Thursday, February 12, 2009

A HIGHWATER PERSPECTIVE

Do you see the great blue heron? Look close—the big bird is standing on the edge of the far shore, right at the point where the leaf-covered bank meets the water…almost smack in the center of the photo. The distance is a bit over 200 feet, across the river from the cottage, beyond one of the islands whose lower tip you can just glimpse peeking above the water to the right. The area where the heron is standing would normally be dry ground. Between the melting snow and a number of rains, the river is up a good 6-7 feet; not yet at a worrisome height, but fast expanding in width, as the shallower stream section between the island and the far bank merges with the mainstream portion on this side of the islands. Okay…I’ve enlarged the shot as much as I can without making it too grainy. Now the heron is easy to spot. I can’t imagine the fishing over there would be easy. When a stream is in spate, running high and fast, minnows and many fish seek shelter on the bottom. The hydraulics down at stream-bed level are different than that of the water higher up. Bottom water moves slower; the slower current delivers a lighter pressure or "push" against the fish. So a little minnow doesn't need quite the strength and effort to hold itself in place against the flow. Of course it also puts the minnows below the sharp eyes and vise-like beak of a hungry heron—good news if you're a fish, but a bummer if you're a feathered angler looking to score a meal along the shoreline. Yet what are the alternatives? The bird’s usual shallow riffles, where it normally wade-fishes daily, are temporarily buried deep underwater. There are no small feeder creeks nearby, no ponds that aren’t themselves now flooded. Sometimes a bad choice is also the only choice. Besides, high-water days are nothing new to the river’s residents. Inconvenient, maybe, but not critical. For the Canada geese, it may even be enjoyable. All morning I've watched them appear in noisy flocks, twenty or more birds at a shot, honking like about-to-be-late commuters stuck in a traffic jam. The clamorous clans set down on the backwaters above the island just upstream from where the heron in the photo is fishing. There the gregarious geese—still honking—mill about for a few minutes, paddling to stay in their flooded landing zone. Then they suddenly allow the river to take them—and as they come to the upstream end of the lower island, they divide into two groups. Downstream they go, lickety-split, speeding on the fast current, freewheeling along like kids at a waterpark. They honk back and forth across the narrow ridge of dry land, keeping in touch, maybe checking their pace against that of their fellow float-trippers. When they meet a half-minute later where the divided river's two streams merge into one at the island's tail end, they commence honking excitedly, almost in glee at the fun they’ve just had racing downstream. Then, after a brief rest, they flap back up to their starting point and do the whole thing over again. I don’t care what anyone says, I think those birds are playing. The river continues rising, another foot overnight. High water brings bad fishing for the heron, furnishes makeshift amusement for the geese, and now makes me watchful. Still, like so many things in life…what it boils down to is just a matter of perspective.

15 comments:

giggles said...

Yes, as you describe... I have no doubt they are playing, either.... Like kids, sledding downy a snowy hill?!

"...gregarious loner," eh? I'm a gonna have to ponder that one!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Hey, geese just wanna have fun! After all, the ducks quack 'em up.

I've been pondering me for years…without conclusion.

Jenn Jilks said...

I remember geese, and heron! They are long gone. Lately, I spotted some nocturnal flying squirrels. That is the highlight of our entertaining creatures. They bounce down and back up the tree. Such a hoot!

Our faithful feathered friends come and go. The other tree rats raid the bird feeders. Life is good!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Do hope your cottage is not in any danger of flooding. I suppose that herons are so used to the ups and downs of their stretch of water that they take it all in their stride. Here it is so snowy that all kinds of unusual birds are appearing at the table - our long tailed tits are more or less permanent fixtures and a friend has had a fieldfare and a brambling this morning - poor birds they are all ready for the Spring = they have their breeding colours and it is only two days to St Valentine's Day - here we say that is their traditional start of courting - and look at the weather! Keep warm and snug.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

The geese and herons hang around all winter. I wish I had some flying squirrels—I have gray squirrels, fox squirrels, and red (pine) squirrels, and of course, chipmunks. Tree rats one and all! (Okay, not so much the chipmunk—they're more stone and wood pile rats. Cute, though.)

Life is pretty good here, too.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

No danger this time around…at least I don't think so. I have about another two feet of "freeboard" until the water comes up and into the yard; and once there, maybe 18 additional inches until it gets into the house. It usually gets scary a couple of times a year, and sooner or later, I suppose it will actually make it in.This place has flooded three times since 1919 when it was built—though one of those times was because the township let a lot of debris to collect against a new bridge they were installing a half-mile downstream.

Before we moved in, the former owner poured a new floor which raised the level six inches.

You have to come to terms with a river when you choose to live beside it—to understand you don't have a choice or say-so about rising water. Nature is in charge. You weigh the possibilities and measure them against the setting, the beauty, the way of life. I can get up on a spring morning and catch a fish without stepping beyond my yard; or I could up the sliding patio door and do the same without even going outside the great room. There are birds and animals, peace, solitude, good neighbors at a proper distance away, and a feeling of connection to a patch of riverbank ground that you won't find in an urban condo.

I pay my flood insurance, figure if the water comes in I'll move my books and Steinway piano and a few piece of furniture to safety—and accept the cost of my cottage home.

And sometimes, when the water is getting close to the top of the bank, I go out at midnight, talk to the river, pray, and remind myself of what a blessing it is to be here…and that life is always what you make of it.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I love the way the Water Rat talks about the River in The Wind in the Willows. The sense of connection with the river you describe in your comment to Weaver reminded me. It's one of my very favourite books.

Do you play the Steinway, Grizzled?

I enjoyed looking through the trees on your photo to spot the heron.

Bella said...

I enlarged the first photo and it astounds me - like the other photos - you live in a beautifully wild place. It reminds me of my deep yearning to live in such a place...actually it's not just a yearning but a need.

You do live in a blessed place, and the Steinway piano is the cherry on the cake.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

The Wind in the Willows is one of my favorite books. I've loved it all my life, and must have upwards of a dozen editions around—mostly for the different illustrators. I'm sure I've quoted it somewhere in this blog already. I'm probably as much like Badger as Water Rat, my riverside home aside.

We river dwellers must be of a breed, however. We all see "our" river as more than simply a volume of passing water. We know it as a living thing, a force due respect, an elemental entity of movement and life which allows us the favor of abiding on it's shore. I am the transgressor here, not the river. I understand my place…and silly as it sounds, I believe the river understands me.

Yes, I do play the piano. Writing and music have always been major forces and interests throughout my life.

Again—to be compared to Mole, Ratty, and Badger is as high a compliment as I've ever received. Thank you!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bella…

I do live in a lovely place—though I'm sure if you saw it at the moment, with the high water and all, you'd wonder if I didn't live just a bit too close to the water. But it isn't idyllic; I have neighbors and roads and businesses too close to suite my taste. Of course, in the spring, when the leaves come out, I can't see any of them—and if it weren't for the occasional bit of traffic noise I could convince myself I'm inn the wilderness; well, almost. The fantasy lasts until autumn.

But there are birds of all sort, squirrels, rabbits, mink, raccoon, possums, muskrats and beaver, deer, and a host of other critters and beasts, bugs and toads and frogs and snakes…all at my doorstep.

The old cottage could use work, which translates mostly to money, which means only a few jobs get done in a given time. It will take years.

But is, each and every day, a blessing, and I am genuinely and daily thankful for such a gift.

My Steinway is a great piano…better than the fellow who plays it!

Bella said...

"The Wind in the Willows is one of my favorite books. I've loved it all my life..."

I'm guilty too, The Wind in the Willows is one of my absolute favourites (equal with Alice in Wonderland). I recently enjoyed a re-read and also watched a ?BBC production which was superb..

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bella…

Now here's what I didn't mention about WITW: though I was a voracious reader from early-child onward (sickly, unable to do much other than read, and by age 6 had been given an "adult" library card, because I'd read my way, literally, through the library's lower level "children's section,") I'd somehow missed Kenneth Grahame's wonderful book. So I believe I was in my early twenties when I read it for the first time. I's as warm and cuddly a book as I know, and I fell in love immediately. (Probably not the best thing for a hairy-chested, he-man, outdoor adventure writer type to admit—but true.)

I now reread it at least every other year, and there are portions of the book—the Wild Woods scenes, the River, the Christmas business with the caroling mice—annually. So, yead, I'm a hardcore fan.

BTW, you probably know a writer named William Horwood has done several sequels to The Wind in the Willows: The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant, The Willows and Beyond, and The Willows at Christmas. Sequels are a risky business at best, and are usually awful. These are really as good as a sequel gets, in my opinion.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I had not read The Wind in the Willows until a very few years ago, Grizzled, which is a little inexplicable, given my taste in reading. One of my greatest pleasures is to sit on the front doorstep, watching the trees move and reading my favourite passages from the book. Especially in season - I'm so looking forward to Mole's spring cleaning and escape into the outdoors again this year!

Always a lover of the moon, my appreciation is now a hundredfold enriched from reading the passage where Mole and Ratty set out to find Portly, and the moon transforms the landscape. I can only read that chapter in short bits, because it is so overwhelmingly beautiful.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

Ha! I also love to read portions of this book "in season" as you say.

I'm really looking forward to this spring when, on some fine, mild, ripe with sunshine day I can sit by my riverbank and begin that excursion with life and adventure and friendship that so characterizes Mole's day in the book's first chapter. What do you think—a picnic?

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Definitely, Grizzled, but if you meet any giraffes, don't let them row the boat, or the picnic hamper will most definitely end up in the water!