Bonata-Nature-Gram #1: Morning Still
Fog solid, opalescent, stills the air. Droplets, temporary jewels dangle from the twigs. The mocking bird drops to the ground and rows her wings.
Pam Croom © 2013
Natural history of north Alabama, life, the universe, everything or perhaps just my backyard.
In theory, our city-born mother understood the hold nature held on her country-born daughters, but it was the practice that gave her fits. She did not understand dirt’s affinity for girls’ clothes, nor that shoes were optional accessories. Every pot and pan she owned had, at one time or another housed every creepy-crawly critter that was to be found in the Ozark Mountains and, inexplicably, she took a dim view on such housing. She was raised in a southern city and sent to classes by her parents to be trained in the feminine arts of dance, piano and voice. On Sundays the de rigueur of her upbringing required that her shoes and purse match and that they be coordinated with her dress, hat, and gloves. So you see, it could only be a mystery to her how she managed to spawn her unlikely daughters, and to us it was a cosmic joke.
As a child I loved the woods and all that it sheltered-momma was less enthusiastic. Much to momma’s credit, when I was eight, she bought me my first pair of binoculars and bird book. They were my first grown-up possessions. I suspect she was trying to direct my interests in more genteel directions, away from pursuits like poking through the rabbit guts my cat left. Unfortunately for momma I could manage both.
A two-hundred acre bottomland wood lay between home and school. The landowner was absentee, at least that was the rumor on my elementary school grapevine. Deer trails crisscrossed the forest. Huge trees beckoned. There was real dirt in that bottomland not just red Ozark clay! I’m breathless thinking about that lovely dark dirt even now! Offering such amenities, the place was overrun with children claiming the land for their own wild ways and I was among them.
One day, a mother angry that her snotty-nosed, momma’s boy of a brat had been taunted by older boys, called all the mothers and whinged on about, “do you really know where your children are?” That afternoon on our way home we kids found, milling at the wood’s edge, an embarrassed troupe of mothers who, to their dismay, didn’t really know where their children were. Unfortunately for me my discomfited mother was one of them.
Momma began to brood, “What if there was an emergency, and I needed to find you?”
“Any kid can find me.”
Trying not to scare me, but succeeding in frightening herself, she persisted in her line of thought, “What if, and not saying anything is going to happen, but what if you fell and broke your leg?”
“You, knowing exactly where I was at, would not do anything for my broken leg-it’d still be broken.” No answer pleased her and that one in particular ticked her off there was no way she letting me go out into that wood again until she had seen it for herself. Saturday morning momma drove me to the housing addition that skirted the wood, and at road’s end we trekked out over the abandoned construction site. Bulldozers had left gaping ruts, clay pits abounded and between the woods and us lay a hundred-yard morass.
Three quarters of the way across momma stopped before a mud hole and stared at the distant trees, sighing she considered for me for a moment before speaking, “Don’t break your leg, and be home for dinner.” Even though every fiber of her told her not to let me go, my momma did. What a gift! She trusted me; she was confident of my abilities even if she wasn’t confident that the world at large wouldn’t hurt me. Hours were spent chasing, hiding from, and ambushing other children, forts built, trees climbed, frogs chased, mistakes made, and lessons learned all which gave me a confidence about my own physicality and a self-esteem that no over-protective parent could impart.
I tell you this story, because I don’t see children out on their own much in the woods today. Understandably, parents are scared by 24-hour news fear-mongers, but at some point reason needs to take over…the bogeyman always existed and always will, and some bogeymen are real; fortunately, their numbers are small. Bad things happen to good children no matter how watchful their parents. Learn something from my city-mother: Trust good things do happen and sometimes, just sometimes, you just have to drive your daughters to the end of the road and turn them loose in the woods!
This morning life is pairing outside my window. White-throated sparrows fuss and chase in anticipation of northward flights and pairings while a brown thrasher sits upon a sycamore branch bowed before the sun. The red in the sunlight catches the bird’s back drying and drawing out the russet hues of damp morning feathers. Joined by another, the sun glowing in their yellow eyes, they bask for a time, side by side, but the well-oiled togetherness of parenthood is not quite upon them so one fusses then flees pursed by the other. The thrashers are replaced by two mourning doves on the telephone wires and a robin pair in tree. The robins dispel the morning chill warming their dark backs to the dawn. Their heads slightly cocked upwards, as robins do, catches light, and their yellow beaks look illuminated from within. The leftward bulging crescent moon pales in the blue morning sky and wanes while we all wait for the green to seep out of the sun into the ground bringing on the full waxing glory of spring.
Pam Croom © 2010
On a stunning and blustery day we decided to paddle up the backwater embayment despite it being the coldest day of the year. Deserted by mankind, the lake was silent but for the occasional swish of wind and the tinkling cries of birds. Unimpeded those small sounds gathered and rolled like thunder over the water demanding notice in the otherwise still day. The cold had stripped the air of haze rendering it to a basic clearness through which all the colors to be found in light bolted and teased the eye with a beauty usually hidden from view.
Joe and I sat in the heated car trying to screw up our courage for the better of a half hour before braving the lake. To avoid the inevitable, we first ate lunch, and then watched a brown creeper spiraling up a large pine delicately prying at bark with his curved beak. The graceful bird disappeared and the day outside could no longer be denied, we awkwardly emerged encased in a half inch of manufactured blubber and prepared the kayaks for launch. Despite the neoprene cocoon, my hands and feet stiffened in the cold, but I wanted to prove that the advantage of living in Alabama is the southern climate allows you to join in outdoor pursuits year round, and today was my test. Little did I know the day would illustrate more than that for me.
Once in the water, the forty-degree lake warmed the kayak, and with the cold taking leave of my bones I looked about. A dark shadow swept across the horizon. I paddled after it tossing across the chop on Minky Creek’s embayment all the while watching the fleeting shadow resolve into a young eagle. The pitiable youngster came away from the lake time after time without a fish in its grasping talons. Behind the eagle’s path the land rose up, and the farm field beyond the lake’s edge was golden and capped by a blue sky. Tall, delicately, wind-sculpted pines studded the shore. Yellow marsh grass and cattail tops swayed in the breeze, but below they were held fast by the thin ice rimming the shore.
Leaving the eagle to its uncertain fate we paddled on up Minky creek. Blackbirds and hardy little kinglets congregated on the thin ice retrieving wind-scattered seeds. My kayak silent, passed unnoticed and within inches of the chattering, banqueting birds. Up stream the cattails thickened and spilled far out into the shallows, and where the cattails met open water, their feet were festooned by green and red baubles reeling about on the choppy waves. Like a grotesque string of Christmas ornaments caught in the bulrushes, hundreds of shotgun shells, left to flounder by duck hunters, floated at the margins of the cattail bed. As I looked about me, I noticed more than bobbing shells, there were landscape pots, old coolers and toys, not to mention the flock of flailing plastic bags caught up in the trees. The trash along the lake was so ubiquitous that I hadn’t even noticed it until the “Christmas ornaments” caught my eye. I hadn’t noticed the trash defacing the landscape because it had become normal seemed so abnormal! A memory flashed through my mind of Chief Iron Eyes Cody crying as he looked out over the littered and polluted land. Clearly, the “People start pollution. People can stop it” seventies ad campaign could not have run on television in Alabama otherwise there wouldn’t be so much garbage! How was this so?
Another memory flashed back to earlier when I took my brother-in-law kayaking up Crow Creek. He was horrified by the refuse in the stream, and the only explanation he could think up was that people where hauling trash to the creek and dumping it. I tried to explain the why and how of the trash to him. I told him some of it was blown out of pickup truck beds, and some washed down the mountain, it simply got away from people there was no malicious dumping involved. None of my assurances satisfied him so I didn’t tell him about the old washing machine sitting out on Bellefonte Island in the main Tennessee River channel-that sucker didn’t wash down from anywhere and it took more than a wee bit of effort to get it out there. That bit of information I let slide. More memories flood by to months later to when I was visiting family in Michigan. The small towns that dot the Kalamazoo River had nature trails beside the river, and as I hiked those trails, I was struck by how clean it was. No plastic grocery bags stuck on branches, no plastic pots floating downstream just plain nature au naturel. I realized then how trashy Alabama must have appeared to my brother-in-law that day on Crow Creek.
Why do people in Alabama litter? Alabamans claim a special connection to the land so why don’t they see the trash they leave behind, and does a TV ad really have to tell us to clean up? We need to do what we do best: No one takes care of their own better than Alabamans. We take care of our families, our friends, and anyone in distress. We need to take care of that which is most fundamentally “our own”… the land, only we can keep tears from falling on Alabama.
Pam Croom © 2010
Welcome to Nature’s Call! My name is Pam Croom, I have been fascinated by nature pretty much from the time I could walk. Please join me as I learn more about the world we live in. Please leave comments and your own reflections on nature-any feedback is welcome! Sit down a spell and read about nature found in north Alabama and elsewhere.