balance of humans and nature, and our understanding of the same, has gotten so out of whack that it affects just about every aspect of our lives, hunting included.
Rather than trying to explicate, I will simply give two examples, one from each side of the unhealthy extremes: the first, a "hunter" who complains that wolves eat too many deer, elk or moose and thus must be slaughtered, so that humans can have more of the share, without any conception of the vital predator-prey balance and what that means to a healthy ecosystem, or the fact that what we have here in Illinois -- deer with no predators, devouring the landscape in their abundance -- is the sign of a very sick balance of nature. The second, meat-eating co-workers who have criticized other employees for killing their own meat (in one case, a Nigerian man who would purchase and slaughter his own goats, in another, a deer-hunter). In the first case, the exact words were, "This is America! We don't kill the animals ourselves!" And yet this woman would go to the supermarket and buy meat from the worst abuses of factory farming....
Philosophical musings aside, I really didn't want to see any dead ducks, so I checked the boat launch area one last time for sandpipers (natch), and then drove back to the non-hunting Weldon Springs to continue my walk.
It was just such a beautiful day. I saw all my favorite "usual suspects" (titmice, red-bellied woodpeckers, American tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, blue jays, cardinals, chickadees) plus a few good "extras": cedar waxwings by the berries. A shy pair of fox sparrows. A brown creeper, creeping up the tree-trunks. A flock of snow geese overhead; before I saw them, they sounded almost like dogs yapping in the distance....
I walked on and on, simply not wanting to the day to end. As I decided to explore one more loop of the trail, one more bend in the road, the quote from John Muir that I know from my local Audubon Society flyers came to me in a slightly convoluted form: I thought, The way out and the way in are the same. I knew I was mangling a quote, but it still seemed important. I asked myself, Do I mean "the way out is the way in?" And told myself: NO. The way out and the way in are the same.
Maybe it was low blood sugar... All told, I was out for six hours, and walked a minimum of ten miles, and yet, it all passed so quickly, a perfect way to spend a Friday.
Today, Greenturtle and I took the dogs for a walk around Weldon Springs, and then had to do some grocery shopping. On our way into town, he mentioned a tweet about some "Black Friday" incidents involving pepper spray and tasers. At least this year no one was trampled to death.... Give me a day in nature, any time!