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Denizens

berries.jpgOctober is my favorite month for many reasons: autumn begins, colors commence; Halloween and pumpkins, and the shift (finally) to cooler weather. While we here in Texas have random bits of color (but rarely until November), we take some solace in not having to deal with the leaf peepers as do New Englanders. There are parts of Texas where small areas of amazing color, such as the Lost Maples Natural Area with its isolated, uncommon stand of Uvalde bigtooth maple trees (I’m planning a visit there in November and will, of course, blog ’til I’m fuzzy about the trip hoping to elicit gasps of “That’s Texas?” from the bloggies). But for now I can only grab color where I can on my nature walks, be it in the bright purple berries of unknown plant or the denizens that live and work around the pond that is always a pleasant stop on the way.

My daily walk nearly always finds me at this large man-made pond nestled between the conference center and some office buildings. It’s one of the original ponds (a dammed-up stream artistically created from the blueprints of some long-gone landscape architect from the early days of the development), which makes it at least 30 years old (plenty of time for many generations of denizens to come and go making the pond a permanent wildlife habitat). There is one spot in particular though, a picnic table nestled in some trees with a picture-window view of the pond, I call my “office.” That is where I do some of my best daydreaming. I’ll blog more about that spot in an upcoming post but for today, let me introduce you to the pond party I see daily.

There are a myriad of ducks and geese whose colors cover just about all that Mother Nature provides to them. Many of these stay at a distant but there is a group that hangs out around one part of the trail seemingly fearless of humans (not a good idea in general, but fine when it means this human whom I sense duck.jpgthey can tell is a friend). They congregate on the trail acting more like bored teenagers: harassing each other and playing games on the hapless among them. As I walk the trail and approach them they all stop, look, and listen…but don’t give way. As if some sort of code exists that this ground was theirs before humans, they allow me to thread my way through them but know they have first rights to the land yet barely move as I silently walk through the gaggle, feeling every bit like a person in the wrong place, waiting for the leader to scream, “Let’s get him!” and a proper mugging ensues. (That would make a good headline: local fool mugged by fowl gang.) But I pass, silently and respectfully, and I sense the creatures understand I’m sympathetic to their kind, a nature boy of sorts, so they allow me to pass with minimal disruption. The few that do move a little to allow passage give low-level grunts and quacks showing their displeasure in a lightly threatening way. A few of these fellows’ heads come above my waist, so I’m not talking little fuzzy Easter ducks here.

Passing without incident is not guaranteed, however, if one is a feathery outsider. The ducks.jpgblack duck wandered into the “hood” and was promptly greeted by a circling of the guards (with much chatter on the white ducks parts). I’m simply an observer so I watched the proceedings, not willing to interfere even if they attacked the black duck. But the show was false bravado; either that or the black duck gave the secret duck sign of capitulation and thus allowed to stay, since no beaked blows came. Soon the white ducks let him be and went looking to harass something else.

Larger birds frequent the pond as well, but are harder to capture on camera. There is a mating pair (my guess, no facts) of white cranes (herons?) at this pond, but I only managed to catch this one shot from a distance, maxing out my digicam’s zoom to catch him (her?) in the tree. The shot I *didn’t* catch (but tried) was when the bird gracefully floated in his approach to tree, wings and legs fully extended in an heron.jpgobvious show of supreme control. He looks small in the picture, but with all appendages extended it’s an amazing sight.

The pond is also full of photographically shy turtles, fish, and nutria as well. I’ve lost count how many turtle shots I’ve pursued with nary a pix to show for the effort. Those dudes are plain shy and dive at the slightest sound or motion close to them. I’ve seen great shots of 4, 5, or more turtles stacked and sunning on dead trees exposed slightly above the water, but every time as I raise camera to capture they plunk out of sight. Maybe turtles are Hollywood stars from former lives, their evasive techniques reminding me of eluding paparazzi. Plus If I were a tasty-in-the-shell meal I’d be leery of everything too. The nutria, however, are almost approachable. Whether they are just as curious as I or simply posturing for a handout I don’t know, but I’ve taken enough shots of them to warrant their own feature post, which will be coming in the days ahead.

When times are challenging nothing helps me like a walk in nature. There’s something soothing and reassuring about walking away from the noise of civilization to visit quietly in the world that existed for countless years before man stepped forward and began slowly decimating the world. While my pond isn’t exactly natural nor away from it all, it’s existing harmoniously though surrounded by man’s concrete and steel. A good compromise? Perhaps. But I can’t help feeling we’re changing too much of our planet and erring in not leaving enough natural areas, just in case this whole “human” thing was an evolutionary mistake. And so I continue to venture forth, realizing with every new visit in nature that for me these visits are not just desired, but are absolutely necessary for my soul:

> “We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” – Henry David Thoreau

5 comments to Denizens

  • Joel

    As a burgeoning teen, I used to walk constantly to calm myself (i.e., let the hormones settle) and get away from all the (perceived) demands of unreasonable adults. While I don’t have as many opportunities (and the gym is not quite the same), I will, when driving on long stretches of highway, look around at the majesty of the mountains, the sky (cloudy or not) or the painting of said mountain and sky on a passing big-rig.

  • Ah, there’s so much to love in this post…not the least of which being the link-love to yours truly. ;-)

    I adore that pic of the unknown purple berries: I’ve never seen anything quite like that. Presumably it’s something you have in TX that we don’t have back east.

    The big white bird is indeed a heron–more accurately, egret–not a crane. Although you *do* have cranes down in Texas, they don’t typically roost in trees. They also have big “bustle” tails, so that sleek, tree-perching bird’s an egret (white heron).

    Lastly (geez!), I can’t wait to see your pix of Lost Maples. Maybe I could send some of our leaf peepers down your way to accompany you? ;-)

  • Cindy

    As always, I enjoyed your blog. I am glad to see you out and recovered enough to actually enjoy your nature walks. I know that enquiring minds want to know the name of the berry bush depicted in your beautiful photo. I don’t mean to sound like Cliff from Cheers, but the bush is commonly and appropriately called the American Beautyberry or Beautyberry or the French Mulberry and the in the scientific community is known as the Callicarpa Americana.

  • Thanks for the ID Cindy… I’m smitten by anything purple, so that was good enough for me to snap the pix… but nice to finally know what the mysterious purple berries are. And hey, Cliff was always underappreciated… knowledge rules!

  • What a lovely post. As a native Texan now living in the Pacific Northwest (where the leaves are now lovely, if wet), I enjoyed your description of what passes for fall there. I share a name with the canyon in which those maples are located, but have never been there; I look forward to seeing your photos. I also studied architecture at UT Austin, and, despite occasional thoughts of doing something else, still design buildings for a living.