When last we met I was bidding you adieu so that I could continue the lovely, long weekend that my boyfriend and I were luxuriating in. Now, a quick swing back in time.
On Friday the heavens rained upon us from the moment we left the little studio apartment we were renting to the second we entered a distant cousin’s Gloucester bed and breakfast, The Inn at Babson Court, and fell into cups of coffee and a million stories.
It was wet enough that, again, the majority of wildlife experienced was in the perfect haddock that I had for dinner. We were surrounded by so many secrets, though, as we soaked up rain along the sea: the jellyfish, the right whales, lobsters, clams, mussels, and sharks. There were hidden tidal pools with hermit crabs, fluttering barnacles, and cities of unbelievable microscopic shapes and means of living. Even when marine life shies away from me I am awed by its certain presence. I grew up on fresh water and visited with it intimately in my youth. Saltwater, of course, is a whole different ballgame. The dead jellyfish floating in Boston Harbor, the tiny, vivacious pools in low-tide Gloucester; they thrill me again and again, even on a day spent without a view of anything marine aside from waves through a window, models of ships, and a whole lot of gulls.
Friday night found us in the backyard of Babson Court. The rain had finally ceased and we stood alongside a lovely little pond with a surface strung with a wire pentagram. Matt asked Donald, husband of my cousin Paul, about the purpose of the wire. He explained that it was there to keep out a blue heron which had last summer discovered the koi within.
Great Blue Heron. Copyright Lewis and Lewis.
Gloucester is a perfect example of a little city of wildernesses. The birds go to the sea and drop its bones of clam onto avenues and boulevards and a huge, awkward, freshwater marsh bird comes too, straddling a tiny pond and spearing its golden inhabitants to bring home some supper. All this in the midst of human works of art, one of the last great record stores in New England, tourist traps, fro-yo, and thick, clearly Britain-sired accents.
On Saturday we drove up to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island where, two springs back, I found my first snowy owls on a chilly April day. This time we had arrived to do little more than stretch out flat and stroll for hours on salty sand. It was blissfully hot, enough so that walking barefoot was brutal, but whenever my feet would hit the wet, brown-sugary ocean’s edge they would feel sweet and free and fresh.
The Parker River Refuge consists of a long strip of land bordered on the west by verdant salt marsh and, to the east, sand and seemingly endless, sparkling sea. We spent our time on the seaward side. There, from mid-April through mid-August, all but the very ends of the beach are closed to people, leaving the great majority of sand for piping plovers.
The birds are given human-free reign of the beach due to their particularly terrestrial way of nesting. Like their close relative the kildeer they lay their eggs aground. In the case of our piping plover the clutch comes to be in its entirely throughout the course of about a week, with the mother laying one egg every other day (or so). After the entirety of the brood has been collected in a little gathering of four eggs the mother and father start sitting on and guarding the nursery full-time. They hatch in about a month.
It is essential for these threatened birds to enjoy a protected beach for their nests are easily destroyed, both intentionally and not, by humans and their dogs, both of whom can easily step on an entire clutch of camouflaged eggs in one stride. The other issue at stake is the ease at which an unguarded plover egg can be overheated by the sun. If the guarding parent is forced off the nest by an intruder the developing chicks can die after a mere fifteen minutes of direct sunlight.
I longed to see a piping plover during our time on the island. Though we spent most of our afternoon with people, gutsy gulls, empty shells, and one single, desiccated horseshoe crab carcass, we got lucky. While walking back to the car through a rocky length of southeastern beach we came upon three plovers, which turned to seven, which turned to a flock impossible to number for their frenetic beach combing as they’d run, speed walk, stop, and suddenly fly from one tiny shore nook to another in their search for delectable insects. We watched them, breaths caught. They were darling–avian versions of sand dollars that moved together in feathers of pale white and grey and black. We walked slowly behind them–as slow as we could without being eaten to the bone by deer flies–until they eventually scattered into the ocean spray and rocks beyond.
We came home that evening. The next day, Sunday, was filled with the fruits of the Allandale Farm Tomato Festival: German beefsteaks, pineapples, sun golds, Cherokee purples, Brandywines, and Indigo Roses. We had dinner in the backyard, visited by a darting ruby-throated hummingbird–finally, the first of the year–and a cardinal awash in prefect red.
Color my world: the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Yesterday I spent the majority of the day indoors but happened upon a few brilliant things. First off, goodness me: the lack of butterflies this summer is being nearly made up for by the marvelous reappearances and multiplications of those swallowtails. They so quickly and so elegantly fill a frame of sight, especially when there’s more than one. I kept catching them flitting back and forth between potted butterfly bushes. Even when simply recalling them I am inspired to conjure the blessed transcendent: Lordy me, oh, God, Holy Smokes, Blessed Be; that yellow.
I also found some footprints which left me aching for better tracking knowledge. At present I can identify very few types of scat and step. These footprints seemed rather like an adult coyote and a young-in, seeing as they were right beside each other and undoubtedly canine. I did, however, have longings for foxes. We see coyotes about, and I’m certainly not complaining about their presence a mite, but now that we know they’re here why don’t we throw in a few of their dashing cousins? So I’ll figure those tiny feet were a fox’s and am going to continue thinking so until proven foolishly naive.
And now, good reader, we are caught up. No longer will our dear Thoreau have to turn in his grave, wondering when his good name will again be referred to on this little blog. Thanks, as always, as ever, for reading, and come again later tonight when you can expect a new addition to this record of wilderness.