Kayaking on Lake Talquin, 4-10-2010
Three weeks ago while I was asleep in Tallahassee, in the RV beneath the towering, pollen-laden oak trees, a dream slithered into my mind. It coiled itself around my consciousness and hasn't let go since then. I am watching a man on a flat-bed car speeding down a long, winding track. The scene looks like it belongs in an Indian Jones movie. The man is hanging on for dear life to the sides of the car as it hurtles towards the end of the track--a massive, double wooden door that belongs in a cathedral. Just before the car bearing the man crashes into the door, it swings open, and the man is discharged onto a giant water slide. I watch as he spirals downward, out of sight, and presumably into a body of water. A faraway splash seems to confirm that he has reached the end of his terrifying ride. But the dream and the man's ordeal are not over yet. A few seconds later--or so it seems in my dream--I see him again, dripping wet this time, yelling the whole way down the track. "I won't go again, I won't!" He grips the sides of the car, and as the door looms closer he draws up his legs. I know what he will do. He's going to kick the door open. Close enough to me that I can see the fear in his eyes, the man communicates to me that he has made up his mind. I understand that he can't bear the thought of being smashed to smithereens against the door. He is afraid that it won't open this time to let him pass through. The door does open, though now there is no slide, only emptiness on the other side. Once again, he is pitched off the car. I can't see his body as it enters the emptiness. The sound of his screams goes on for a long time, growing ever more faint. Finally, I hear another splash. It's morning now, time to go hiking if the weather is nice or to a museum if not. The dream goes with me, and I've told it to SAM. He says "I hope it's not me on that track!" Of course not, silly man. Would I just stand by in my dream and watch you suffer? No. If I couldn't derail that car, then I would leap onto it and hold onto you for dear life. So who is that man, and why don't I help him? The dream won't let go.
Double-crested cormorants, Phalacrocorax auritus, as seen from the kayak.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of those stories that won't let go of me. It's an Arthurian tale written anonymously sometime around the end of the 14th century, a romance, but not as many people today would understand the term. An adventure takes place, and it involves a journey. I think what stirs my imagination the most about the story is its structure. A mythical quest begins from within another myth--a tale of King Arthur and his "doughty knights." Only this time, Arthur and his knights don't do much except sit around the dinner table. Almost all of the action takes place within the central myth. The story has a wannabe spinoff quality. You know, like those shows in the 70s and 80s were apt to do--Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Laverne and Shirley from Happy Days... In a nutshell, Sir Gawain lops off the Green Knight's head at the GK's invitation and then must travel a year later to find GK and allow his own head to be removed. The Green Knight doesn't suffer any ill effects from the decapitation, and one hopes that Gawain will also come through the ordeal untouched. Does he, though? You will have to read the romance (click on the link above) to find out.
Turtles and cormorant sharing a sunny spot on Lake Ella
When SAM and I went kayaking this past weekend, we couldn't have been more pleased to find the weather warming up and plenty of critters enjoying that warmth. I'm not sure, but I think the cormorant was telling these turtles that no matter what people might say, he's still the King Fisher in these parts. He and his kind very well could be, after having been nearly wiped out by DDT in years past. Now, though, cormorants are facing a cool reception by fisher-people. The birds have made such a comeback (prolific breeding, few predators, opportunistic feeding and nesting habits) that they are threatening the survival of aquaculture in several states and could be upsetting the delicate balance between other aquatic bird species and their habitats. The biggest problem seems to be that the darn things are just too good at fishing! Maybe that's why SAM's catch over a period of two hours consisting of one nice sized crappie and a small bass didn't add up to a meal. He gave the crappie to an old man at the boat launch and returned the bass, still alive, to the lake.
Of course, there are other piscivores making themselves at home on Lake Talquin. We witnessed several sizable fish being caught and carried back to osprey nesting sites. Unfortunately, my skills with the camera--and maybe the camera itself--don't allow for spectacular captures like that. I'm lucky to somewhat focus on the birds at rest in their nest. We also saw the ospreys chasing cormorants a few times. I think those pesky cormorants were getting a little too close to the nests for comfort. We were being watched carefully too, and when we stayed in one spot for a while so I could try to focus on the nesting pair, one of the birds would take off and circle around for a few minutes. It must have been trying to distract my attention away from the nest. Now that I think about it, SAM's scanty catch was probably due to my insistence on constantly doubling back to try for another, better shot at the birds. I kept him so busy maneuvering the boat with the rudder that he didn't have much time to cast.
He shouldn't have pointed out this critter to me. I was not afraid of it; I was fascinated by it and made him circle around time and again to get just one more picture of it. At first I was convinced that it was a cottonmouth. After checking my field guide (National Audubon Society's Field Guide to Florida), though, I can say with certainty (maybe?) that it's a Southern water snake, a Florida Race, or Nerodia fasciata.
...And each season ensued at its set time;
After Christmas there came the cold cheer of Lent,
When with fish and plainer fare our flesh we reprove;
But then the world's weather with winter contends:
The keen cold lessens, the low clouds lift;
Fresh falls the rain in fostering showers
On the face of the fields; flowers appear.
The ground and the groves wear gowns of green;
Birds build their nests and blithely sing
That solace of all sorrow with summer comes
And blossoms day by day
Bloom rich and rife in throng;
Then every grove so gay
Of the greenwood rings with song...
(from the Modern English translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Marie Borroff, lines 501-515)
Please visit Ramblingwoods.com for this week's Nature Notes/Signs of the Season post and links to other bloggers' nature posts.
Note: When SAM came home this weekend, he informed me that the pic of the cormorant with the turtles was taken at Lake Ella during one of our walks around that park in Tallahassee. Oops! The fact that the cormorant was seen in town on a small lake at a local park just goes to show you that the cormorant's range has widened beyond its usual, more wild habitats. Odd birds, those. They are opportunistic with a capital "O" and depredatory with a double "d."