A New Year, a New Pond, and New Possibilities

My New Year’s Day destination

Whether this water-filled depression truly is a pond, I can’t say. It may be akin to a vernal pool, filling and drying as conditions change. Whatever its nature, I’ve passed the spot for years without being aware of its existence, until autumn helped to open the view and a pathway to its edge became visible.

Of course I named it immediately, and if the name ‘Walden West’ seems too obvious, it felt appropriate. I’ve never seen a New England pond, let alone Walden itself, but certain characteristics of this watery depression and the woods surrounding it — isolated, self-contained, unpublicized — suggested it as the basis for a year-long project dedicated to documenting the nature of a single place and its seasonal changes.

Vibrant poison ivy at the water’s edge

When I discovered the spot last Sunday, frustration limited my explorations somewhat. I’d been distracted, and set off for the day without putting a card in my camera — a fact I discovered only after attempting to capture the view shown in the photo at the top of the page. Two hours from home and an hour away from being able to purchase another card, it seemed that photos of my new spot would have to wait.

Then, I remembered my camera phone, and Sunshine came to the rescue. Once I’d learned to keep my fingers away from the lens and queried the search engine a dozen or so times, all was well.

Lichen (possibly Usnea spp.) on a fallen limb

Today, I’ll be returning to my ‘new’ pond; it seems a perfect destination for a new year. With a card already in my camera and an open path awaiting, new discoveries are inevitable: a truth that Thoreau, that other Walden-lover, knew so well.

“It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct.
It is true, I fear, that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!
I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Pond Lights

 

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them—
the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away—
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.

I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.
                                                                  “The Pond” ~ Mary Oliver

 

Comments always are welcome.
The water lilies, Nymphaea elegans, were photographed at various ponds in Brazoria County.

Keeping an Eye on the Prize

 

Given the form of the ripples, I suspect this juvenile Snowy Egret (Egretta thula) had its eyes on a crab rather than a fish.

Its yellow feet, sometimes called ‘yellow slippers,’ make these birds unmistakable as adults, but it can be easy to confuse young Snowy Egrets with juvenile Little Blue Herons. In this case, the lime green leg color, the black bands on the front of the legs, and the crouched foraging posture helped to confirm its identity.

Although I watched and waited for nearly ten minutes, the strike I anticipated never came: the prey continued to swim, and the bird continued to watch. If patience be a virtue, this is a very virtuous bird.

 

Comments always are welcome. Click on any photo for greater size and detail.

Bejeweled

 

Last Sunday, I made a first visit to Brazos Bend, a highly regarded state park known for alligators, a multitude of hiking and biking trails, and star parties at the George Observatory.

I was less interested in the alligators than in reports that alligator flag, a plant I’d seen only once, could be found there. In the end, I found the plant, but I found much more, including lotuses.

Among the day’s delights, I found this feather. Despite its watery environment — so different from Georgia O’Keeffe’s beloved Southwest — it reminded me of such paintings as White Feather 1941, one of her many studies of feathers, rocks, and leaves.

I found my feather, with its jewel-like droplet of water, interesting. As O’Keeffe herself once said, “Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.”

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Peter Pan of the Pond

One out-of-focus but very special pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

Nothing brings a smile like the sight of pied-billed grebes bobbing and diving their way through our ponds and wetlands. Small, skittish and shy,  they seem to be everywhere and nowhere at once: floating on the water, bobbing for vegetation, and fleeing at the first sign of human presence. They’re divers and swimmers, not flyers; not once in all my years of watching them had I seen one take flight.

When I noticed this one in middle of a Brazoria Refuge pond,  it seemed typically grebe-like in its behavior, until something strange began to happen. As I watched, it appeared to grow smaller, drawing into itself until only half its original size. Its feathers, no longer smooth, began to ruffle, and its wings seemed to flutter above its back.

Before I could readjust my camera’s settings for a clearer photo, the grebe suddenly raised itself, stretched out, and began running along the suface of the water like a coot attempting to gain altitude. In fact, that’s precisely what the grebe was doing: gaining altitude, and beginning to fly.

I’d always known grebes could fly, but I’d never seen it happen. Neither had Mia McPherson, until she witnessed flying grebes at her local Utah pond in February, 2017, and posted photos on her blog. As she described it in On the Wing Photography :

Pied-billed Grebes only migrate during the night, which is why until yesterday I have never photographed them in flight. I’ve even written a post here on On The Wing Photography bemoaning the fact that I would never photograph them in flight. I was wrong, delightfully wrong.
Yesterday afternoon I was at my local pond where I photographed not one but two Pied-billed Grebes in flight. This is rarely seen and rarely photographed. I might never get the chance again. 

After admiring Mia’s photos and envying her experience, I left a brief comment, wondering as I did if I ever would have the same opportunity. I didn’t think so, until January 5 of this year when, like an ecstatic Peter Pan, this grebe took flight.

Like Mia, I might never be granted such a sight again, but I’ll be watching our grebes much more closely in the future. They’re not as predictable as I thought.

I can fly!

 

Comments always are welcome.