An Adventure Different than Expected (Part II)
“There’s a pair of teals right there.” Larry indicated a spot almost directly ahead. I marveled at the handsome pair. Another group circled and landed on the pond. “Northern shovelers.” The water fowl were noisy – everyone was talking at once. We just sat taking it all in; the brilliant, emerald head of the northern shoveler drake, the striking white, crescent down the cheek of the blue winged teal, the equally striking white strip just ahead of the wing of the green –winged teal. (Larry seemed to be especially fond of the teals, exclaiming about their beauty every time we saw one on our outings.) The cacophony of duck voices was far more intricate than the “quack, quack” of mallards. “We’re seeing some mating behavior,” explained Larry. There were also some going “bottom’s up” into the water, most likely in pursuit of food.
Larry indicated we should keep moving and crawled to our left, following a different path from the way we came in, going closer to the trunk of the tree. For a moment, I wondered if I was suppose to follow him but after seeing he was looking at something and then continued heading out from under the trees, I followed more or less the same way we had come in since it was slightly easier. I emerged first from the trees and was immediately blasted by the wind. Larry came out behind me, pulling up beside me, “Here’s a crow skull for you.”
I have never seen nor touched a crow skull before; it was a whole new experience for me and not exactly what I was expecting when I held out my hand to receive the skull. The experience was deeply spiritual and amazing. I could feel the spirit of the crow lingering on the skull. A feeling of connectedness to the crow washed over me. I gently cradled it in my hands, not wanting to damage it. There were still a few black feathers on the top and back of the skull.
We continued to walk in the wind; my feet were getting so cold and my eyes watered and my nose dripped. It felt colder then when we walked the channel in January, but then I had been prepared for cold with insulated boots. Larry led us northwest over the prairie a little ways, somewhat following the water. Thick scrubby trees, including buckthorn guarded the bank. Now we approached the water from the west. Larry tried to find a more open spot that would still provide us with some cover. We peered through the trees on McCarthy Lake; a beautiful sight. The water rippled in the gale winds. Though the wetlands echoed with water fowl voices, the wind was trying to compete. There weren’t any birds out on the water that we could see from that vantage. We stood there gazing out, eyes searching the water and nearby vegetation, for only a few moments. With nothing in sight Larry decided it was time to move on.
Turning around, we headed back the way we came. Wading through waist tall little blue stem, stumbling on the sandy soil, I fell behind Larry again with the gap between us getting wider. Still cradling the crow skull, I had to nearly run to catch up to Larry. As I came up beside him, he put his arm around my shoulder, “Are you having fun?” Being on a stealth walk to observe aquatic animals with Larry, of course it was fun even if it was far too windy and a bit cold.
“Yes,” I replied, smiling up at him. We had covered the distance from the water’s edge to the fence near the road at a quick pace. Again, Larry pushed the wire down low enough so that I could step over. In the truck, I set the crow skull on the seat next to me, beak facing forward. It felt like the crow was still there, riding along with us like a buddy. I could feel its presence.
Larry drove the truck along 84, heading northward. I took in the landscape around us. A blue bird perched on a fence post. Pine trees wildly waving their boughs, moving to the rhythm of the wind. A field of golden, brown little blue stem, rolling like waves. Clumps of trees on the left, prairie situated between the clusters. Some farm land. On the right rolling prairie, up and down the large dunes; various dried and growing prairie plants lending variety of color and patterns and texture to create a stunning landscape. After more trees, the pattern was similar on the left side. Nestled between the dunes sat a picturesque pond, its water sparkling in the morning light. We drove beyond the pond a little bit then turned around, heading back southward. We pulled into the TNC residence driveway and met Butch Kelly out walking. We paused to talk to him; Larry said he would be another good person to talk to that has been living on the prairie for a really long time. Larry told Butch about my interest in the place and the history of it. Butch said he’d be happy to talk with me. They talked about the birds; a mallard pair in the TNC’s pond had a nest with eggs. As they were talking, I observed the ducks swimming in the small pond ahead of us. The wind was so powerful, I could feel the truck sway. We said goodbye to Butch, allowing him to get back to his walk, and continued up the driveway to turn the truck around.
Back on 84, we pulled over on the right, west, side of the road (which is south of Pritchard’s road) on an old field driveway blocked with a gate and a wildlife Area sign. We were going to do more exploring. There’s a big enough gap in the gates to walk through, which we did. We passed an august dead tree, standing beautifully in contrast to the scenery around it. This was where grassland met woodland. Most likely farmed for years then bought as a reserve area, leaving nature to do its thing. We followed along the former driveway, past a few red cedars. Then the drive curves a little to the left. Another remnant fence line intersects the drive, old wooden posts stand at equal distance from each other. The trees grew closer to the drive, creating almost a tunnel out of tree limbs, an enchanting affect. The drive narrows through there. Water on either side, pond like on our right and marsh – like on our left. Cattails in both were coming unraveled.
I noticed the water on our left appeared orange, “Why is it orange looking?”
“The deanimation of organic matter, we talked about. Precursor to oil,” answered Larry. We continued to walk without pausing. Once through the tree tunnel, the area opens up into a field/prairie. It looked like a field of sunflowers and prairie grasses. (I didn’t even think to ask Larry about it.) The dead dry vegetation was easily waste high. The drive took a sharp right turn, we followed along this. (Trees bordered the other side of the filed/prairie and beyond that McCarthy.) Trees grew thickly on our right, a lot of short shrubby, brushy trees. Our path had a slight curve in it, following the trees.
Then after several hundred feet, we came to a spot where the line of trees fell away (creating an oxbow affect as the prairie bumped out in a half circle, the trees rimming it. We continued straight on to the row of trees on the north side of the arc. Turning to our right (east), we followed a deer trail along the trees. As we neared to the water, we crouched down a little as we walked, getting lower and lower as we crept closer and closer to the fence of trees bordering the water. Finally, with several tens of feet to go, we dropped about as low as we could, crawling on our hands and knees along the deer trail, ever mindful of where we put our hands to avoid deer droppings that were scattered along the trail. I was thankful to be wearing gloves, but even so pieces of the dried vegetation poked through the gloves, stabbing my hands. Despite the pricks and pokes my hands received, I was having fun. What better way to connect and become one with nature than to crawl on a deer trail through waist deep little blue stem and other prairie plants? – completely emerged in our natural surroundings. It felt like we were kids at play, sneaking through the tall grass. Indeed, I believe it was childlike wonder and awe that compelled us forward in such a manner. It just felt so carefree and thrilling.