All stories are interpretations, and history is no different. Every step I’ve taken in my coming and going within this plane of existence rests upon my own interpretations of experience and the collective interpretations that we call reality. It’s all part of some grand narrative, where we make it up as we go along. We look at what we have done, and what has been done to us, either by the rain, or the trembling Earth, or time, and we arrive, continually, each and every one of us, right here on this stone. Collectively, we’ve all journeyed the same path; individually, we’ve wandered aimlessly and often alone.
The Kingfisher sits in a tree on the other side of Salt Creek from where I am standing, and he is not happy with my presence. I know he’s a he because of the dark blue and v-shaped belt across his chest, and I assume his displeasure from the stern look on his..face, his incessant cackles, and the quickness with which he abandons his perch on my side of the creek the moment I arrive.
It’s early January. 28 degrees with sparse flurries that are almost more sleet than snow. The ground is hard and frozen beneath my feet, and I wonder what the lack of snow cover this winter means for the rodents and insects that make their winter homes in the relative warmth of the subnivean spaces that I would otherwise be trampling underfoot.
I have decided to visit and sit at McCormick Woods, which is right off of 1st avenue, with the 31st bridge crossing over Salt Creek, and this place bears the burden and demonstrates the impact of its lack of seclusion – candy wrappers, unmarked bits of anonymous plastic, bottles, beer cans, and the ubiquitous fifth of Seagrams sitting empty and silent as the cars roll past overhead. I think about taking pictures of trash…but that seems like a redundant drag.
If not for the Kingfisher, I would not like this place and would likely choose not to return. But the presence of this single, stout and resilient, solitary bird changes all that.
The story of the Kingfisher and his kind stretches back much farther than my own to a time before us human people had learned to walk and talk, to manipulate stone, or build bridges. Fossil evidence indicates that they’ve been around in some form or another for the past 30-40 million years, and the Kingfisher has demonstrated a resilience and ability to adapt to our most refined and pervasive art – disruption. On this day, the Kingfisher and I have joined our narratives to face one another from across time and over dirty rivers. One of us is more pleased with this union than the other.
Day 1: the Kingfisher and I just sit and stare at one another. I sit quietly. He makes a racket. Every now and then he alights from his perch and swoops out over the water, under or above the bridge, and then back to his branch where he sits again and looks cranky. I let him be after 45 minutes or so and return a few days later.
Day 2: To my surprise, I find him instantly, and he takes off again from my side of the Salt Creek and heads back over to where he can chatter at me with impunity and continue to look annoyed.
Before I arrive I had already decided I was going to wait him out, thinking that he’d eventually need to come back to the other side of the creek and then maybe I’d be able to get a decent picture. So I sit. It’s not as cold, about 35 degrees. I watch the creek flow by and notice a Zippo lighter fluid container sitting atop a tangle of logs and branches at the base of the bridge almost as if someone had sat it there. Another narrative. A journey through time, and in the case of the Zippo container, maybe it too will add itself to the garbage now sequestered beneath the earth, to be resurrected 150 million years from now in some other form. Maybe in time the liquified remains of plastic corpses will be sucked from their hidden catacombs. And the Kingfisher will inherit the earth.
I sit on a limb beside the creek and the geese that had been standing on the ice move away. They remain motionless and silent on the water until I hear a slight disturbance down the way. Some sporadic honking that I don’t think much of until I hear something behind me and look over my shoulder at the coyote trotting past. We look at each other, momentarily surprised (well, at least I’m surprised..thinking, “humph, that’s a damn big German Shepherd, oh…”) and he carries on, I assume, into a drainage culvert at the base of the hill beside the road. He disappears as quickly as he appeared and under any other circumstances I’d have no idea that there are Kingfishers by the bridge and coyotes in the sewers.
Every 15 minutes or so, the Kingfisher flies out over the creek with his rattling call and then again takes up his branch. On these flights, he comes over close to where I’m sitting, but then banks quickly and keeps his distance back on the other side. Suddenly, with a subdued but startled squawk he flies deeper into the trees. I look up and a red-tailed hawk lands at the top of a naked maple. Hawk takes flight again and circles. I watch through the branches and can see as she’s lifted by an updraft, her wings tilting slightly to the left and then stabilizing, before she moves on, circling into the distance.
Poor Kingfisher dude, his day is being disrupted from the ground and the air. I move up the bank aways to see if he’ll come over. Indeed he does…
Day 3: The ice along the shore is gone, the creek has risen, is flowing rapidly, the branches are sheathed in ice, and the Kingfisher is nowhere to be seen. I walk down the shore aways and back again, but there is little to be seen. A couple Downy Woodpeckers clinging to the side of a gnarly oak, but that’s about it. …some geese fly by overhead, a couple mallards across the way.
This area has reverted back to a thin stretch of woods corralled by streets, bridges, and neighborhoods. Not a lot to see, not a lot to report but the human people and their cars, passing along, caught up in destinations, most likely bored to tears, though nearly entertained to death.
This day, with the bird nowhere to be seen, I feel as if I’m missing a friend, or a neighbor once played with as a child, a presence expected as part of the landscape, now gone. Not gone in a final sense, but simply moved on, disappeared. Like when the party has ended, and you stand in the house, drunk, stoned, and alone. And in the absence there is this silence, a space felt more than seen that lingers for a short while before what once was is lost within the landscape of what has now become.
- Stalking another Belted Kingfisher (michaelqpowell.wordpress.com)