Listen Now
Pledge Now


Magnetic North: Back to the beach!

MagneticNorth_Back to the beach!_20140510.mp311.2 MB

Welcome back to Magnetic North, where migrating birds and wide open beaches draw my eyes and heart. Driftwood washed ashore by winter winds and waves adorns the neck of Lake Superior - a folk art necklace begging to be admired. What treasures await me as I teeter over the newly thawed stones like a tipsy crane? 
A cedar stump as big and heavy as an armchair and polished as smooth as bone china rested on a sliver of beach just past Five Mile Rock. Long gnarled roots, pointed like accusing fingers at something closer to the water. A furry carcass. A fox? OK, I had to check this out.
Doing a U-turn I went to investigate. The dead thing turned out to be, not a fox, but a very young deer.  Hooves no bigger than a tablespoon gave it away. How and when did it die? Not this year. Too early for fawns and nothing this small would have made it through the winter. 
I set about hauling the big piece of driftwood up the steep, but mercifully short slope to my car, running several grim scenarios through my mind. Did it fall in the lake early last summer? Is the water really so cold that it would have preserved the body for nearly a year? Another mystery to add to the pile.
The driftwood filled the entire back of my SUV and I rode home with the longest root resting on my right shoulder like a peevish back-seat-driver. I had just the place for it - in among the beach pebble garden I’d started last summer. I invisioned a terra cotta saucer filled with water, cradled in the roots. My geese, Ziva, Abby and Ducky, will no doubt tip the saucer over every day. But that is the price I pay for seeing them gabble and wander around the lawn, live-in clowns devoted to my endless entertainment.
As it was a two-trip-to-town day I found myself on the same strip of highway at dusk and watched, not for  beach treasures, but suicidally inclined deer. Sure enough, just past the Kadunce River, a medium size deer lay dead in the westbound lane. 
As I drove past the body, I looked back at the deer in my side view mirror and was horrified to see her, still lying on her side, but with her head up, gazing after me. I screamed, then I prayed, then I reminded myself of other times I had come to the aid of injured deer, only to prolong their suffering.
Most of the creatures who share our woods and waters arrive, live out their lives and die unseen. Un-prayed for. Un-mourned. And so forth. Others are glimpsed, photographed and exclaimed over, living new lives as treasured memories.
 And then there are the ones we don’t want to see. The injured or the old and starving. Over time, I have decided that it is a fair, if bitter, price I pay for finding the beautiful bones of a long-drowned cedar on the shore. Or for enjoying countless days watching a Great Gray owl hunt on the meadow. The alternative is to stop looking. And I cannot do that.
Watching, and sometimes rearranging nature's bounty runs deep in my mind, heart and very soul at this time of year. The slush storm of a couple weeks back brought down dozens of tree limbs and in some cases, whole trees at the farm. Limbs from the willow that thrives in a wetland on one side of the driveway make up the majority of the downed lot. The rest are birch, tamarack and spruce limbs. 
It’s a pretty tacky sight to the unimaginative eye, but to me, it looks like weeks of fun and playing with sticks. The willow limbs will surely turn out to be a few spectacular pieces of diamond willow. Walking sticks, railings and such. The bark and living tips are goat candy, pure and simple.
The tamarack and birch will go into the woodpile. That leaves the spruce  - a bit more of an issue. I’ve dreamed of a Norwegian style wattle fence but am afraid that my dreams will be the only place such a folk treasure will ever exist. But I’ll give it a try with the half dozen good-size trunks I have already down and just waiting to be useful.
Not that the limbs of all of the above are on the ground ready to be picked up. Almost all are tangled in other tree limbs. Or dangling brokenly, but attached by impossibly strong sinews of pulp. Sometimes in pulling on a downed spruce top or willow bough I feel like I am in a tug of war with some sentient and very crafty opponent grasping the other end. Too many Disney movies, maybe. Still, I have found that cursing and whacking away doesn’t work as well at freeing a mysteriously hung-up branch as a more respectful approach, “excuse me while I just tweak this bit of bark” and so forth. 
The best gathering project of the month involves, as usual, feathered creatures. My ducks - both mallards and Blue Swedish are mating every waking minute. I gather their eggs each morning to slip under, not another duck or chicken, but a very broody goose.  Ducky, the aptly named African gray goose, has planted her ample backside and breast in her nest for two weeks now. She hisses ike a cobra each time I gather one of the eggs she and her sister produce. With no male goose in residence, poor Ducky is doomed to disappointment but for my interference. So each time I steal a big goose egg from under my fussy goose I replace it with a fertile duck egg. In a month, Ducky will be a true and proper Mother Goose.
 All the action is not just in the coop, though. Wild ducks arrive daily for a rest stop on our small pond. A pair of lanky pintails dropped in for a few hours on May 3. And just this morning I saw small flock of Buffleheads darting and diving after a night of steady rain. Buffleheads are easy to ID with their squat mostly white bodies and synchronized diving behavior. A true water show.
All the comings and goings and washing up and crashing down is enough to fill all the extra hours of daylight now. Morerover, the sounds of spring multiply by the hour. Huge V's of Canada geese honk overhead. A dull roar of streams running every which way around the meadow and down into the big lake is a constant white noise day and night. True, there are no leaves on the trees or Marsh Marigolds in the ditches yet. But there are no bugs either. 

Yet another reminder that having it all, and even seeing a small part of it, comes with a price. A price that, so far, is one heck of a deal.

(Photo by Dan Dzurisin on Flickr)