Tuesday, November 20, 2007

herons and seals and geese, oh my!

the heron

A few nights ago, Mum and I were driving home from North Sydney. Rain had started around Boularderie, and came in heavy fits, sometimes drenching the roadside, sometimes scarce. We were coming up to the turnoff for our road, which is by the swampy head of a bay, when Mum squinted ahead through the rain. "What is that?" She said, and I looked, but couldn't see anything.

Then we got a little closer, and Mum slowed down and pulled over. There in the middle of the road was a blue heron, a tall, graceful bird, here standing in the middle of the road, reeling from one lane to the other like a drunk, and sometimes crouching with its wings stretched out, like it was trying to protect non-existent babies. The rain was falling so hard that it bounced off the bird's wings, and the pavement around it. We looked at it, puzzled. Was it OK? What do we do?

Then we saw the lights of another car coming in the opposite direction, and I thought: "Oh no, it's going to be hit!" Well, I didn't think that exactly, but I felt that gut-wrench that you get in such situations. But the car slowed and then stopped, pulled over. The heron was slow to respond, moving in a pantomime of a drunk, only feet away from the car. The rain was falling even harder and Mum and I looked at the other car, from which a person was emerging. Mum put on my rain jacket and went over to see what was going on. The other driver, by luck an ex-vet technician, had collected the scared blue heron into her arms, tucking its long beak under her own head, and was going to take it to the vet clinic, to see if it had been already hit,and what could be done for it. The drunk taken care of by her friends. We drove home, a little more thankful.

the seals

Yesterday, we went out on Monty's boat. It's late November, so this means flurries in the forecast and often, in the air. As we drove into town to meet him at the dock, it looked like we were in a snow globe: the chilly air filled with a literal flurry of snowflakes. Then it passed and the sun was again shining on the lake. As we motored out in Monty's converted lobster-fishing boat onto the Bras d'Or lake, we could see hazy clouds on the horizon, which made the low hills a soft white underneath. Snow clouds. We kept close to the shoreline, checking out summer houses in winter, noticing where the last storm had knocked over trees. Every now and again we'd pass through a snow cloud, and all around us snow would be falling silently into the dark lake.

We puttered quietly along, and then -- "Seals!?" Mum pointed. We looked through the windows of the cabin to a clot of sleek black bodies by the edge of the bay, 200 m away. Monty slowed the boat and took out the binoculars, and we all looked. Seals! Monty put the boat in neutral, and we went out to the back of the boat, and watched as the clot broke up, and some of the seals swam a few feet away, ducking under, then coming up again, looking at us. Two of them were brave and went back to the shallow spot to wallow together, showing us their plump, blubbery bodies. A small flurry started to fall, so the horizon disappeared. Then it was just us on the boat, on the quiet, dark water, watching the small dog-like heads above the water, which were coming in and out of view. We stood on the back of the boat, looking out at them, our breath in white puffs in front of us, a moment just waiting for illustration for a Christmas card. And I mean that in the best way.

the geese

I took my usual power walk today, pounding the dirt road in frustration, channeling the kind of anger that rises up in me every 28 days or so. Some months are worse than others, and this month is like that. I just need to be alone because any interaction seems to beg for a cranky comment, and I know that's not really appreciated. So off I went with my water bottles, wearing my sneakers, my exercise clothes, and my open-tipped bike gloves (it's getting that cold!). I steamed up the hills and then on the way back down, a vicious, biting wind came up and I kept steaming into it, stamping each footstep to a word in "I - will - NOT - give - up! I - will - NOT - give - up!" Finally the wind died down. I was near home, and I slowed a bit. Suddenly an awkward honking got my attention. I looked up, all around, but couldn't see where it was coming from. Then I saw them, a ragged V of geese, and quickly counted in threes: 18, 21, 24, 27! Twenty-seven geese, honking and flapping and moving quickly southward. I stood still, looking up, then realized a vehicle was coming.

It was a golf cart. A neighbor on the hill has a fairly large compound, not big enough for a golf cart, but large nonetheless. I've never met this man, but I do admire his two yearlings who graze in a paddock by the house. And his daughter lives up the hill, so he goes to visit her in his golf cart. Here he was, coming back down, catching me standing still, staring up at the sky. He slowed and I thought he might stop. We waved to each other, and I said, "Geese!" He wasn't stopping, I realized a second later. He gave me a puzzled look, and said, "Geese?" "I saw geese!" I said, pointing upwards, and then he was past me and gone. I laughed to myself, thinking of him wondering about my motivation to tell him this nugget of information.

Whether it was the exercise, the geese, or making a foolish impression on my neighbor, I wasn't as angry going home as when I left.


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