20 April 2011

Synergic Engagements

IIII ) lllllll Redwings And Shovelers (12Apr11)

1729 Sspopiikimi - out for an evening walk with Mahoney, brought her chair in case her knee gets tired. There's a pair of flickers and a robin in one of the trees leading to midpond, and we stop to check on the thatching ants, who still seem to be occupied only with bringing sections of grass stem down through the entrances to their hive

1744 Straight across the pond from the ant hill, in the wet meadows, an aapsspini raucous breaks out... a couple is chased away by a gander. We squint to search the reeds and eventually spot a goose back in there. This is the pair who chased off the heron over the weekend, but departed when I approached. I assumed, from this behavior, that they had no cache. I searched the shore all the same, but missed it, because it turns out they're positioned on a small, self-constructed island in the reeds, surrounded by water. It looks like the goose is incubating now

1748 The couple who has been chased go to a different location, the grassy area of the wet meadows between the aforementioned nest and the ksisskstakioyis. Including this couple, there are five aapsspini pairs and one oddball on the grass strip. With the arrival of this chased pair, one of the other couples fly over and appear to be protecting an area near one of the beaver canals. I wouldn't doubt they have a cache there now

1759 Coming in toward south-pond, we find four aapsspini pairs and an oddball feeding on the golf greens. We can't see anyone at the Gosling, Subpond, or Big Island couple's nests, so I figure they're still caching. None of the eaters on the golf green seem hurried enough to be incubating. There's also a mi'ksikatsi couple near the subpond nest. The female is calling incessantly, even though the drake is sticking close to her

1812 The quacking mallard and her drake paddle out into the wide south-pond pool. There, they converge loosely with two other couples who paddle out from opposite sides of the pool. Then the loud couple take flight and make a big loop out over the river then back around and off toward north-pond. One of the other couples nearest us then takes up with the quacking, and soon they too fly off toward the river. Not so mysterious, I think this behavior is a result of our presence. Meanwhile, the Big Island aapsspini couple return from the golf greens, and we watch the goose go to check her eggs. She's definitely caching, but not yet incubating. We can see, from the south-pond bench, the Marsh mama sitting her nest, with her gander standing guard in the shallows below the duck blind. The lone coot is also still out this way. He (gender assumed) paddles off toward the peninsula

1901 Rounding south-pond, Mahoney continues alone along the levee-walk while I move to survey the shore of the wet meadows, or at least those areas I can access without gumboots. I find no new caches, even in those sites being fairly heavily defended by aapsspini couples against their own kind. Unfortunately, when I go to check on the subpond cache, I learn that it has been dug-up and raided, probably by raccoons, or maybe the heron. There's nothing but shards remaining. But it's early yet, the couple can easily try again, and the site was pretty damp to begin with. Any sense of loss was for me balanced by gain when I arrived at the cattails toward north-pond. Here I find that the first redwing blackbird has returned. No sign of mohkammii today

1917 I rendezvous with Mahoney on the levee-walk above north-pond, and she reports that the mi'ksikatsi on this end are still chasing off other couples. We then head around the bank toward the path to our vehicle, passing along the way a house sparrow (odd for this place) and the first pair of returned shovelers

2328 The first year we took the time to become familiar enough with the geese to locate and gather a few of their eggs before incubation began, there were just three couples at the pond, and only one succeeded in bringing their clutch to term. Two years later, as we continued to stay engaged, there were six couples nesting at the pond, and three of them hatched their eggs. This year, there are eleven pairs of geese attempting to nest here, and nine more on the neighboring river island. It will be interesting to see how many goslings are raised this summer, but in either case it seems clear to me that when we enact our natural role in ecology, everyone benefits. The mainstream conservation ethics of disengagement is mistaken and condescending. It treats timeless relationships as dead or in need of artificial improvement, it pretends that wild places are different than human places, and it presumes that we are incapable of responsible engagements

IIII ) llllllllllll Pelicans, Turtle and Osprey (17Apr11)

1119 Sspopiikimi - it's a very wet and snowy morning, but in spite of my battle with what feels to be the onset of a wicked throat and lung cold, I could not see putting off my visit for another day. The snow that's falling now is trailing moisture from makoyisttsomo'kaan, the wolf cap that arrived a few nights ago. I need to check on the aapsspini nests and caches to see if any have been abandoned

1140 The birds are in rare form, apparently very hungry. Walking in at north-pond I'm set upon by robins of both sex, dark-eyed juncos, house sparrows, magpies, even the male redwings. There are probably a hundred birds following me. I have never seen birds at the pond behave like this, and I can't just ignore them. This is our place together. Mahoney and I gain a lot from these feathered associates of ours, and they're asking me for food. I'm turning around to go buy them some

1224 I return with $20 worth of mixed fruits, nuts, and seeds, a jar of peanutbutter, and some beef liver. I dump the latter on a log for the magpies to find, and spread about half the mixture of the remainder along the shale trail at north-pond. The rest I pack in my bag in the event that I encounter similar circumstances at south-pond

1259 Not wanting the birds to think I'd arranged some kind of entrapment, I walk away just as the juncos arrive, figuring I can move to south-pond and work my way back through the wet meadows. As I hike along the levee-walk in that direction, the first pair of pelicans for the season pass overhead, following the river upstream. When I get to the trail leading out to the duck blind, I cut down into the forest and head straight to the south marsh. There, I find the Marsh Couple diligently incubating still, despite the fact that there's a wall of snow built up on the rim of their nest. I wade in to get a picture of the mama laying low on her snowy mound, and in passing through some submersed sedge grass I encounter a small sspopii, one of the painted turtles after which Mahoney and I named this oxbow pond. It's probably a few years old, though nowhere near the size of some of it's elders. I pick the turtle up out of the water to have a good look, and she's really beautiful. No signs of battle or prior attacks by any of the herons and such who visit this place. Just a perfect little beauty, with bright red designs across her belly

1329 Now I begin my survey proper, moving north along the wet meadows. I already learned, about four days ago, that the Subpond Couple's egg cache had been located and raided by predators. I'm glad to see, however, that the Gosling Couple's nest is now being incubated, and that it's quite securely surrounded by water (at least for the time being) near the entrance to the subpond canal. I'm tempted to go near, so that she'll stand up and show me how many eggs she has. But even with the water as it is, I don't want to do anything that might bring predators her way. So I continue on. There is a pair of aapsspini acting semi-territorial by the ksisskstakioyis. This may be the Subpond Couple preparing to give it another go, or it could be new nesters altogether. Either way, I find no sign of a cache. The lone coot is out this way, along with several mi'ksikatsi pairs in the wide south pool. I don't think any of them will start hiding eggs until at least the trees begin leafing out. I notice also that the ksisskstaki are eating a lot of rabbit willow, something they've mostly abstained from until later in the summer the past few years

1403 Of course the ksisskstaki are also dining heavily on their normal seasonal fare as well - the bulrush and cattail roots that abound. I'm aware that in many places, though not necessarily here, the starch from these roots comprised part of a traditional indigenous diet. So when I arrive midpond to a pool within the cattail stands where the ksisskstaki have been pulling and eating these plants, I decide to pick up one of their discards, split it in half lengthwise, and give it a go. What I find is that, flavor-wise, it is much like the musineon biscuit root that grows on the coulee slopes, just a pure white starch with relatively few fibers. Better yet though, there are good pieces of it floating all around in the water, discarded by the beavers, making for very easy gathering. Luckily for me, I have a grocery sack, and it takes no time at all to fill it

1432 Near to where I gather the roots is the Midpond Couple aapsspini nest, a small island among the reeds that Mahoney and I had assumed (by our view of it four days ago from the opposite shore) was a muskrat lodge. Wading out to it today though, I learn that it is constructed by the goose herself from small bits of reeds very likely discarded by the beavers. Unfortunately, whether by predator or by the big snow, this nest has been abandoned. The couple remain near, but there are only two eggs, both in the water, and one clearly eaten-out by a gull. The second egg is in good condition, and it quickly sinks, so I will be taking it home on the off chance that it's still viable for eating. As I walk away with it, paahtsiiksiistsikomm, an osprey, comes to hover briefly over north-pond in search of fish

1509 Though I didn't bring my raft today, the potential for finding abandoned nests and caches on the river island is playing on my mind heavily. I don't want to miss the opportunity. So I decide to go ahead and attempt wading out there, wrapping my phone and cigarettes in a plastic bag and leaving the rest of my gear on shore. It takes a while, and I have to go through fairly strong currents up to my stomach, but I eventually find a route that doesn't require swimming, and it's so worth it. Making a sunwise circuit around the island, I find that the aapsspini residents there now have a whopping SEVENTEEN nests... way, way more than in all the years prior we've been doing this, almost double the usual amount. Only two of these nests were abandoned in the storm, and I'm able to collect seven eggs from them, making eight total today. When combined with what I collected last week, this alone is enough for our ceremony, if they are all still viable, which I suspect most are. I didn't even have to take from any active caches. These I collected today are all salvage eggs, and I think maybe that's why I clued into gathering the beaver's discarded roots too. There's an important lesson in today's visit, about traditional foods, and the potential for minimal impact

1537 Strangely, when I get back to the main shore and cross over to north-pond, it doesn't appear as though the food I brought compelled much interest from the birds whom I'd interpreted as desperate and begging. Even the liver has been left alone. All I can figure is that this has been another aspect of the overarching lesson for today's visit. I'm back at my vehicle with eight aapsspini eggs (the equivalent of twenty chicken eggs) and a heavy sack full of edible, starchy roots, and I didn't have to detract from the life of a single plant or animal to accomplish this

1543 Returned from today's visit to the pond with eight goose eggs (the equivalent of twenty chicken eggs), a heavy sack full of edible cattail roots, and wicked inspiration. I was able to get all of this food without having to detract from the life of a single plant or animal. Not that subsistence killing is in any way wrong. Just that it feels pretty good to be familiar enough with the seasonal behaviors of the animals here, that I can take advantage of brief but predictable windows of opportunity and gather up food resources that they, of necessity, are abandoning. High synergy, this mode of engagement, something to aspire to more often. Could we ever become so connected, aware, and responsive that we're able to carry out our lives - feed ourselves, build our houses, fashion our clothing - in such a synergic manner? This is my challenge for the human race