Red Slough – Field Notes
April 19 – 5:45 P.M.
The trees, a mix of pine and hardwoods, lean over the highway, touch in spots, close in behind us.
Pretty is the adjective we repeat. Pretty green. Pretty lush. Pretty dense. Pretty remote. Pretty abandoned. There are movies of which this place reminds us.
I look for palmettos, though Bob claims we are too high and still too far north, agrees there is a sense of displacement, neither Oklahoma nor Louisiana nor Texas nor Arkansas.
We disconnect with the loss of internet and cell, will hear no news from home or from Boston, no anniversary of terrorist bombings, none of terrorism on the loose.
Weather report looks reliable. Car thermostat reads mid fifties. Rising. We are filled with hope and bird checklists.
Will set alarm for 6:30 for best photography.
April 19 – 6:30 P.M.
Wedged between two pines
a dogwood tree blossoms.
April 20 – 7:30 A.M.
Off Mudline Rd. Not far from Bittern Lake. Sun shines. 41 degrees. That’s Fahrenheit. Wind from the West and goddamn brisk. Thin jackets and what we wouldn’t give for gloves.
Came to see Neotropic Cormorants, Wood Storks, Soras and Roseate Spoonbills, that other pink bird. What we see – Greater and Lesser Yellow Legs and Northern Shovelers. All should be in Canada now. We feel a sense of camaraderie with these birds who have also been fooled, a sense that we are all a little askew of axis, lost in a wetlands – cum – rice paddy – cum – restoration project.
I shoot until I can’t feel my hands and lose my relationship with the camera. Mostly, I document what’s there and shouldn’t be, think I get off one decent shot of a tree swallow.
What’s next, we discuss, maybe look for a ranger’s station, warm up, see if we can find facilities and water bottles, maybe some snacks. Head back to the car and there’s some guy, hands knotted with rheumatoid arthritis, window rolled down, in a beat-up Jeep Cherokee. He introduces himself as Chevy, Master Naturalist and Guide to Red Slough.
April 20, 11:15 A.M.
Chevy waits for a party -Vernon(?), who seems to be a retired manager of wildlife, and a couple who has traveled from Washington to see the same things we aren’t seeing but with considerably more equipment and enthusiasm. She will give ANYTHING, she tells us, to see an alligator.
Somehow we end up in Chevy’s backseat, part of the party. Chevy has the keys to the gates and we bounce along previously forbidden levies, Martin(?) and the Washington couple follow.
At seemingly random intervals, Chevy spins a donut, waits for Harlan(?) who promptly jumps out, waves his hand vaguely in the air at three or two or one barely discernible dots flapping overhead and shouts Neotropical Cormorants! or Black Vultures! or Fish Crow! The Washington couple grab their checklists. I, perhaps a little skeptical, ask, How can you tell? I am rewarded with a snarl, Behavior! Subdued, I beg to know why a Grebe is not a Duck. Read the book! Said book is flung in my general direction.
Mid-morning and we abandon the vehicles for no reason I can tell and walk. We are looking for an alligator nest. Washington woman pulsates, nearly incoherent. We aren’t sure if it is excitement or the fact that Marlin(?) is negotiating terms – not quite sure, but sounds like he is bargaining an alligator for her big toe. He sounds eerily like a Circus Big Top ring leader. In the end she gets sight of five eight-inch alligators, at no cost. Seems ANYTHING was nothing at all. After the build-up, we feel a little cheated.