Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ducks

Well I don’t know how you take in all the shit you see
No don't believe anyone and most of all
don’t believe me
Believe you
G-ddamn right it's a beautiful day
Eels, Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues

Who would not choose to follow the sound of running waters?
—Thomas Mann

Today I went down to the water, to a park I’ve recently found on the lake that is mostly ignored during the week. It can hardly said to be out of the way; it isn’t even out of earshot of the highway. But it provides a respite. Even the sound of nearby traffic is relaxing in this setting; as for the large homes on the water that I can’t help thinking would be better set off a bit and made less obtrusive, no matter; neither does a jet skier in the distance disturb this, just another type of fauna, natural and as in-its-place as anything else here; and who can begrudge an occasional water takeoff or landing by one of the pontoon-outfitted planes that are part of a tour fleet stationed nearby? I’ll never recover from my childish sense that witnessing that is something of a treat. No, I’m not looking to escape my fellow humans, just to put a little distance between us. Forgive me, but sometimes I like them better from this remove; standing back from humanity so as to appreciate it more fully.

Even though the area is thoroughly settled by humans, everything but the depths of the lake belongs to the birds. Just now as I walk the footpath to my spot a crow passes by with a sardine-sized fish in its mouth, maybe an unfortunate salmon fry. The birds are all anglers each with its own ingenious methods and remarkably resourceful in their own way.
The gulls and crows are the working class toughs; stout and homely, moving about in conspiratorial groups, cawing mysterious orders back and forth. They’ll snatch a fish from the surface of the water, they aren't too proud to scavenge, they'll steal from another bird or from one another; they are generally disorderly. The crows gather in gangs like ruffians; the seagulls collect in twos and threes, carousing like sailors on shore leave.

Occasional swallows flit about with an odd, arrythmic fluttering of their swept back wings; a burst of effort, a short glide, another burst of effort. Terns (I think) pass overhead, long out front like old World War II fighters; capable, all purpose aviators. There are at least three bald eagles living near the lake; massive things that motor along with big, broad wings that don’t flap but push huge cushions of air out from under them with a calm, confident motion, unfurling a bit with each stroke. Today one of them is working the lake's surface, scoping out his prey from on high before coming down to a low level glide over the water, perhaps pursuing a school of fish. He makes a diving grab, raising a splash of white. I can’t see if he was successful. Another large eagle, maybe a female with a brood, chases him off and then returns to a nest high up in one of the evergreens.

I am depressed; an insidious low-energy sort of depression. That’s why I’m here. Sometimes depression gnaws at you; “rage turned inward.” Sometimes, for me, it is simply a void in my chest harboring a vague, unidentifiable dread that commands the bulk of my attention until it subsides, entirely of its own inscrutable logic. You just have to endure it as you would any pain; a place like this is as good a balm as you'll find.

I have taken up the pretense that I would use my newfound haven to read, and that here I would read things that were of no pragmatic concern or compromise. Only things to be appreciated entirely for their own sake; fiction or poetry. I choose a picnic table bench that is placed too high, inconsiderately leaving my feet to dangle like a child in a high chair. This won’t do, so I find another. The lake stretches out before me. I settle into a book but, as is so often the case, can’t keep with it. My eyes are repeatedly drawn to the water.

Why do I always find myself staring at the water like a dullard? It’s the eyes that need this place most, I think. The eyes are so put upon in our world, loaded up, freighted down and overtaxed, all sorts of unnatural behavior is demanded of them; deciphering text, making sense of pulsating television screens, enduring all manner of artificial light. It’s much needed relief then, for the eyes; an apology, for the same four walls everyday, for the familiar tedium, for television, computer screens, newspapers, billboards, crowds, halogen lamps, mirrors, spandex clothing. The sight of the water is a purgative for the eyes.

I’m at my wooden bench when before me a Canada goose appears, first just the head popping up at the water’s edge as she struggles up the steep, muddy bank that's out of view. Comically, her head drops out of sight suddenly, as if a trap door had opened up beneath her feet; she has slipped back down the incline. She’s back just as quickly, somehow looking more determined, step-slipping up the bank until I see her entire neck, black down to its base with a martial white chin strap. She moves inland a few feet and strikes an impressively stern and upright pose, scanning the landscape for predators that aren’t there.

Struggling up the hill behind her appears a youngster, much bigger than a chick but about half adult sized, with small undeveloped wings that look like palsied arms. He manages the climb with greater ease than mom, and soon another and then another appear, all scrambling up the hill in a hurry like soldiers assaulting a position. I return to my book and a while later look back to see there are eleven siblings, all little dull brown feathered dinosaur-like creatures moving about on their backward folding legs. There are three adults with them, shepherding them along as they move in an orderly mass, pecking at the ground. One of the adults guards the landward side of the perimeter, standing still and periodically turning her gaze, sometimes with one leg up and poised, like a runner in the blocks. Another adult takes the shore and a third brings up the rear of the flock, alternating between feeding himself and herding the youngsters. Occasionally one of the adults communicates with another by a sudden, insistent downward movement of the head. Sometimes one moves an adolescent from a spot by lowering its beak to just above and parrellel to the ground and extended out in front like a mechanical arm, then giving a honking charge. Occasionally one of the adults rears up and flaps her wings, for no apparent reason. Sometimes one of the adolescents mimics this behavior with its own undeveloped wings.

They make a little circuit, moving up the bank for a distance and then turning back and inland, making their way back to their little bay where they came ashore. Then as a group they all set about grooming, and they become little feathered masses of movement, twisting and turning their necks about to rub their heads, like scrub brushes, over as much of their body as they can reach. This goes on for some time until their energies subside gradually, and before too long the young ones are all napping, with their heads tucked away, and the adults keeping guard.

A small sailboat comes in, slipping noiselessly into the marina. Overhead a 737, a dark grey silhouette emerging as if a product of the pale grey clouds above, silently begins its descent into the city. There’s a dock that extends well out into the water where some kids are fishing. One calls out to another; a hit on the line that turned out to be nothing. I head on home.

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