Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The air was full of birds

Clean up day at the sugar bush was perfect. Dave and I got there first (something that hadn’t happened before this season). We carried four white buckets down to the lake for wash water. The lake was absolutely still. Not even the wake of a goose disturbed the reflection of the sun glowing on the surface.

Suddenly, a Canada goose erupted from the cattails. She passed in front of us, angrily squawking. She left behind a nest built of yellowed cattail leaves. Four creamy eggs the size of my fist nestled in the long beige feathers that lined the nest. We hurried on and filled our buckets further down the lake. Her squawks followed us back to the camp.

Dave started the fires and I strained the lake water. Then we slid our cooking pans onto the fire and added soap to the wash water and bleach to the rinse water. Dave and I, friend Edgar and Tom’s wife Sue pulled taps and nails from the trees and carried the cans back to the camp. Tom scrubbed out each can and then tipped it into the rinse water. Budd or Marguerite fished the rinsed cans out of the rinse water and set them in the sun to dry.

We’ve done this for so many years that everyone knows what needs to be done. By lunch time, all the cans were washed. We sat down to potato soup garnished with leeks that Sue had pulled in the woods. After lunch, eaten sitting on lawn chairs or log chairs, we put away the dry cans, the tables, and the sleds. We loaded our cars with left over food and the rest of our gear.

The last day in the woods this year. I filled my nose with the smell of moist earth and growing mosses. I sat by the lake and watched the sunlight dance across the ripples on the surface. The air was full of birds. Small birds provided constant background music. Over head we heard the rattling cry of a single sandhill crane. Twice, we saw pelicans. Marguerite described them as “a sweep of pelicans flashing a shiny-white as they skimmed over the lake.” I had never seen pelicans so close; usually we only hear them, up, far up above our heads, almost out of sight.

On the way home, we disturbed a great blue heron when we drove between two sloughs. It flew from the open water on one side of the road to the open water on the other, grey blue wings beating steadily, yellow green legs streaming behind. One of those miraculous everyday engineering improbabilities.

And finally, the geese. Ever present, from early spring until late fall, some geese even over winter in the warmed lakes of the power plant in Fergus Falls and the open water of rivers. I love the Canada geese partly because they are monogamous, and partly because they have adapted so well to what man has done to their environment. We saw our first pair three or four weeks ago before there was any open water in the lakes, just little puddles of melt water at the edge of the sloughs. We saw our first family complete with little fluffs of grey goslings on the way home from clean up at the bush. And when we reached home, we heard a whole cacophony of them honking musically in the cattails behind our farm.

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