Saturday, April 27, 2013

What You Do With the Good Ones

I set out at low tide, at the very turn of the tide, the boulder groins exposed as much as they ever are, black with the saturation of seawater and green with a thin layer of plant life.  An osprey hovers to the south and three cormorants sun themselves on low rocks to the north.  I paddle up the coast with a mild cool offshore breeze on one side and the heating of brilliant morning sun on the other.

Since my last trip, which was too long ago, due to my rebuilding of my studio and some fairly windy spring days, the bird life has changed.  The brants are gone, as are the long-tailed ducks, and the red breasted mergansers that fished here so often are nowhere to be seen.  Life is always richest at the edges - whether one is referring to nature or one's own life. The edge that is winter is fading away and the comparative mediocrity that is summer approaches.  In the first bay, I spot a black and white floating at a distance too far for even my camera.  I turn toward it and, after paddling about fifty yards, it dives.  I wait.  And I wait.  I wait a very long time, scanning to my left and right.  It comes up well to my left, a common loon - with an underwater swim that approaches 200 yards.  I find a few great egrets in the rocks at Merwin Point, and several cormorants, arriving for summer, have set up on the islets.  And then, my thoughts drift elsewhere.

A friend died this week.  N was an elder in the wisest sense, her husband a teacher, and her children were and still are my friends.  I spent quite some time at their house during my teens and early twenties.  It was a place where youth could explore the intellectual edges.  The sometimes good and sometimes idiotic ideas of teenagers were heard and, if they deserved to be shot down, they were shot down and not shouted down.  I can, at any moment, conjure the sound of N's voice, "oh scott..."  a slight exasperation followed by an thoughtful challenge.  I grew while I was there, but grew far more later on, because I had been there.  My rebellious streak found direction.  The nature that my father introduced me to, and the creativity that mother showed me, were deepened by knowing N and her husband, G.  I came away knowing that there were doors, cracks and crevices in what I already knew and that in each of those openings was something that could be and should be explored.  I will never miss her, because she will always be right here.  That is what you do with the good ones, you just take them along.

Common Loon

I have spotted 6 loons.  Two of them trilled.  Four of them were paired.  I find myself having trouble seeing the paper, it is best to put the pencil down for a time.

Oyster Catcher

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Brants Go First

The brants go first, surprising me because I thought that there were only a couple on that rock amongst a hundred seagulls.  But, the brants went first, spooking and flying off, 25 or 30 of them with some of the gulls following and some of the gulls staying put and watching me pass. 

In the calm sea, I went outside the first rock at Merwin Point, putting the sun behind me so that I could see what I was looking at.  The clam boats are farther out today, a mile or two or three.  It's hard to say, but my camera says that it is infinite, just one of the endless lies of photography.  I hear a loon call, but cannot figure out which of the silhouetted birds made it.  There is, at least one loon, and that is enough.

The brants outnumber the gulls today, something I have not seen.  The migration must be on.  No longer is it the winter gathering of 5 or 15 geese.  Today, it is flocks of a hundred or more.  The world goes on.

I pass Oyster River Point and continue a ways farther.  There are a lot of jelly fish here.  Most are orange with symmetrical patterns in the body and long tendrils.  They vary from the size of a knuckle to the size of a hat.  Every once in awhile, I spot a different type. 

one of the orange jelly fish

They are an inch in diameter, spherical and with 8 white ribs on a clear body.  Two antenna like tendrils stick out of the top.  They look like tiny versions of the old communication satellites from the early 1960's.  I try, but can't get a photograph of them.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Owning It

Put-in, 3 loons, 8 red-breasted mergansers, 5 long-tail ducks, Welch's Point, 13 buffleheads, 10 brants, Gulf Pond, 8 red-breasted mergansers, 30 buffleheads, 2 osprey, 2 great blue herons, 2 great egrets, 20 Canada geese, Indian River, great egret, plastic garbage can, shopping cart, milk crate, 6 Canada geese, 1 Canada goose on nest, bunch of red-wing blackbirds, 1 osprey.

A calm enough day, at least to start out.  The sound is old glass smooth - rippled but reflecting the colors of the sky, and birds can be seen quite far away.  Five clam boats work their dredges in their nearest allotted beds not too far out from shore.  In the quiet, the engines thrum at the low throttle setting used for dredging.

loons going dramatic

I see three loons before getting to Welch's Point, their colors becoming more dramatic as spring comes.  Just short of the point, five birds identify themselves with the now familiar call of the long-tailed duck.  They too are changing colors, although in the reverse of other waterfowl, they are brilliantly colored in winter and are going more drab at this time.  After the point, I find buffleheads and brants, about a dozen each.

long-tails going drab

The timing of the tide makes Indian River possible and I head that way, almost another two miles, half here in the sound and half in Gulf Pond.  The backed up flood tide squirts me through the gap created by the narrow railroad bridge and I stop to retrieve a plastic garbage can, filling it while I am at it.

I told my friend, P, that I had not found my artistic rhythm, yet, and that I was a bit surprised that it was taking more time and effort than I had thought it would.  Perhaps it was that I did not own my place of work, that I was just visiting.  Today, I remove a canoe load of plastic trash from the Indian River.  It is not much, yet, but now I own a piece of this place.  But, it is not ownership in the dry and often mean-spirited and spiritless legal sense, whose purpose is not much more than taxation, trespassing, and development.  That is a one-way ownership, an owning of commodity.  I begin to own the Indian River through a small act of stewardship.  And stewardship is not a one-way deal, not at all, because in this contract, the Indian River now owns a piece of me.  Perhaps, that is what has been missing.

First goose nest of the spring - in the phragmites of the Indian River

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Salt on the Lips

It is a sunny day with a quartering onshore wind that comes unobstructed across a dozen miles of water from the thin shadow on the horizon that is Long Island.  The gulls, mostly herring and ringbills, are onshore at the edge of the ebbing tide picking newly hatched sea bugs from the rocks.  Only the tiny bonaparte gulls seem interested in floating, and they pick the same critters from the water's surface in repetitious stabs of their bills.

As I paddle, I watch for the oncoming light green shadow beneath the surface.  It signals the man-made groins that lay every couple hundred yards, fingers of boulders laid down to control erosion.  In the low tide, the bottom is visible a fair distance out from land.

While two thirds of the way across the shallow bay where Calf Pen Creek empties, the waves begin to tip white at the tops.  The wind is increasing and if anything, it will increase more.  It is time to decide whether to continue along and walk home, or to turn back.  I reverse my path and the view changes more than I expect, the sun now to my right and ahead of me and the water taking a darker hue with the high contrast of reflections from the waves.

A steep sided wave slaps the canoe and I taste a delicious salt on my lips, the sense of taste being added to the experience and catching me unprepared.  A second slap wets my backpack, and a third my lap.  But, these waves aren't worrisome, yet.  I see it as the sea doing what the sea does.  It is live water, vigorous and energetic, and the human soul borrows strength from reality of not being the master.

I turn the last vague point, more of a bend to be honest.  The waves now follow, two foot high and regular.  The uninitiated might imagine the canoe speeding along with the waves, but this is not what canoes do.  Canoes, in following seas, rise as each wave comes, and wallow soft and sluggish in the trough.

I pass through a small flock of small bonaparte gulls picking sea things from the water.