29 July 2011

A New Place-Names Perspective

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllll A New Place-Names Perspective (23Jul11)

1623 Sspopiikimi - it's been seven days since I last had an opportunity to hike around and catch up with the goings-on here. After half a decade of such visiting, there's still so much to pursue in terms of gaining phenological familiarity, and enhancing my relationship with the foods of this pond. These endeavors will certainly continue until my end. But just yesterday I had a thought about an additional project that could take our learning to a higher level. Mahoney and I have named this pond and many of its features and micro-environments, based on our perceptions and experiences. I wonder though, what we might learn if some of the resident animals here were producing these names for us, based on their perceptions and experiences rather than our own. What features are important to them, and how would they describe them? In some regards, undertaking a mapping project of this nature would be an exercise in imagination. But it would also be an opportunity to strengthen our identification with the animals, and our appreciation of their perspectives. And who knows... when approached as teachers, the animals often lead us on amazing journeys. We've asked them to educate us about how the seasonal cycle affects their lives, and they continue to do so. Perhaps it's time we ask them to teach us about their senses of place as well

1650 So I've started off today with this kind of inquiry in mind. I walk down the trail from the parking lot, and out onto the cutbank of north-pond. Already my thoughts are reeling at the possibilities. What is the parking lot to the residents here? How does it figure into their lives? How do they understand the trail, or this cutbank area, or this end of the pond? My own attention is immediately attracted to the coneflowers and wavy-leaved thistle blooms, forcing the inquiry to become reflexive. Am I merely drawn to these blossoms because I am a contemporary human, detached in so many ways from natural subsistence? I want to say that I go to the flowers because of my phenological interest, because I'm still learning about the relationships between symbionts that seem to centralize on the bloom. But I know this is mistaken. The birds don't seem overly attracted to flowers. From what I've seen, they seem to be far more interested in what can be found on the plant stems, or in what can be harvested during the seeding. So is it just the pretty colors that impress me? Am I that simple? Or are the flowers themselves drawing me to them for a reason? What ancient human place in the symbiotic weave around flowers have we forgotten in our absence of local subsistence practices? Unfortunately, the blossoms aren't offering too many answers today. On the coneflowers, I find yellow blister beetles and ambush bugs. While on the thistles, there is a milkweed beetle buried headlong in one of the flowers, and hosts of thatching ants gripping lethargically to the resinous housing that surrounds the seeds. Are they drunk from the nectar of these played-out blooms? They don't even bother me when I touch them, which is odd for thatchers. What harassment I do receive is from deer flies, landing on my exposed skin and biting

1701 I am very tempted not to move at all, to just sit right here on the cutbank of north-pond and consider all the possibilities. For the beavers, we know, this area is used to harvest certain greens and roots, and is also the location of a shore lodge once built and utilized by their children in starting their own families. It was abandoned, presumably for a better location on the river, three years ago. For the geese, on the other hand, this cutbank is not utilized. The absinthe is growing here, obscuring their view far more than other plants on the wet meadows or golf course. The ducks, for their part, use the cutbank for cover, floating in the water just off the shoreline, under low-hanging roots and trees. Many possibilities to consider. Perhaps I will return to focus here this evening, but I want to check on the swainson nest. I'm very much curious whether their hatchling is still alive

1722 Moving now, I climb the levee, or at least as it's known from our perspective, noting as I do the absence of turtles basking on the main concentration of accumulated wood from the old boardwalk, floating at the extreme north end. I look carefully and see that today the turtles are on the relatively fewer boards in the bulrush patch on the edge of the wet meadows. Most years, without the kind of flooding we've been having, the turtles wouldn't be able to utilize these boards. Most of them would be anchored to land. At present however, this area affords more concealment than the exposed drift on the far north end, and so the wise option is obvious, and they are keen to it. Up here on the levee top, there are rhombic-leaved sunflowers in bloom. Again I am immediately attracted to them, and look them over to find they are being utilized as the mating grounds for marsh weevils. It appears the weevils don't really care if the flowers are actually open or not, for there are as many of them on the flower buds as on the blooms themselves. Is this where they lay their eggs?

1754 There is an increased dragonfly presence as I walk what we know as the levee. There are a few different species here, all of whom I attempt to photograph for later identification. Two of them - a large blue darner and a small golden dragonfly - are clinging to plants, which I at first assume is for escape from the wind. But this presumption fades a bit when I crouch low and close to a medium-sized green darner who is landing on the shale trail itself. Mahoney and I have often seen this behavior with the red-colored variable darners, and thought it had something to do with camouflage. Through my macro lens though, I can see that this individual before me is turning something over in its mouth, eating. And it's lime-green coloration certainly does not blend well against the red shale. Perhaps surveying open trails for small, ground-dwelling insects has been the feeding strategy of the variable darner all along

1823 When I come to the first dirt path leading down into the forest main, I take it. Last week, along this same route, the trees were a raucous of begging fledglings. Tonight it is quiet, and I almost suspect that some of the families who nested here have moved away, though why this would be I don't know. Perhaps the parents feel as though, through the nesting period, the predators here had become all too familiar with them and their routines. Maybe it's safer to move along to another stretch of trees once the fledglings get used to flying and finding food. Or maybe they are already starting to form larger flocks for the same reason. The flora here has also changed a bit. White sweet clover, maanikapii and aahsowa are all in the height of bloom. Also, both color morphs of the spurge hawk moth larva are now appearing. I walk along until coming within view of the swainson nest. The parents are not here, and their absence at first has me thinking the worst. But I am pleasantly surprised when I glass the nest and see not one, but two hatchling faces looking down at me. The second baby is far darker than the other we'd seen before. I wonder if it will take on the dark adult plumage of the color morph for which this species is known in Blackfoot. Sikohpoyitaipanikimm... the Black-Greasy-Hawk. I prefer this name to the English Swainson's, which these hawks are obviously called after some come and gone human being. In fact, I don't think I will use the English term again. I also feel that here we may have our first perfect place reference. Mahoney and I have always thought of this as being the hawk tree, and maybe that was alright. I'm thinking the title Ayinnimaoyiiyis is appropriate. It utilizes the Blackfoot generic term for hawks, ayinimaa, and can be transliterated as Seizer's-Nest. Surely this is something close to how many of the residents of the forest know this patch of trees overlooking the subpond and wet-meadows

1906 Already I feel like I've taken in a lot this evening. Having confirmed the presence of ayinnimaikoaiksi, and settled on at least one appropriate feature name, I'm satisfied and ready to go home. As I walk out through the forest and back along the levee to north-pond, I finally begin to see and hear some of the smaller birds - a catbird calling "ow-ee" from deep in the brush, a waxwing moving from branch to branch on a tree down by the river. Coming again past the big drift of old boardwalk wood at the far north end, I see it is being utilized by a spotted sandpiper family. There are two fuzzy fledglings hunting insects on the wood, while their father stands guard and keeps up a pip cadence that the little ones seem to move in time to. We have observed many bird species use this wood in similar manner, as a place to harvest insects. Maybe a second feature name can be derived from this, but I will have to give some thought toward constructing a manageable title

2038 Spotted a big patch of mature stinging nettle on my drive home from the pond. Continued on a little ways thinking, "Maybe I'll harvest some tomorrow." Then came to my senses, turned around, pulled off and picked a nice bundle. It's a start... one of the plants to get right now, before the leaves begin burning