Best Sighting Yet

Only a few miles from our house there is a canoe access to the Haw River, or in my case a “kayak access”, and if I’m lucky, an eagle.

This morning I decided to pay him a visit.  Now, of course that is really up to him, not me. By 8:15am I was paddling down the narrow section of river toward the spit, which was largely dirt the last time I was here several weeks ago. Today it is completely covered in vegetation, bright green plants a foot or two high, which obscure the rubbish that also collects there, and that I often take back with me to the empty trash can at the launch site.

The river is also lower today and a large rock protrudes out of the water, one I can usually float over.

Then I see my first Great Blue Heron. He is on the bank at my left. I try to paddle very quietly, evenly, calmly, and he doesn’t move. I am deeply flattered at his decision that I am not a threat, and he lets me float gently by, within about thirty or forty feet of him.

Past the spit the river widens, and though I paddle for thirty minutes or so, I see only a few more herons and some noisy crows. There seem to be fewer birds today.  Too late in the morning?  Too late in the summer?  I hear a woodpecker, but don’t spot him. Where is the osprey, the cormorants, and please, the Bald Eagle?

But it is wonderfully peaceful. There are a couple of low gray fishing boats, but the fishermen are quietly pursuing their prey, and we keep our distance.

After a while I turn around and head back. This is my first paddle here with no eagle, but the bright red trumpet vine along the bank is pretty, and I am filled with gratitude for the beauty of this place.

And then I feel him fly over me, catch sight of his white tail, and watch as he settles on to a high branch in a tall pine tree.

“You’re here!”  The thrill passes through me.  I grab my binoculars, find him, and gently paddle his way.  Cautiously, stopping to take a look every so often, I float almost to the bank, right under his pine tree!  In the nearly dozen times I have seen him, this is the closest I have ever gotten.  He has let me come so near that I can make out the details of his wings, his handsome white head and yellow beak, and see him turn and give me a long stare. I lean back and get comfortable and we spend several minutes together, enjoying this lovely, sunny Sunday morning – me, in abject admiration, while he tolerates my presence. After a while he lifts off, slowly, with such grace, as if to show off his handsome wingspan and flying prowess.

As I paddle back up stream it is as if he has spread the word, and everybody has come out of cover.  A stunning white Egret is at the spit, and a pair of sweet little Killdeers have appeared, running back and forth.

And my Bald Eagle is there as well, high up in another pine tree on the opposite bank.  Is he still watching me?

As I float back toward the launch site, it is hard to leave, to get on with the rest of my day.  But I am thankful that I can come back, again and again to this magical place, to enjoy another visit with these beautiful birds.

Drawing a line to farming

I did not grow up on a farm; I just thought I did. Our first horse was General, a large and elderly Paint that would barely walk no matter how hard you kicked him. My legs did not get far down his sides, and kicking him with all I had was probably a mere annoyance to him.  But we loved him.  We had a barn. I remember when it was built. There was a lengthy debate as to whether to build a barn or put in a swimming pool. Mom won. A nurse and mother of four young children and a neighborhood full of lots more of them, her worse nightmare was the possibility of looking out one day to see a child floating face down in her pool.

So a barn it was. And it was a beauty. I loved the gambrel roof, and the hayloft. We spent hours up there building forts with the hay bales, carefully avoiding the massive bees and horse flies that shared the space with us.

Then there was Beatrice, the pretty Holstein that my eldest brother, David raised and showed at the Goshen Fair. One year she and he did so well they made it to the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield. That was a very big deal. He washed and groomed and fussed over her tail, and we were enormously excited and proud. We all went up to see him walk her around the ring, and I’m sure somewhere he still has the ribbons they won that day.

Out in a cage were a few pheasants, and we had a couple of pigs. Every so often Dad would bring home a baby goat or lamb that needed to be bottle-fed. I still remember how soft they were and how they smelled, and the way they would suck on my fingers. Once they were grown Dad would “take them back to the farm they had come from to be with their brothers and sisters.”  Sure. It turns out that was a euphemism for taking them to be slaughtered.  Discovering this later in life was much more disenchanting than finding out there was no Santa Claus.

And in the barn we had a stall just for the bunnies. They were my favorite. I would sit in the stall and let them climb all over me. First we had two, then six, then twelve, and….well, you know this story. I lost count. Somehow Dad managed to thin them out, and eventually as we got older, they were replaced by a pair of German Short-Haired Pointers he used to hunt pheasants and partridge.

We always had a family of guinea pigs, a cage of gerbils, a turtle or two, and some goldfish and when Vincent came along he added a new twist – Iguanas, then Boa Constrictors.  I remember the night he announced his big green Iguana had gotten out. I worried for a while that he might show up in my bed, but after several days we kind of forgot about him.

Mom drew the line at caged birds. They were dirty, she said. End of conversation. What she really wanted was a monkey.  Now it was Dad’s turn for veto power. Monkeys, he knew, carried strange diseases. This was a different kind of dirty.  He knew a Veterinarian that worked on exotic animals who had contracted something undiagnosable, and had died. So, no monkey. Instead there was a cute stuffed animal monkey hanging from the light over the kitchen table for as long as I can remember.

All those animals? Doesn’t that constitute a farm?  I thought so.  Years later I described the “farm” I had grown up on to a real farmer and he set me straight. “Sounds like you grew up on a Game Farm,” he said.  Maybe he was right. Either way it was a menagerie, a joyful, constantly changing menagerie.

But now I need to write the end of this story. About the greedy developer that bought the pretty red ranch style house and veterinary office and torn it all down to make way for a dozen condo units.

About how he left the cheerful red barn standing to use as a sales building, as in later years it had been renovated as a perfect starter home for my brother and his young family, then just the place for my sister, Holly to hide out and finish her dissertation.  The hayloft made a great bedroom and bathroom, and a large living room. Downstairs was a lovely kitchen that looked out on to the vegetable garden, and there was room for tools and mowers to be stored in a two car garage. Large wooden floorboards, a crab apple tree in the yard, and a back deck with a charcoal grill. It housed many happy times.

But not any more. Because only two units were ever built. Overpriced, poorly designed, and looking ridiculous stranded in the middle of a construction site, a sales building was never needed. Weeds have overtaken it. The red paint has chipped, crumbled, and the windows are weeping.

Before they tore down the house they gave it to the fire department to play with, They started fires in the bedrooms, and played search and rescue, burning down a lifetime of memories one room at a time. I need to go do a photo shoot. I need to take the picture none of my siblings can bear to take. Of the idiocy of it all. Of the mindlessness of greed and her offspring, extract and plunder.

I need a visit to Northwest Connecticut, to the foothills of the Berkshires, to this shrine of stupidity*. I need to take a camera, and a strong stomach.

And I probably need to do soon, it before they burn that gambrel roof to the ground.

*Stupidity can easily be proved the supreme Social Evil. Three factors combine to establish it as such. First and foremost, the number of stupid people is legion. Secondly, most of the power in business, finance, diplomacy and politics is in the hands of more or less stupid individuals. Finally, high abilities are often linked with serious stupidity. Walter Pitkin

Something to Say

How can you write when you don’t think you have anything important to say?
And I didn’t. Thirty plus years of believing I didn’t have anything of value to say.

What you do is just sit there, staring off into space.
Sometimes you write reams in your head, but never get them down, and then you forget them.

Or maybe you write some stuff anyway, feeling bad the whole damn time.
Then you hide it, or burn it, or lose it.

Thinking  “I have so little to say” while writing is like swimming against whitewater,
and slamming into rocks.

It’s wet and cold and frustrating and painful, and demoralizing.
But he did have something.  He had more than he had time for.

“I have so much to say.”
Those slow, careful last words have become a beacon to keep me on course.

To guide me back to making scratches of ink on paper, or to these keys.
And to the sheer joy of making words work, of taming them.

And of re-working them.
And to the satisfaction of getting my ideas out of me, and out there.

Maybe there is value in these musings.
For now, I have decided to think so.