Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reader's Block

Every year at this time, my mother quoted Robert Frost.

It's strange how certain insignificant puddles of memory are left behind after the flood of experience has passed. It was with an almost physical shock of recognition that, on my walk this morning, I slid into the memory of an early spring drive with my mother along Route 89 from Ithaca to Trumansburg, New York—the scenic route above the western shore of Cayuga Lake. I remember my mother looking out at the woods above the lake and saying, "Nature's first green is gold." I thought of that this morning as I walked through the Lower Arboretum and saw the little ash trees all golden among the iron grays of winter.

Unfortunately, the ducks who have been so plentiful lately seem to have heard the weather forecast and gone for cover. I heard only the creaky bedspring call of a heron, and saw only the wintery black-and-white tail feathers of juncos, like an old television test pattern. Penelopedia has a good series of posts on spring waterfowl sighted in the Northfield area over the past week. If anyone is looking for an expensive gift to give Penny for an upcoming special occasion, might I suggest a new digital camera with a powerful zoom? I've been craving the Olympus E-410 ever since I started seeing the beautiful photographs it takes for my blogfriend Chris in the Canadian Maritimes. Since we're on the subject of ducks, check out Chris's beautiful photograph of a pair of mallards from her weekly "Wordless Wednesday" back in February.

One of the birds that Penny spotted this week was a double-crested cormorant. On Lake Huron, where we usually spend a few weeks each summer, these cormorants have been blamed for the drastic reduction in populations of yellow perch over the past two decades. The birds nest on a barren, rocky, poop-covered island called Goose Island, not far from the island where we stay. Often we'll see long black lines of cormorants sweeping low over Wilderness Bay, hundreds and hundreds of them, so many that it takes several minutes for the entire flock to pass over the bay. Will, when he was younger, said quite accurately it was like waiting at a railroad crossing. For several years now, there have been cormorant control efforts in the Les Cheneaux Islands: volunteers head out to Goose Island and pour oil on the cormorant eggs to prevent them from hatching. The birds are undoubtedly a nuisance, and a threat to fish populations. I do, however, enjoy their habit of displaying themselves as if they're posing for a coat-of-arms.

Anyway, the topic for today was supposed to be "reader's block." I haven't read a book from cover to cover for over a month now. Thanks to my LibraryThing friend Paola, who sent me her extra copy of Naomi Mitchison's Travel Light, I may be snapping out of it. Travel Light is a luminous fantasy that magically combines Norse mythology, medieval Byzantine Christianity, and light dashes of the author's socialism and feminism. It's impossible to do it justice in a brief description. I adore the heroine, Halla, a princess who's been raised by dragons to have a healthy dragon-like hatred for meddlesome heroes. Highly recommended.

Meanwhile, the pile of books to be read is growing. It includes Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia, which has to be read for a book group meeting on May 3, and Tom Swift's Chief Bender's Burden. I'll be at Tom's reading and book signing tonight at 7:00 at Monkey See, Monkey Read in downtown Northfield. The book's on sale there for 20% off. Buy it.


Jim H. said...

So people can pour oil on cormorant eggs and that's OK? Perch need our protection? I'll bet the cormorant population will fall naturally when the food source falls from the cormorants' own over-fishing, all without the murderous intervention of these well-meaning volunteers.

I'm not rooting for the cormorants or the perch, just asking humans to stay the heck out of the way.

Chris said...

Aw, thanks for the mention! Those ducks hang out around my house. The male sits in the middle of the road in the morning.

I've had some reader's block this month too.

Penelope said...

Did you ever read Marjorie Flack's "The Story About Ping"? That's my first memory of cormorants -- working birds with rings around their necks to prevent them from swallowing the fish they caught for their human masters.

And yes, please, that powerful zoom lens would be much appreciated both by me and by the poor readers who struggle to make out what I tell them are ducks or loons or grebes and have to pretty much take it on faith...

The book sounds quite amazing.

tom said...

Rob: Thanks so much for mentioning my book and for attending the reading at MSMR. I am grateful.

"It's strange how certain insignificant puddles of memory are left behind after the flood of experience has passed." Great line.

Anonymous said...

I read Travel Light earlier this year too and loved it. Paola is a gem!

ps now I want an Olympus E-410

Anonymous said...

ps I meant to say - except a cat sat on the keyboard - that I love the idea of puddles of memory too!

Bleeet said...

The cormorants were out in the wind and rain yesterday, and they were eating a lot of fish in the pond on Superior Drive. I was a bit surprised by the ease with which they emerged from underwater with fish that were comparatively large for the birds' size. They swallowed these fish so quickly, and then they would squirm about for a half-minute or so in a manner that made me think that they may be reacting to the live fish freshly flipping about it their stomachs.

Once, I swear, a cormorant flipped a perch or sunfish into the air, opened up and let it dive right down its throat - a cartoon exaggeration of gluttony played out in reality.

I'm in agreement with Jim though; leave the birds and fish be. They are far too intricately and essentially linked to drive either to extinction. "Too many" or "too few" of one species is usually a human judgment. Nature is quite capable of deciding such things by itself.

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .