Obviously I enjoy birds. I like to watch them, listen and be with them. I like to observe behaviors and learn. I like to gather stories and experiences. I like the peace and quiet that they bring to me.
I’ve always been this way. I remember running around and exploring the creek behind our house when I was growing up. With my friends I built dams and tested boats. We caught every critter that hopped crawled or swam. We fought battles and searched for treasure. Once we even brought home a case of beer some teenagers had left to cool! Dad was happy that evening.
When my friends went home I sat and watched. I laid on trees bent over the creek. I watched fish. I learned their names, what they ate and which ate first. I laid on my back or knelt in tall grass watching birds, snakes, turtle and muskrat. I learned to see and to hear what others couldn’t. One memorable day I hiked through the thick woods adjacent to our house and sought out a small woodland pond rumored to be there. I approached the pond through a stand of white pines to find half a dozen wood ducks, oblivious to me, enjoying an early spring afternoon.
We spent our summers on an island in Maine. There I spent hours peering into tidal pools, my face inches from the
water. I remember spending afternoons, in an old rowboat, leaning over the side watching the show of crabs, unidentifiable crustaceans and small fish on the muddy bottom of our cove. It was on one of those trips that I came across my first black capped night heron. He froze and we had a good long look at each other.
I still long for these treasured moments with nature and seek them out, but’s hard as a grown-up.
I’ve got things to take care of and places to be. Men, nearly fifty years old, following a creek through a dozen adjacent backyards are treated with suspicion. Folks are sure that we’re after their children or casing their houses. Heck, I wouldn’t want someone like me walking through my back yard. Sure I can visit parks (and I do) but folks need their secret places.
Yesterday I found a secret place.
Stealth hiking and trespassing are not a good idea. I’m not recommending it.
I walked, for about a mile and a half, to find a rumored woodland pond. Google maps helped. I wasn’t hiking without direction. I walked straight to it.
There I discovered a patch of leaf filled crystal clear water about the size of my little yard. It was surrounded by mature hardwoods. The water level was high and several of these trees were in the water. Sunlight dappled through the bare treelimbs to the far edge of the pond where two dozen turtles basked in its warmth. A squirrel was working his way through the undergrowth.
In the treetops the wind screamed at 40 mph (according to the National Weather Service) but by the pond all was still and quiet.
I’d come to see ducks. to reproduce that childhood discovery of wood ducks — to find more of the buffleheads and redheads I have just discovered migrating through. I scanned the pond and there were no ducks visible.
I listened for birds. The only call I heard was a cardinal. I’m sure that my arrival had not gone without notice so I sat and waited. I sat on a tree over the water for twenty minutes or so. The silence and peace grew. I began to circumnavigate the pond and I began to see and hear what I had come for.
A pair of bluebirds flew from the far side of the pond and lit in a tree nearby. I had a good long look at both as the made short flights, from tree to tree, to get a better look at me. A tufted titmouse (a common feeder bird that I’ve never paid much attention to in the field. It’s breeding colors are amazing!) buzzed (yes, buzzed) at me from directly above. He was quite agitated and wanted me to move on. I was beginning to hear the ghostly monkey calls of the pileated woodpecker. I could see huge flashes of white, black and red far into the woods. I began to walk in their direction and a pair of ducks flew overhead. They weren’t mallards. They weren’t quacking. I didn’t get a good look.
As I moved forward into the marsh below the pond I came across two white tailed deer does that were munching on the new grass. The walked quickly away from me, but never broke into a crashing run. I watched them later as they crossed an adjacent field. Another pair of ducks with an unusual call were startled right under my nose.
I turned around to walk back out the way I had come and a pair of pileated woodpeckers came from behind me and landed high in a giant tree across the pond. They were in clear view for as long as I cared to watch. Over my shoulder I spotted a lone female downy woodpecker. I had a couple of good looks before I hiked out. I checked the time. I had spent over two hours around that pond.
I saw no life birds. I saw nothing rare, but the experience was rare. For more than two hours I had been at utter peace with the world.
I am so blessed that I can seek out these experiences, put them into words or carve them into wood and call it work.
(I took no photos of my secret place [It’s secret]. Most photos are from other explorations on the same day. I didn’t fit in a quick trip to Maine.)