Tuesday, May 4, 2010

a stick in the water or a rock in the storm

There is a stick poking out of the reservoir at about mile 2 and a half on the Sprain parkway, visible only on the southbound side. It has been sticking out there for five years. I know that stick because a family of commarants uses it as a perch to scope out fish, I assume. From April through September I when I drive by at around 4 or 5 pm, there is always at least one and as many as five commarants on that stick. They seem to come back later in the Spring than other water birds.

I think they are commarants: black birds with long necks that look like the one Chinese fishermen use to catch fish with a band around their neck in books written for children. It looks more or less like this. I'm not convinced I saw the yellow around the beak.

There is no way for a human or other predator or other pest (from the birds point of view) to get to the spot. The stick pokes up out of the water off an island in a reservoir that is surrounded on both sides by a highway.

A branch of a log that fell in the water years ago can be a remarkably stable and reliable landmark.

It has been the focal point of a family of birds life for at least five years when I began to notice it. It has not rotted or broken off. The log that holds it up has not rolled over. The birds leave in the fall and can rest assured that when they get back next Spring, it will still be there.

While change is the only constant, and all that, something as apparently transitory as a tree falling into a pond, which is what the natural corollary of a reservoir would be, leads to this stable situation.

Further lessons:

In the time that that log has been holding up a branch providing a stable fishing spot, thousands of houses have been built in Ireland, houses that will never be occupied and will be demolished without anyone ever living in them. Ghost Estates, symbols of the housing bubble. Meanwhile, that branch keeps on trucking.

We think of humanity's impact on the environment in terms of oil spills and CO2, and that is true, or bulldozers plowing into wetlands, which is a big deal, but what is the impact of people doing stuff like kicking over logs? If the log I am observing were in the Catskills or in the Adirondacks instead of in between the north and south bound sides of a highway, it might have been absentmindedly kicked over by someone, or someone's canoe might have bumped into it and broken the branch. You might say that kicking it over might make it a better spot for them to fish. But how long would it take them to figure that out? Maybe not long... but maybe the birds would not have prospered as they have with the log left as it was.

Just a thought.

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