Thursday, January 31, 2008

By Local Malverne Author, R. Duke Liddell

Allie the Swan

According to the weather report, this past Saturday was going to be sunny, a beautiful autumn day, so I checked out my Greenbelt Hiking Guide and found that there was a singles hike in Connectquot State Park on Long Island. The instructions were to meet at ten thirty in the parking lot. From there, we would follow the trail to the fish hatchery, stop for lunch and proceed back at a leisurely pace. This walk which I’m familiar with, usually takes around three hours and affords those of us who are single, an opportunity to socialize and have some light hearted conversation, while enjoying the outdoors.

As usual, I arrived early and waited outside my car. Armed with my binoculars, I scanned the sky hoping for a glimpse of an osprey or red tail, displaying their aerial acrobatics. It wasn’t long before I concluded that something was wrong. It was past ten thirty and I was the only car in the lot. I realized, I must have gotten the date wrong and was not going to have any company, other than my own. Being in the wrong place is not uncommon for me, so I remained stoic and persevered. I picked up a map at the entrance booth and began to follow the white trail blazes northward along the eastern shore of the river, in the general direction of the hatchery.

I was determined not to waste this beautiful morning due to my mistake, but rather turn it into a bird walk—alone. This way I could spend a little more time on the trail and perhaps enjoy some new sightings. It wasn’t long before I caught up with a family of robins, who had been foraging peacefully, until heavy footed, I stumbled over some brush, sending out an alarm spurring the ring eyed thrushes some yards ahead; just enough, for them to feel comfortable with my presence. I have witnessed this numerous times when wandering through the woods. Many birds, rather then fly to another area, will move forward in this manner, until reaching the end of their territory, will abruptly take wing and return to where they were when originally disturbed.

In a little over an hour, I was crossing a wooden bridge to the west side of the river, just a few hundred yards from my destination, the hatchery. In a few minutes, I was sitting comfortably on an old bench at the end of a boardwalk that dissects the river. On the left is a dam which serves as part of an enclosed water pen, where the fully grown rainbow trout can swim about, preparing for their impending release, into the open stream.. There is a small dispenser, like a bubble gum machine, where for twenty five cents, visitors can buy a handful of food to throw to the fish; watching them leap, with mouths agape grabbing a quick meal. On the right side of the boardwalk are two low slung wooden sheds, where the new fry are kept out of harms way. Next to the sheds is another pond covered by a wire mesh that serves as protection to the fish that have achieved the size of six inches or more. Here they can swim about with impunity, while various predators, such as great blue herons and snowy egrets, land on the wood poles that hold the wire encasement in place. I watched as a great blue, balanced atop one of these poles—his large claws wrapped around the weathered wood. The gaunt faced bird stood erect, motionless, his beak cocked, harpoon like at the water, waiting patiently for an opportunity to strike the innocent prey, while his mute form took on odd shapes in the rippling liquid. His dark, cold eyes, wide, unblinking, stared as if in thought, perhaps wondering if he might find a way to squeeze his great fame between the foot square openings of this watery cage. It reminded me of the mythological Sisyphus and his impossible task.

I opened my knapsack, took a drink of water from my canteen and began to eat my favorite trail mix of raisins and roasted almonds. There was a large swan at the other end of the boardwalk when I arrived, but at first, I didn’t pay much attention, since there are swans everywhere on the river. As I sat there, I saw that the bird seemed to be looking at something inside the shed on the right side of the deck. For a minute I thought he must be watching the little fry, but couldn’t understand why, since I never knew swans to be interested in fish. Finally, my curiosity reached its limit, so I left my lunch on the bench to investigate what had this large white creature so fascinated. I moved cautiously, along the outside edge of the deck, and stopped a few yards behind the white mammoth, praying not to upset him. I had heard stories about swans attacking people when their space was invaded and I knew that I was testing that scenario. I pictured myself being bumped and pecked off the narrow walkway into the holding pond filled with trout, while the angry forty pounder beat me over the head with his powerful wings. After getting into position, I soon realized what his fascination was and why his serpentine neck was bobbing and weaving, as his yellow bill clicked off a cacophony of sounds. Like narcissus, he was entranced by his own reflection in the sheds window, which was covered inside by a black shade, that created a life-sized image of himself. His great white torso, moved with a rhythmic gyration. The dark window mimed his every movement, and undulation, never veering from the inevitable outcome. He was indeed mesmerized with his own image and I doubt that he was ever aware that I was but a few steps behind, entertained by his futile display of courtship. He continued the manic movements for some time, before I decided to go back to my bench and observe from there.

A little while later one of the park rangers came along, and so I asked, what the story of this leviathan creature was. He explained that they call him Allie and that Allie for some reason had been ostracized by the other swans, so he comes here every day and looks in the window; perhaps hoping for the company of one of his own kind. I watched for a while until he slid his formidable, feathered, frame off the dock into the water on my left, joining the adult trout. He faced me from across the pond and began to stretch his wings into snowy v shapes. Up and down they flapped, pounding the water, as he gained momentum sending his ponderous body slowly forward, like an old sea plane, whose propellers are revving up for takeoff. The unfortunate fish darted and jumped in every direction attempting to dodge the alien’s movements. Then before I could get my bottom off the bench and make a run for cover, he turned off his engine and glided softly across the water, as if nothing had happened.

“Cant he fly?” I said to the ranger, as he got into his jeep.. .

“Oh sure he can, I think he does that for exercise. Have a good day.”

“So long,” I called out as he drove away leaving me alone with Allie.

I sat a while longer watching, until it was time to head back to my car and home. As I started down the trail, I turned and took one more look at the lone white figure and wondered if perhaps, we didn’t have something in common.

R..Duke Liddell.

Jan 2008 Copyright

Tuesday, January 01, 2008