Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Rabbit in the Bush; the Bird in the Water





A beautiful day, spring-like in October, and the waters are high in the salt marsh. A rare super-high tide, a moon tide, floods the marsh grass. This water comes from the sea; we've had no rain to speak of.
            Birds are chirping, the trees and the thickets ringing with calls I haven't heard for months. Not just crows or jays. Sparrows, chickadees, swifts, phoebes.

            A scurry at the top of the path alerts me to a small animal presence. I've been hearing a lot of squirrels this time of year when they're in food collection over-drive. But this sudden retreat has a different rhythm. I pause, look into the shrubbery, the thicket off the path. The leaves in the low brush have fallen and the skeleton of the underbrush reveals a hidden presence: curve of back, piece of legs, ears laid back. Rabbit. He thinks I can't see him. I snap a photo; he still doesn't move.

            I leave the main path for the narrow passage through the marsh grasses. To focus my binoculars I scan a distant tree line. No movement. With glassed down I stand still and survey the grasses. I am about to start walking when a shape just inches above the thick elder brush lining the path, a liminal zone between higher ground and marsh grass, separates in  my vision from the top branches of the elder. Slender, thin as the top handle of an old-fashioned cane, it can only be the blade-sharp head of a heron. It doesn't move, or react, even when I look directly at it. I step one way or another to try for an angle for a clear shot. It takes me a while to realize that he's standing in water, one of the many pools that form in the low-land marsh when the water level is unusually high. He doesn't move because he's not afraid I'll get any closer. He knows I won't go splashing into this water.

            The high water makes my usual path impenetrable, as I discover when I round the first bend, unless I want to soak my feet. I know where the holes in my sneakers are.

            So I slip up the bank to the higher ground overlooking the marsh. Under trees, I have no uninterrupted sight line here. But I move along to the curve in the marsh's expanse and find a path through the underground that will take me down to my usual route. Peering between branches where trees are thin I see a great white egret, perched in a welcoming pool of the flooded marsh. Then, using the glasses, I scan horizontally to one side and find another egret. I backtrack, find another path to follow down. From there I can see the marsh and notice yet another couple of white egrets closer to the shore, four altogether. Unruffled by my appearance, they don't fly away on seeing me.
            I snap photos of these birds, many of them. One egret stretched tall or horizontally extended, its rapier beak poised above the water. Two together; the other pair; three together. But I'm looking into the sun. So eventually I backtrack. 'It's all right guys', I call out, 'I'm walking backwards, not towards you. Go about your business.' Their business is standing still; then leaning forward and stretching out those brontosaurus necks in the predatory inspection of the possibilities of the moment until the entire body becomes a horizontal plane. The bird doesn't strike dramatically, so I can't tell if it finds something or not.
            Back on the hilltop I walk further along, roughly parallel to the path below, then find another cut downward... and drop myself on the other side of my targets, now "ahead" rather than "behind" the egrets. One flies past just as I am on the way down, having decided on his own to move his fishing hole. With the sun behind me now, I try to get closer to the poised egrets to take photos. They tolerate this for a while and then one, then another launches into a flight across a flat wide sector of the marsh to far side, where I usually see them. I snap photos while they're in flight.

            Having decided I've bothered them enough, I move along on my usual path -- who else knows what will pop up next?; though nothing big does -- but my way is flooded almost at once. This time I go back up and stay. I have to take the high ground to complete my loop walk through the marsh.

            It's a beautiful day. Cool, as predicted in the a.m., but by mid afternoon up to seventy, much warmer than I expected. And the marsh is alive, totally alive with bird calls. Is it the water, the sun, the everything?

            It's as if we've been favored with another little spring. When I work myself around to get a good angle on the pools of shining water in the marsh, a familiar voice I haven't heard in eons rings out from hiding: mockingbird.