Saturday, February 25, 2017

Hawk Eye

A sharp-shinned hawk has been visiting my garden lately. It is a young bird, quite at home, sitting for quite long periods of time in full view from the kitchen window. This photo was taken when it was sitting on the dogwood tree, which is just yards from the house.  The bird was pulling its beak along tail and wing feathers, preening and altogether having a thorough clean up. Had it just eaten some prey? The yard was eerily silent but every now and again the hawk would swivel its head to observe some tiny motion or sound with its intense hawk eyes. Eventually, some bold chickadees ventured to the bird feeder. I gingerly opened the back door, but before I could aim my camera the hawk had vanished.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Earth's Eye

There is gathering place in my garden where I commune with nature. Downy feathers floating on water, blazes of guano on rocks and footprints in snow on ice are all evidence of avian visitors. Uprooted plants and tracks in the mud tell me that raccoons have been searching for sustenance here and my cat makes a beeline to drink from this pond’s fresh water. I watch the pond in all seasons. In winter I spy from my kitchen window through the bare branches of the dogwood tree.  On a summer’s afternoon I watch, as I relax with a cup of tea in hand, from a strategically placed plastic garden chair. I often observe a myriad of visitors up close by crouching low on the pond’s banks.

This watering hole is my creation. I put a shovel to the ground to build some habitat in a distressed patch of woodland. I sculpted ledges for plants, depths and shallows for breeding and bathing, and a pebbly beach as access for the waders-in. I placed a black rubber liner to prevent water from draining into the sandy base. I hauled boulders and stone to create a natural boundary and to hold the liner in place. I turn on a pump in summer months to recirculate and aerate the water, to keep it fresh and to deter mosquitos from multiplying. I spread a net in the fall to prevent a build up of leaves.

Yet this artifice is a window to many dimensions of nature. Water brings sound, movement and an ever-changing palette of color. It splashes and ripples, gurgles and bubbles. It reflects the sky, clouds, leaves and winter trees. Birds flap their wings and sip through their beaks in this essential element, which also provides a nursery for insects and frogs. And so nature takes over from the man-made and an ecosystem is built. Plants aerate and clean the water, some scramble over the rocks, greening the boundary. Pond lily leaves are landing pads for insects. Along with duckweed they keep the pond from overheating by covering open water. Stems thrust above the surface and bear colorful flowers that attract bees and butterflies. Etched by glaciers or the movement of the earth, each rock carries its own mystery of how it was formed. Some are speckled and rough with granite, some are a smooth blue-grey and some twinkle with mica. All of this has replaced a dry clearing in a suburban garden.

A pond nourishes and shelters. It is a place to gather thoughts, soothe a soul and find serenity. Henri David Thoreau referred to Walden Pond as “Earth’s Eye, a place to measure the depth of one’s nature”. Even a much smaller mirror of a pond has such a power, whether its surface is white with snow, sparkling in sunlight or reflecting grey skies. I see birds bathing in the January thaw, the flash of a hummingbird visiting a cardinal flower, the plop of a frog diving for cover. Life goes on, no matter our misgivings about the state of the world.