Monday, May 11, 2015

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On Punks and Snakes

5/4/15 at 12:30pm
At the Stewart Park Promontory

  • Temperature: 79 degrees
  • Wind: 2 - 11 MPH
  • Clouds: Few clouds

  • Canada geese
  • Chickadees
  • Gulls
  • Mallards
  • Robins
  • Goldfinches
  • Red-winged blackbirds
  • Cormorants
  • Northern water snake
  • Ants

  • Walkers and runners
  • Moms and kids at the playground
  • Taxi driver looking around with binoculars
  • Skinny white guy looking for something by a secluded bench
  • Show-off Harley bikers
  • Sunbathers

For the first time this year, I wore shorts and a t-shirt. I strolled through the sun along the Promontory loop and stopped by the first bench. What to photograph today? Water at the edge of the mossy bank. The spiraling tree trunk of an old fallen willow. A skinny young man twisting the cap of a bottle he held. His arrival at the bench where I stood was unexpected. He seemed equally surprised to see me. He sauntered past, and I covertly noted the piercings and white tank top t-shirt. I got the feeling that he wanted to be right where I was standing, and that I was in the way. His eyes scanned the ground all around, clearly looking for something. I took a few more pictures as he wandered away, then came back to the bench.

"What you takin' pictures of?" He asked.
"Oh just birds, the water. Whatever." I replied. This skinny punk was so out of place in this little naturey place, his presence didn't quite compute. I didn't know what to say. I scanned the ground too, thinking he was looking for a drug drop-off. Was it fear I felt of such a man? Was it concern for his perhaps misguided youth?

He shrugged. I kept my eyes down and slowly walked away, while he stepped toward the bench. A couple of minutes later, I saw the back of him, leaving the Promontory, off to the rest of his life.

About thirty feet past the bench, I saw another movement. A gray tail sliding into the leaves next to the trail. This time it was definitely a thrill of fear zipping through me. I watched him, curious about his plan. His uniformly gray body had faint lighter rings around it. I knew he was not poisonous, but also not someone I really wanted to tangle with. But I stepped into the bushes to get a better look.

He moved right to the mossy bank, and stuck his head down to the water. I figured he was getting a drink.

Then he turned toward me, and I leap backward. I was, again, right where someone else wanted to be. When I backed away, he slid past and toward a lower bank. Then without another glance, he dropped into the water and sped away, surprising me with his speed, off to the rest of his life.

What a strange juxtaposition of human and animal at the Promontory. In winter there was just me and the ice, the gulls, the geese. Now, the warmth and light had drawn out everything from punks to snakes. Mrs. Goose was still on her nest, eyeing me warily. Songbirds jumped from branch to branch in the trees. The cormorants were back. As were the sunbathers. And the tourists. People with binoculars moved around, looking up at the skies, and the insects followed them. 
There is not one without the other. I don't mean punks and snakes. I mean human and wild. We are here, together. This little Stewart Park is just a microcosm of the rest of the world. A jumble of creatures living their lives, basking in the sun, wanting to enjoy a warm day.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Spring in Stewart Park

4/27/15 at 12:45pm
at Stewart Park

Temperature: 46 degrees
Wind: 5 to 17 MPH
Clouds: Mostly cloudy, with moments of sun

  • Canada geese
  • Mergansers
  • Robins
  • Gulls
  • Starlings

  • Lots of people parked in their cars looking at the lake
  • The smell of pot wafting through the air
  • Someone's leopard print underwear
  • Two fat guys fishing in the swan pen
  • A few runners
  • Construction work at the east pavilion

A week of firsts. Yesterday I posted about Rob and my plan to hike the local gorges. Today, it's running. I'm not a runner. I don't like running. I never have. But he got inspired to get off the couch, and back into an exercise plan, and I decided I should go with the program too. So I went for a run down at my Promontory.

With a half-hour program to complete, I needed more distance to cover. I headed into Renwick Woods, the Bird Sanctuary, and alternately ran then walked, the leafy paths. It was phenomenal. No wind, tall trees, soft ground beneath my feet. I almost wished I had used this forest for my semester of the Nature Writing course. And spring. Spring has finally come.

After the trek through the woods, I slipped away from the trees and back across Stewart Park, where I encountered more spring. A tall stone monument I've never seen before loomed. It was surrounded by daffodils- my favorite spring flower.

"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze."
-Walt Whitman

I had to memorize that poem in high school. It goes on for three more stanzas, and I love it. You can read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

I made my way onto the bike path and jogged and walked back to the Promontory, where I slowed down for the final minutes of the workout. I walked the loop I had walked all those long winter months, and noticed real signs of spring. Honeysuckle, willow, and forsythia all put out their buds. Starlings and robins flew through the trees, then onto the grass patches where worms were thawing in the sun. It was a different world from what I've seen here. 

Then I came across this fellow, right near my west side beach where I've spent so much time. The Canada goose stood still next to the water, observing me, barely turning his head, but keeping close watch on my movements. I walked past, smiling at the life that was blooming on my Promontory. I circled back around and walked the loop again, cooling down and looking for any other sparks of life. And I found it.
She had completely escaped my notice just minutes before. Next to Mr. Canada goose, was Mrs. Canada goose. Nesting, sitting on her eggs, statuesque. (If you look very closely, you can see a brown blur to the right of the goose in the above photo). Here it was, finally, my payoff for all these months of visiting the Promontory in the desperate cold, wind, ice, blowing snow.  Here was a reminder that everything changes. Here was life, pushing through again, creating more life. 

According to All About Birds, Canada geese incubate their eggs for 25-28 days. It's been two weeks since my last visit here, so these eggs could hatch as soon as two weeks from now. I doubt I can time it right to catch the moment, but it sure would be amazing. I left her to warm her eggs on this cool, windy day, and promised to come back next week to check on her. I hope she'll stay safe, so close to humanity. 

It was an amazing visit, despite the running. I couldn't have asked for a better experience. I'll keep coming to the Promontory. It seems I can't keep away.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Cascadilla Gorge

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Generally, I don't make New Year's resolutions. The beginning of winter is not really the time I feel inspired to undergo changes or try new things. But springtime is a different story. In spring, the earth comes alive, and with it my desire to explore, to walk, to get out and do something out of the ordinary.

This past weekend Rob and I took Cedar and a friend of his on a hike up Cascadilla Gorge. The gorge has long been one of my favorites. When I lived downtown I would hike it regularly, or oftentimes hang out and read at the bottom of the falls where there is a small grassy park. For a while, I nannied a little girl who lived near there, and I'd often put her in the baby backpack and carry her up the creek, where we'd both enjoy the rush of water.

The hike begins (or ends) at the edge of Fall Creek neighborhood right in the heart of downtown Ithaca. Not too long ago, the trail was a crumbling rock pathway, originally built in the 1920's. Over the past five years, the Cornell Plantations spent $2.8 million to repair the unsafe conditions. The project was completed last fall, and though the trail was closed for the winter, it was recently reopened.

The sun was out the day we hiked. But still the temp was only 50 degrees. Rob and I climbed the stone steps slowly, while Cedar and Aden ran ahead, finding rocks to throw into the water. The ground, the trees, even the rocks were brown. Everything still held that winter coat of drabness.

The trail climbs a half mile as it rises 400 feet in elevation away from town, and ends on Cornell's campus. It is not one continuous falls. Rather, the gorge offers alternating stretches of flat, then a huge falls and many steps.

When we got to the top we crossed the bridge on Stewart Ave. and headed back down the hill via the City of Ithaca Cemetery. The boys ran around, while Rob and I rested in the sun on a grassy knoll. Overall, it was a perfect spring hike.

As such, it brought an idea to mind. I've been in most of the gorges around Ithaca, and I love them all. But it's been ages since I hiked them. Hearing the sound of the water, getting the heart rate up as we walked between high rock walls, noticing the beauty of these gorges we live near... Maybe it's time to make a concerted effort to explore these astounding geological formations again.

What if we visit and hike each of the gorges around Ithaca this spring and summer? Rob was game. And so a resolution was born.

Find the original proposal to develop Cascadilla Creek Gorge here
And general info about the gorge here.