Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mostly Avian

Sunday afternoon this week meant a Sunday drive to have a look at the UC Davis Arboretum. It was quite a pleasant jaunt, after I got through the double torture of a traffic bottleneck in West Sac and the Youngbloods' "Get Together" coming on the radio simultaneously. That's not generally a song I tolerate at great length but I was too occupied with trying to keep track of who was merging and who was moving over, and who was losing a lane, and who was giving up and going back to Sacramento to reach over and turn it off. It proved a source of great entertainment when the chorus kicked in. The gentle-voiced singers were advising "Try to love one another right now!" and I was wondering why the jerk ahead of me didn't merge already since I'd left him a nice big space to merge into--surely he wasn't going to insist on passing yet another car before his lane ran out! And was the jerk (for he must be a jerk, and not possibly in the right) behind me honking at me for no apparent reason, or had some other unseen driver been caught in the middle of committing some infraction that would work its way up the centipede line of cars and become my concern all too soon?

The Davis Arboretum, thankfully, was about as far from bottlenecks and radios as you can get while still being within a mile of I-80. It was very quiet indeed; I had many a parking space to choose from (free, as it is on weekends, too) and gratefully left the car to its own devices for a while.

As I had decided to drive out on the spur of the moment, finding the Sunday afternoon heavy with the bright new intelligence that there was a botanical garden in Davis, I hadn't taken much time to research how the Arboretum was laid out. Without spending a good deal of time mulling it over, memories of other gardens had prepared me to expect something. . .well, if not expansive, giving, at least, a certain impression of spaciousness . This was why I was, at first, slightly disappointed to discover that the Arboretum is, through most of its considerable length, restricted to the banks of Putah Creek. It was, however, only a very momentary disappointment, which was pounced upon and devoured by the notion that there was far too much to see as it was.

While I am sure the creek has its charms as a feature in its own right, and likely enables the growing of some fine riparian flora, the greatest entertainment that it provided was the creatures living in and around it. I was only a few hundred yards on my wanderings when I was stopped by the sight of a barn swallow (or so I believe it was) calmly sitting on a branch over the water. I had never, in fact, seen a barn swallow calmly sitting anywhere, so I stopped to see it while I could, admiring the contrast of its sleek purple back and its scarlet face. It was just a hair too far away for me to get a sharp picture, but, since it didn't seem to be going anywhere, I had plenty of shots at it anyway.

It was carrying on a sporadic conversation with another swallow which would occasionally make an airborne appearance, coming in for a fly-by above the still water. The efforts of this second bird had a graceful conclusion, almost at my feet as I stood on the bridge. With sharp bank that would have done a Spitfire pilot proud, it came in on a blur that was a moth, winging, white beneath the overhanging trees. For an instant, sharp and startling as the best photo I missed all afternoon, all the unknown wonder of "footless halls of air" was suspended in the narrow void between the dark branches and the dark water. The moth was a darting star, wheeling across a strange, green inverted sky, and after it, exploded a presence, all spear-graceful wings, and purple smoke and red fire. Somewhere in the depths of space, these two impossible forces collided, and the star fluttered feebly in the mouth of the swallow.

Less graceful in its first impression was the green heron I glimpsed several times along stream's course. Its feathers were, from a distance, as smooth--and imaginative--as something that had been drawn in coloured pencil, but when it would sense anyone nearby, its efforts to make itself scarce gave an impression of great vexation, rather than fear. It had fine, strong, bright yellow legs, which it used to such a desperate effect, galloping off at a quick, but ungainly waddle, that at first I (who had never seen a green heron before and had no idea what I was looking at) wondered whether it could fly at all. When, at last, with a cry of exasperation, it took off, it proved quite steady in the air, with an elegant wingspan that came as a surprise on its stolid body. Much less airworthy and certainly lacking in long, yellow legs, turtles would surface through the murky water on occasion. The pictures I got of those were irredeemably out of focus, probably because of overabundance of lighting between the sun and its reflection on the water, but they were quite funny to watch. Their build dictates only one possible way for them to swim, their heavy shells dragging below the surface of the water and only their noses just barely above it. Of course, going around at an angle like this, with their noses literally in the air, they have quite a supercillious look about them. Perhaps they have good reason for looking as though they think they should be envied--in some of the long, sunny stretches, even that green water looked rather tempting to me, too.

As I said, though, an early impression of the Arboretum was that there was too much to see. I felt rather as though I was faced with a buffet where, in feeling obliged to taste everything, I put myself in danger of missing those dishes I knew I liked best. That is to say, I would stop in one place and shoot a few pictures, and instead of getting all I could out of that location, would stop and push myself around the next bend in the creek in the interest of "seeing it all." Which I never did. But that's enough for tonight.


Mahri said...

Great shots! But what I liked best was the first paragraph. It sounds like the sort of driving experience I generally have.

Molly said...

Believe you me, it was almost worth the hassle just to witness such astounding traffic. I *never*!