Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Jog at Bennington

A Great Blue Heron stood
knee deep in Bennington
Lake near the boat ramp. Tall
and lanky, its shadow
darkened the still water.
When Sadie the Dalmatian
and I moved, the great bird
gracefully rose and sailed low
over a narrow pool.
I paused to watch the bird
pass a sheaf of ice and land
on the far shore.
After a moment's reflection
about the stark landscape, the
bird's grace and the silence, I
set off at a slow jog.
My boots crunched on
crystallized snow. Sadie led
us past the dam and into a
cottonwood thicket. Snow lay
on the trail there and revealed
a multitude of tracks: people,
dogs, deer, birds and critters.
I saw pheasant and quail
prints. Juncos and sparrows
left the tiny tracks. Flocks of
juncos often flit from wild
rose bushes and weeds
around the lake. They show
white feathers on each side of
their tails when they fly.
Magpies or American
flickers, or both, left some
prints. And robins, plentiful
despite the snow, left
medium-sized tracks.
Rabbit tracks were com
mon, and squirrels apparently
stood on back feet to survey
the neighborhood.
A skunk, beaver, racoon or
possum probably left prints
that resembled tiny knoby-
knuckled hands pressed into
the snow.
Beavers live beneath the
lake's east shore where
they've floated a store of
cottonwood saplings and left
stumps on the high bank.
Field mice with flashing
feet have plowed inch-deep
furrows in the snow to cross
the trail.
Halfway around the lake,
we turned to the east and
jogged toward wheat fields.
At an iced-over water guzzler,
we turned northwest again.
I glanced at a bird house on
a tall pole below the trail.
I once saw a kestrel harrass
a northern harrier that
perched on the bird house.
I stopped to watch. The kes
trel dived at the harrier,
Swoooosh!, and climbed for
10 to 15 yards. It fluttered,
turned and dived again.
When the kestrel zipped
within an inch of the harrier's
head, the harrier curtsied and
turned to watch the kestrel
pass.
The kestrel climbed again,
paused, turned and dived
again. I counted four, five, six
dives, and the word ``parab
ola'' came to mind.
I'm not sure why. Sadie
stood a few feet away and
watched. ``Parabola'' prob
ably did not occur to her.
When we moved, the har
rier rose and glided above the
slope. The kestrel followed
briefly before disappearing
into a line of evergreens at the
bottom of the slope.
The word ``parabola''
stayed with me, and at home I
looked it up. The definition
was Greek to me: ``A plane
curve formed by the intersec
tion of a right circular cone
and a plane parallel to an
element of the cone or by the
locus of points equidistant
from a fixed line and a fixed
point not on the line.''
See.
But an illustration made the
word clear, sort of like a `U,'
with the sides spread slightly
wider at the top.
So, I glanced at the bird
house, and it was broken. I
walked though the ice-crusted
grass to the pole.
The bird house had been
blasted with a shotgun. Pieces
of it lay on the ground. Shot
gun pellets had penetrated the
wood.
I clenched my jaw and
jogged on. Minutes later I
passed another bird-house
pole. The bird house lay on
the ground, blasted by a shot
gun. Nearby lay a shotgun
shell. I inserted a finger and
picked it up. Perhaps it had
fingerprints.
A few minutes later, I
passed a farmer's yellow sign
warning about crop spray. It
had been blasted and lay on
the ground.
I told my self not to be
surprised. I often see shot
signs in more isolated places.
I hadn't seen them before at
Bennington Lake.
It's an area frequented by
many people, from horse
riders to bird hunters.
Yet, I often feel as if I have
the place to myself, especially
on cold winter days. It's a bit
jarring to realize that I share
the place with vandals with
shotguns.
I don't blame all bird hunt
ers. I have seen dozens of bird
hunters at Bennington Lake,
and I've only seen two blasted
bird houses and one blasted
sign.
And, strangely enough, I
may have seen who did it.
Not long ago, two young
men ahead of me fired three
shots near one bird house
pole. I didn't see them until I
cleared a line of trees. Then I
turned west before passing
them (and the bird house). I
wanted to stay out of their
way.
Sure, maybe they didn't
shoot the bird houses or the
sign.
Someone did, however, and
it's disheartening to know
that at least one vandal with a
shotgun may visit Bennington
Lake.
It makes me feel more un
easy watching herons and
studying tracks in the snow
than I once did.

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