Monday, February 20, 2006

A walk by the pond

I walked down to the Big Pond this afternoon. There are usually a large number and variety of ducks who winter there, as well as a pair of Great Blue Herons. Unfortunately I haven't seen the herons lately, although the one who's wintering on Gooseneck Cove is still there. But the first thing to catch my eye while walking in the path on the dike around the pond was what the cold front that blew through this past weekend did. That photo to the left shows the effect of sub-freezing temperatures and high winds - the reeds along the shore were encased in ice.

Further down the path, in a part that was sheltered from the WNW wind that blew with the cold front was this (to the right) interesting sight. I'm still trying to figure out how that came to be. The main ice is flat around the reeds, and I suspect those knobs of ice came about when wave action pushed water up through the holes around the reeds. The knobs remind me of the old crystal doorknobs you'll find in some of the Victorian-era houses here in Newport.

There was a cormorant out on the pond today, which is definitely unusual. Cormorants migrate south in the fall, so the fact that there was one still here in February is odd to say the least. I wonder if there's a colony that decided not to go? I doubt it - this is the only cormorant I've seen all winter.

Around the same time I saw the cormorant I saw two hawks cruising for lunch; redtails as far as I could tell. They started out fairly low and easily visible, but as soon as they got wind of me they went way up and out of range of my camera.

There are lots of American coots on the pond this winter. Although coots spend a lot of time in the water their feet aren't webbed. They aren't related to ducks but rather to moorhens and partridges. I like the contrast between their charcoal gray bodies and their chalky white beaks.

Ducks absolutely amaze me; they tuck their heads under their wings and go right to sleep, but still they zip around, navigating around other birds and circling around each other, but they never lift a head to see where they're going. These three Ruddy ducks were sound asleep but bopping right along!

Then there was this female Hooded Merganser. This is the first time I've ever seen one on Big Pond; mostly they hang out in the south end of the island, on Gooseneck Cove and Almy Pond and Lily Pond. And where was Papa? Usually you see Hooded Mergansers as a tribe, with a male and his harem of five or six females. But this was just one lone female.

And that's the tale of today's walk.

I finished Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain this morning. I'd seen, and loved, the movie, so I figured it was time to read the book. It's a lot darker than Anthony Minghella's movie. Frazier takes a far dimmer view of human nature than Minghella does, and while the book like the movie is about the journey two seperated lovers take to get back together, unlike the movie it's not in the least romantic. It's not an easy book to read. Frazier writes in a 19th Century style rather than in the modern naturalistic style and it's often hard to tell where dialogue ends and narrative begins. But most of all his portrayal of everyday people in the rural South is brutal and unromantic. You often feel as if you're reading a 19th Century version of Deliverance; there are very many characters who are mentally unbalanced or retarded, and often just plain depraved. And although the book ends the same as the movie, with Ada and Ruby having a picnic with their families, Frazier's portrayal is far darker and more ambivalent than Minghella's bittersweet ending. Still, the book is worth reading.

Well, it's time for me to head for bed. As Dr. Wilbur Larch says in The Cider House Rules: "Good night you princes of Maine, you kings of New England." And to you queens and princesses as well.

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