Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spontaneous combustion!

For the friends who read yesterday's blog (and actually made it at least halfway through*), I have to note with great excitement that spontaneous combustion made the news today. No, not the News of the World, but an actual real news outlet, the BBC. And I am doubly excited because there is an Australian connection: A bloke in Warrnambool worked up so much static electricity on his way to a job interview that he caused a fire in the office building and one of the firies (that's "firemen" to those unfamiliar with the Australian passion for taking the gravitas out of every possible word) mused that he was carrying such an electrical charge that he could've . . . spontaneously combusted. Awesome! (I am ten years old again.) The question I am now left with is: Did he get the job or not?

*Yay, someone made it at least halfway through!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


There is so much beauty to be had in even the most repulsive surroundings. Nothing is ever all ugly. The most exotic, the most gorgeous birds could care less that they're standing in a post-apocalyptic-looking hellhole. Actually, it seems to be that the places that are the grossest and most disgusting to human beings provide a bounty for birds. I have watched ducks in wasterwater treatment plants. Pond weed doesn't get this green without a reason.

I have gazed upon birdlife at the dump in New Haven. The furry outline left behind by a dead deer, seemingly melted into the ground--or perhaps spontaneously combusted, a possibility I was strangely obsessed with as a child--was just an added bonus.

I have stumbled through a desolate patch of dead frozen cabbages in the depths of winter looking for interesting sparrows. Well, for any sign of life, really.

On Nantucket Island, people stroll along the quaint cobblestone streets shopping and having Herman Melville fantasies. They miss out on the garbage dump, possibly the stinkiest and most toxic garbage dump I've ever experienced. Really disturbing-colored stuff was seeping up onto your shoes out of the silty mud everywhere you walked. And they apparently have a lot of explosives to dispose of on Nantucket.

The past Sunday found me at Sandy Point, by the harbor at New Haven, on the sand and mud right next to the sewage treatment plant. Apparently it's a good place to find shorebirds.

I've read about medieval notions of medicine and how doctors used to think that diseases were caused by miasmas, or nasty vapors in the air. And walking out along that sandy point and breathing in little sips of air, as if that would somehow save me from the foul stench, I truly grasped how they made that connection. I didn't have my camera. Try to imagine that you are about to direct a movie set in a post-nuclear landscape and are on a quest to find the ideal location, and then you go to bed and you dream of the perfect location.

This day there was little except for the usual parade of gulls, an armada of Mute Swans, and about six American Oystercatchers. I love those little black and white and vermilion fellows with their crazy long bills for winkling molluscs out of their shells. But I could go somewhere scenic to see those.

Then, while trudging back to the car, there was a plum-colored blue blob standing on the sand. A Great Blue Heron--no, it was a Tri-colored Heron. I had never seen one of those. That's because you don't, apparently, ever see many of them here. I think I actually gasped. It was the most elegant, graceful, improbably plumaged creature you could possibly hope to see while attempting not to gag because of a pesilential miasma. Utter anthropomorphizing on my part, but to me it looked like it was all dressed up for a formal dinner dance. Ready for the breeding season with a sweeping swatch of white plumage at the back of the neck. The three colors so subtle in the late-afternoon light: soft  blue, creamy white like good vanilla ice cream, and a reddish blush on the neck. It was to be but a fleeting flash of beauty. Up it rose on its chopstick-legs, and it was gone--briefly mobbed by gulls as it departed--out to roost somewhere for the night.

Photograph taken by Dori, Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ten minutes in the park

It's spring! Ten minutes in the park this morning: The Red-winged Blackbirds are back, conkareeeeee. Robins are cheerily-cheery-upping. White-throated Sparrows are singing in their quavering little voices like something from an old dusty record. Cardinals, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, screaming Bluejays. A Cormorant flying fast and low to the water. The squirrels are running around everywhere like crazy, chasing, fighting, clutching acorns. And there was a Red-tailed Hawk high in a tree, quitely devouring one squirrel that didn't run quite fast enough today.