Monday, March 18, 2013

A Day at the Slough

A friend lured Karen out the road this past week.  The bait -- swans.  A small flock of Trumpeter Swans overwinter in Blind Slough every year, moving up and down the slough as ice advances and retreats according to the whims of the weather.  This month they’ll depart as they head north to their breeding grounds.  If she wanted a good photo, more delays were not an option. 

In those regions where our swans are headed, they’re one of the first species of waterfowl to arrive in the spring.  When I lived on the shores of Wasilla Lake, north of Anchorage, it seemed like the minute a hole opened up at the lake’s inlet in March, trumpeter swans dropped in.  How they knew that, over those thousands and thousands of square miles of frozen land and water, this one tiny hole in the ice would be there when they arrived, will forever amaze me.  What if it wasn’t?......Today a road runs over a massive fill directly over that spot, the inlet to the lake diverted through a culvert.

Similarly, although a few ducks find open water in which to overwinter in Alaska, most waterfowl migrate south.  Of those, swans seem to be the last to leave.  I remember one October night when I lived in downtown Anchorage.  The first big freeze of winter had just settled in.  I hadn’t thought about it, but that meant the last open water on the Susitna Flats (an extensive marsh on the shores of Cook Inlet west of Anchorage) would be turning to ice. 

Stepping outside for my evening walk, totally surrounded by urban America, I was treated to one of the most thrilling wildlife sightings of my life.  Fog, which arrives with cold temperatures along Cook Inlet in the fall shrouded the city.  For some reason I glanced skyward.  There, in the black of night. liked winged ghosts, Tundra Swans illuminated by the city lights silently flew southward directly overhead.  Forced low by the fog each one glowed a warm gold against the black sky as flock after flock passed.  It felt  like all the swans in the world hovered just out of reach over my head that night.

Now, almost a half century later, Karen came back from her foray, elated even though she failed to come up with the ultimate swan photograph.  Perhaps it was the snapping of branches as she “silently”  stalked her quarry, maybe they caught the glint of a big “eye” -- her camera lens.   No matter, there’s a plus side failure.  She still has a good reason to try again -- another excuse for a day at the slough.  Besides, the photos she took of the forest while she stalked the swans proved to be my favorites of the day.  I’ve already begun a painting based on one of them.

The Setting -- Blind Slough, an extensive intertidal estuary surrounded by our coastal temperate rainforest,

                                                    Just sneak through these trees

                                    Drat, water to cross between Karen and the swans

                                                         Oh oh, where did they go?

                                     At last, two trumpeter swans with a flock of mallards.

After this foray, Karen bought a camouflage shirt from our local Salvation Army Thrift Store.  She's getting ready for some serious stalking.


Susan Christensen said...

Oh, Don and Karen - Now I am homesick after reading this beautiful post here in Denver!
blessings to you both,

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Thanks Susan: Karen sure has an eye for beauty. We're looking forward to your cure for that homesickness -- your return. Meanwhile, enjoy the Colorado sun.