Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nature Writing Entry #8

3/21/15 at 4:30 pm
At the Stewart Park Promontory

  • Temperature: 42 degrees
  • Wind: 3 MPH
  • Clouds: Yep

Humans and Animals Seen:

  • People running and walking around the park loop
  • A man parked in his car with the windows open and music pumping
  • Geese, gulls, water birds on the grass, in the water, in the air
  • A dead goose next to the road

"A new love affair is blossoming on the peaceful waters of Fuertes Pond in Stewart Park — at least that's what Cornell University ornithologists and Ithaca Park Department officials hope.” So stated the Cornell Chronicle on November 5, 1970. (There is an excellent photo of the new swan in this link.)

The resident female mute swan had died, while the male “has splashed about on the pond for a month without a mate.” At the urging of Cornelius L. Edsall, the Stewart Park caretaker at the time, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology acquired a second female mute swan. They introduced her to the pond and hoped for love.

But swans mate for life. Would it be that easy to replace the female, just by shipping in a new one? Could I replace my husband were he to die? It seems a silly idea. But the ornithologists of the time felt differently. "The pair of mute swans should hit if off fine," Tate [assistant director at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology] said, "because they're two of a kind not too common in this region." So, oddity seeks out oddity? 

There are no swans at the Promontory anymore. But the oddity remains.

In the parking area, a heavily-bearded older man sits in his red Esquire, windows open and pumping some jam band music. I don’t get a whiff of anything “recreational,” but I don’t doubt something is brewing in his car. To each his own, but his engine-running presence for the hour I wander, unnerves me.

What has been frozen and out of sight for the past three months is now reemerging. I walk past empty bottles of vodka, plastic coffee cup tops, and crumpled fast food wrappers and bags. I make to walk down behind two of the thick willow trees to the rocky beach, but a thawing pile of human shit stops me.

I notice that there was a way to walk out onto a tiny spit covered in willow sprigs and scratchy shrubs that sticks out in the middle of the Swan Pen. At the end of the spit I find a shed. More of a doghouse, only bigger. Six feet long, three across, with green shingles and a wide open front door. I note a layer of hay on the floor. The little building is tucked into the shrubbery and is not easily accessed. It seems somewhat new, yet not used. I explore all around it, but no further clues present themselves. It's the strangest thing.

And then there's the dead goose.

Just off the road; head bent back under its body, wings slightly splayed, black feet lurching stiffly up into the air. It looks so soft and light. But the heavy weight of emptiness pulls it down. I stand over it, thinking of Barry Lopez and his essay “Apologia.” The man drove across the country, and stopped to move hundreds of road-kill carcasses off the road. It was a meditation, an apology, a penitence. 

I wonder about the swans. When one bird died, she got replaced. How did the love affair go? Did the two hit it off? Were there babies? Canada geese mate for life too. But this bird laying on the cold ground in front of me can't be replaced. There are no ornithologists here to offer her mate another chance at love. I wanted so much to touch this broken creature in front of me, unpin its head from its body, fold its feet down, and lay it out for all to see. But I can't bring myself to do it.

Usually I take pictures of everything, but today, the first day of spring, I can't photograph more waste. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nature Writing Entry #7

3/13/15 at 1pm
At the Stewart Park Promontory

  • Temperature: 44 degrees
  • Wind: 11-16 MPH
  • Clouds: NO! Blue sky, sunny day!
Humans and Animals seen:
  • People walking and driving by the lake
  • A few old fellows with their binoculars
  • Ducks on the water
  • Gulls overhead
  • Geese on the grass

I start by pulling off my outer-layer jacket. The sun is high and there is little wind, so I know I won’t need it. The park beckoned me today. I didn't have to come, but this week offered a break in the harsh freezing temperatures. Everything was melting, and I needed to see how the Promontory was changing.

I am blinded by white. Sunlight reflects off the crystals and surrounds me, pierces me. If I cup my hands together around my eyes, like binoculars, I can look through and see the world around me. Otherwise, I squint, look down at the pathway, or close one eye.

A black dot weaves through the air in front of me. It takes a second to register what it is. An insect! I haven’t seen one of these in eons. My head is warming. I pull off my orange hat. My ears don’t freeze. Even when the wind gusts up.

The small, west-side beach is still covered in snow, but here and there a rock pokes up through the snow, a log juts out, a root is revealed. On Fall Creek, right where the creek pushes into the Lake, there is water. Not gaseous water—not clouds. Not solid water—not ice. But water, clear and movable and splashable water in its liquid form. And, there are ducks on it. Cavorting. Talking. Landing and taking off. They are just as excited as I about the break in the solidity of Fall Creek.
I sit on a dry rock and take off my gloves and stuff them into my fleece pants pockets. I didn't need these thick, black pants. I unwind the scarf from my neck and lay it on the snow-free log next to me.

There is a sycamore bending over the snowy beach. I've noticed it before. Today I look closer. The trunk rises at a 45 degree angle from the shore, its bark camouflages it against the snowy landscape. Some of its seed pods dangle like ornaments from the empty branches that reach for the blue sky. It’s ready. I can tell. There is a vibration humming under those patches of tan and white and gray. The tree is still waiting, but less patiently. It is time to awaken.

I unzip my fleece jacket, turn my face to the sun and close my eyes. I sit like that for a while. Following my breath. I listen to the gulls cry above, the splash of water birds, a barking dog, the drone of the city as it winds through another March afternoon. I could spend all day here, just sitting, soaking it in. It’s the first time in months I feel my body uncoil, soften, and sink down closer to the earth. The slowly warming earth.

On the way back to the car, I peel off my fleece coat. I know I’ll need it again before spring officially comes, but today I throw it over my arm and let the sun and wind whip right through me.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Nature Entry #6

3-1-15 at 12:15pm
At the Stewart Park Promontory

Temperature: 25 degrees
Wind: 5-11 MPH
Clouds: Yes, of course

Humans and Animals seen: Only the crazy ones who got lost on their way to Florida

My notes for today begin “cold, white, cloudy, crappy.” I've been willing to play along, work in an occasional cross-country ski or skate on the pond, marvel at the glistening sparkles across the snow drifts, enjoy the slap-in-the-face cold that I'll long for on those long, humid, hot days of summer. But the game is over. That's it. I’m done.

It doesn't help that today I’m in a bad mood. Is it the cyclical hormones, the infiltration of winter, or the pressing cabin fever that has my mood sinking? Probably all of the above, but I leave my car and fumble around the Promontory loop anyway. All I see is high snow banks, deep post holes, and white and gray monotony burning my eyeballs into oblivion.

I picked the warmest day of the week to visit the Promontory, but I feel frozen. If the ice shelf went out far last week, this week it’s glacial. You can walk across the frozen tundra here at the southern half. I haven’t heard reports that it is frozen completely farther north, but it must be getting close. I see people far out there, and I have an inkling to go too. But I know that will only increase my bad mood. Trapped on an ice sheet in the dead of winter, only a notebook and camera as defense, and cloaked in negativity—probably not the best plan.

According to the US Climate Data website, Ithaca’s average temp in January is around 22 degrees. February's norm is around 24 degrees. According to the Ithaca Climate Page, temperatures this January ranged five to twenty degrees below the norm. But February, ah February, that month of spreading love with hearts and candy, that short month that the groundhog dictates, that month where the earth is supposed to be turning back toward our sun, this February ranged daily from ten to thirty degrees lower than the norm. One day, it was 35 degrees below the norm. There aren't enough candy hearts or groundhogs to get me to appreciate that.

I snoop around the boathouse to try and keep myself out of the wind. It doesn't work. But there are some intriguing patterns: the slats on the balcony, the stairs with their chipped paint, the curves of the beams overhead. Patterns that normally I would render beautiful. But today all I see is a state of disrepair, the decrepit nature of the old building, a shabby attempt at shelter.

I realize, of course, that deep winter will soon dissolve into warm spring. And before I know it, I’ll be cursing the plethora of deer ticks and raging against the heat waves that summer will bring. But today it's hard to imagine. Today, the only things that exist are cold, white, cloudy, crappy.