Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Three Things That Happened Yesterday (Issue #155)

Thing #1.

Benny and I were on our morning walk, following our usual a.m. route which is northwards from the house, along the creek. You old-timers have seen pics from time to time.

On the homeward part of the journey, I often veer off the main path and take another, slightly less-traveled one through a wooded area. There’s a mammoth old willow tree in there I like to pay homage to. I don’t think it’s going to be standing a whole lot longer. Ben likes this detour too because there’s usually a squirrel or three he can startle.

Now, I forget whether or not I’ve told you folks that in the last few months I’ve taken something of an interest in birds. I’ve gone so far as to buy a field guide and Son #1 treated me to a pair of pretty decent binoculars. Thing is, I’m normally outside these days - you know, where the birds are - when I’m out walking with Benny.

Benny, being a hyperactive Jack Russell Terror pup, takes at least one hand to control. That leaves me one hand with which I can do other stuff, like untangle him. You may recall, a few posts ago, how using my free hand to wield a camera worked out. In any event, I don’t usually take either my binoculars or my field guide out with me when I know my attention is often going to be focused on unwrapping Benny’s leash from a tree trunk. Or my legs.

I didn’t miss the field guide or binocs along the wooded path yesterday. I wished I had my camera though, when a Downy woodpecker picked a tree only a few feet away to drill for bugs. I managed to watch her for a minute and memorized her peeping call before Benny had to be extricated from nearby brush.

A few minutes later, back on the stream-side path, I saw a large, somewhat hunched silhouette on a tall tree branch overhanging the creek. It was facing southeast and although cloudy out, the morning sun was still bright enough to make me squint and shield my eyes. At first I thought maybe it was a raven. It was much too big to be a crow.

I slowed as I got closer. Ben seemed to understand that stealth was called for and actually slowed with me. As we neared it, I got increasingly excited. Even seen from behind and in silhouette, it was very large.

We got within 50 or 60 feet of it before it noticed us and took off - straight into the weakened sun’s glare. I’m knowledgeable enough to know it was a raptor - the wingtips told me that - and it was bigger than any hawk I’d ever seen. I’m pretty sure it was a juvenile eagle, probably a bald eagle, like the one that was born near our cottage this summer.

I don’t think in this particular instance, because of the glare, that binocs would have helped me identify the bird. But again, I wished I’d taken the camera. Even a silhouetted photo might have told an experienced birder (Hi cousin Karl!) what it was.

Yep, am packing my camera in my pocket from now on.

Thing #2.

A few minutes later, only a hundred yards from home, Benny began to act strangely. Normally, because I use one of those retractable leashes, he’s at its limit, about 15 feet ahead, straining to get to two places at once.

We were on back on the street again at this point and he’d been doing his usual ranging from side to side, snuffling.

Suddenly, I realized my arm was not perpendicular to the ground and doing its impression of a divining rod gone berserk. It was hanging down at my side. Benny was trotting along beside me, like one of those trained dogs, head and tail proudly erect, beige tongue protruding slightly.

Hmmm. Pretty sure his tongue used to be pink.

Uh-huh. He’d found a rib bone that some scavenger had left behind. I think he didn’t want me to notice so he was being well-behaved. Ha! And he thinks he’s so smart! I’m smarter! So far.

Thing #3.

On our evening walk, we take the southward path along the creek. At roughly the mid-point, the creek angles away from the path and to reconnect with it, one needs to walk through a small wooded glen. We usually do so because that bend of the creek offers a nice trough-like run in which I’ve often watched salmon and trout working their way upstream.

The salmon run is pretty much done, has been for about 10 days, and there hasn’t been enough recent rain to call up many steelhead. So I didn’t really expect to see any fish. It’s just a pleasant place to be. I was standing at the top of the bank while Ben explored below, drinking at the water’s edge and snapping at drifting leaves.

A slight surface disturbance a few yards upstream caught my eye and I wandered closer.

It was a dying salmon, on its side, feebly trying to right himself against the weak current, and failing.

Three or four weeks ago, this fish was 20 pounds of bronzed muscle, sleek and healthy from three-plus years of gorging on Lake Ontario’s forage fish. He would have fairly stampeded upstream, eager to spawn.

Now he was a blackened hulk of perhaps 13-14 pounds, too weak to fight a current that wouldn’t tumble a toddler.

I watched as he was slowly tugged downstream. He got caught up on some shallow rocks below me for a moment and I studied him. He was too far gone to even gape. I don’t think it was my imagination that glazed that fierce, predator’s eye.

I felt sad but privileged, for being allowed to bear witness to a noble warrior’s death.

I thought I’d have to clamber down and get wet in order to ease him back into the main current. But he found enough energy to twitch his tail feebly, once. It was just enough. The current took him back into its arms and gently bore him away.


Hilary said...

That's so sad. I was planning on fish for dniner tonight.. thanks a lot!

I hope you see that bird again though.. and get a better view of it. Zip that camera into your pocket.

Did you let Benito keep his find?

Doug Skinner said...

Terrific Post...There is a lake not far from me that has an Eagle's nest near the feeder creeks mouth...This year they didn't nest, but in the past Iv'e been able to see Eagles catching fish over the lake and bringing them back to the nest to feed the babies...The sight of them soaring is magnificent...

Frank Baron said...

Hi Hilary. Nope, I took Benny's bone away.

Me <---bad owner!!

Thanks Doug. I'd love to see a sight such as you described. Maybe one of these days....

Lois Karlin said...

Lovely. Pathos with just the right touch of humor (Benny is quite the foil). Although I'm surrounded by farmland (how much longer will we keep development at bay?) and my world's vastly different from yours, I've got raptors too...hawks nest half an acre downhill...and their night-hunting calls are bone chilling.

MagnoliaGirl said...

Ahh Frank, your descriptions put me right there in the moment. Like always.

Othmar Vohringer said...

Great post Frank.
Thing #1. Fortunately we have lots of bald eagles around here. I think it is the largest population in North America. Very majestic birds but if there are that many they can become somewhat of a nuisance to some people. I have heard stories, mainly from fly fishers, that an eagle would swoop down from behind and grab the fish they just booked and then fly off with fish and rod.

Thing #2. Benny sounds just like my dog Gazu, a mix between Rottweiler and Labrador. He is 12 years old now and still has the energy of a young dog. If he finds something such as a chicken bone, half of a burger or donut he does the same as your Benny and appears to be will well behaved. Of course each time I tell him to drop whatever it is he has in his mouth and then you should see that guilt-tripping look in his face.

Thing #3. I have witnessed my first salmon run here in BC right behind our new house. What an awe-inspiring sight that was watching the fish literally struggle with the last ounce of strength they had in them to climb over rocks, fight a heavy current and many other obstacles just to get to the place where they were born years ago and give birth to another generation of salmon. Then a few days later these same fighting fish were mere shadows of their former self, drifting half dead down stream where the black bears were waiting to stuff their bellies full and get fat for the long winter hibernation. The endless cycle of nature continues were birth and death go hand in hand one demise give another one life.


Frank Baron said...

Lois, I don't know that I've ever heard that sound. I'd like to. Thanks for the kind words. :)

Thanks MG :)

Othmar, I've been to BC many years ago but didn't spend much time at all in the interior. Still, it's about the most beautiful place on the planet.

Thanks for the thoughtful and articulate response. I hope your Gazu has many more miles left in his tank. :)

Jenna Glatzer said...

I like Benny. :) Forgot to tell you how much I loved the video of him chomping the waves.

And I tagged you. http://jennaglatzer.blogspot.com/

You're it!

Crabby McSlacker said...

What a lovely walk you just took me on! (Except for the dying fish--I know it's just nature 'n all, but it makes me sad anyway).

I just got back from a walk in the mountains over at Thomma Lyn's blog too--you folks are making me feel like I need to get off my butt and get outside.

We've got a nice little park with a reservoir nearby, with tons of birds none of which I can identify. (Well, ducks. I can recognize a duck, whether rubber or real.) Anyway, perhaps its a good day for a visit.

Frank Baron said...

Jenna, you're in a long line.

If I was half as popular as my mutt, I'd need to move to a bigger house to make room for my ego. ;)

I'll take a look at that post of yours. :)

Crabby, in order to remain healthy, the spirit needs exercising too. Mine gets what it needs from trying to tune into the rhythm of water, the dance of grass and trees and the antics of animals.

Yours might find it a bit of a pick-me-up too. Can't beat sitting on a log and looking and listening.

At the least, you'll really appreciate that comfy chair when you get back home. ;)

Stace said...

It's always worth taking the road less travelled.

Frank Baron said...

I agree Stace. :)

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

It's been far too long since I've shown my face here. :D I absolutely love your stories, Frank. I love how you stated that you felt privileged for being allowed to witness the salmon's death. I'm sure you felt that awesome privileged in seeing the eagle as well. Nature is beautiful, and it's wonderful to know someone who appreciates it as much as I do. Thank you for all your great stories.

Frank Baron said...

Joanne, thank YOU for the blush-worthy words.

And I had a hunch we were kindred spirits of sorts when it comes to the love of the land and its creatures. :)