It looks like spring outside but it still doesn’t feel like it. I’m tentative about putting in much of my vegetable garden quite yet. I hedge my bet and instead head out to walk in the West Eugene wetlands. One reader of my blog called it the Swamplands. How do the two differ actually? I suppose the wetlands are a seasonal area of varying water levels whereas a swamp is wet year round. Also there is no skunk cabbage in these wetlands and so they can’t possibly pass for a swamp!
As I pull into the road leading to the pathway I scan the trees out of habit for movement. A few crows and starlings are carrying on high in some pines. It’s chilly with tremendous clouds lurking about as I pull into the parking area. The moment I shut off the car rain begins to fall. I sit and wait out the short shower. The sun comes out and quickly warms the air as I walk toward the creek. Off to the side of the roadway there’s a small area of water. I make a mental note to investigate the pool on the way back.
The winds pick up as I reach the creek. Family in the northeast chuckle when they hear I’m still wearing winter hats and fleece but I’m glad to be warm this afternoon. A turkey vulture (I often call them buzzards) floats over quite low to the path. These are huge birds and if they had a bit more distinguished head they might get more respect akin to eagles.
Cyclists spin by but no walkers in sight today. Three male mallards are in the creek. I read somewhere that a particular male bird leaves once the baby birds are born if not sooner. These males fly north for the summer. I don’t think it’s the mallard I’m thinking of but seeing three males together makes me wonder if I can find that article again.
A flash of blue across the stream turns out to be a jay. It’s probably returning to a nest. We have a jay nest in the camellias at our house. We can hear the hatchlings peeping for food and a parent swoops about when we come close. Despite the temperature it sounds like summer out here today. The trees are almost fully in leaf and the wind blowing through them reminds me of warm summer evenings.
The creek is down to just inches in some spots and so the flow is very slow. The trash on the opposite bank is now obscured by the tall grasses. The paper will degrade but the metals and plastics will be visible again come late fall. Blackberries sprawl on the pathside. The thorny growth keeps the public on the path, protecting the nesting areas.
The skies are turning dark to the south and west. I can see that it’s raining in the distance but I’m walking towards blue sky. The sun feels good, strong enough to seep through my fleece. The lupins are in full bloom, a spectacular architectural display of purple. I step off the path to take a photograph and notice a large black spider. This reminds me that there is a whole society of small creatures underfoot and in the air. Flies, a bee and a cricket show up as I slow down and look closely. The lupins don’t appear to be much of a pollen source and so there aren’t many bees amongst the mass of flowers.
A meadowlark calls from a small tree. My mother came to visit when I lived in No California and we took a drive to Table Mountain in Oroville to see the spring wildflowers. It was a cold, cloudy day and a little early to see many flowers. I do remember the meadowlarks from that day as does my mom, the unmistakable call and brilliant yellow.
The tree full of white blossoms just two weeks ago has dropped it’s flowers and is now all green leaves. One day last week I was bicycling home on No. Polk and came across a wind drift of pink blossoms filling the street up against the curb. I photographed it and rode by the next day and the petals had browned. Nature gives us some fleeting bits of beauty and then it’s gone; all the more important to slow down and take notice. Life is that way in general. We miss far too much beauty of all sorts.
I see a new purple flower and sketch it as my camera battery has failed. It seems like every time I walk I decide I want to learn to identify some other aspect of nature. Birdcalls, trees, mammal tracks, grasses, raptors, sparrows, and now flowers. I’ll be busy.
I wonder if this flower is new growth of a dried stem with seed pod that dots the bank. Where’s the botanist when I need one? A small group of geese fly over. A small songbird drops into a tree but the leaves obscure it and identification will be difficult. It calls out and now I do wish I was more adept at call identification.
I’ve ridden my bicycle through here countless times over the past couple of years but failed to really notice anything until I started this roving assignment. We speed by so much in our haste to do, do, do. The Buddhists have it right in focusing in on the moment at hand. The small trail created by the nutria up the bank, the various calls of the red winged blackbird, the blue heron taking flight 100 yards away with a trail of white excrement in it’s wake. Zipping along on my bike I wouldn’t have noticed any of this.
Three vultures fly in smaller and smaller circles and land across the creek in a thicket. Starlings gather above in a tree to watch the action. I round a bend hoping to see what the excitement is but the view is obscured. The vultures eat(?) in peace.
A fish jumps in the water. The creek is deeper along this part of the path. I’m hoping to see a kestrel as I have made it a favorite bird of mine. I find it quite intriguing, a small raptor with beautiful markings and color. I will study it through my birdguides.
As I approach the small seasonal pond I see a lone pink rose amongst the greens and browns of the undergrowth. The pool is filling with grasses. The ducklings have moved elsewhere, perhaps to the nearby channel. Swallows dart amongst the trees and a pair of mallards fish around the shallows where a month ago shovelers, sandpipers (?), green wing teal crowded the pond.
A red winged blackbird perches on a dead limb and calls out. It is so loud for such a small creature. I’m amazed at how far it carries. I startle a pair of mourning doves who fly up to the same dead limb. I’m interested in the lack of interest in either party of the other. A couple approaches and they both have binoculars! I’ve been walking this path for months and this is a first. They are looking at a hovering bird believing it to be a harrier. We decide simultaneously that it’s a crow. They chuckle at their mistake and keep walking.
I step off the path near the parking area and look around the small pond I’d seen earlier. There are small bird tracks, waterfowl tracks and a small mammal track. Again I decide to learn to identify tracks.
The clock in the car says it’s 7pm. I’ve been out for almost two hours that seemed like thirty minutes. My work day has washed away and I have a pleasant feeling of having spent time well. I look forward to looking up the kestrel, identifying the new flower and giving my wife a quick review of my late afternoon.