Thursday, January 24, 2013
Notes from Bosque del Apache National Wildlfe Refuge on 1/22/13
The colors today on the narrow black road from San Antonio, New Mexico are sere, wild, abandoned, dried, desert, deserted. They are dull gold, platinum blonde, straw, russet, sage, gray, maroon, pink, olive, dusty blue and light blue, mirror blue, and goldy-pink.
The first wildlife I spot are tiny native bees that circle and dive around me every time I step out of the truck. Ducks are ubiquitous, poor things. Poor because after awhile, it’s not them we want to see.
At the marsh deck, the water is olive green, and it rushes from here through a culvert into a lagoon. The river is partly frozen—shelves of ice stretching toward the center from the east and west banks. At first I think it is slush. Then a little brown duck with bright orange feet hops onto it and waddles over to a stand of willow switches. It seems to be walking on water. Squawking, it lifts and flies to where other the others swim in the middle of el Rio Grande.
The lagoon trail begins with a long footbridge across a body of water that was once an oxbow. This is the first indication I have of how very wide el rio was at one time. Where the bridge ends, a trail goes off into deep, white sand. The sand tells me that the river was even wider, unimaginably wider, so it’s evident where it got its name. It is so very still on this trail, that I know this is a holy place. All I hear is the shuff-shuff of my own footsteps. The trail is marked with a few short posts carved with arrows but mostly by rocks lining the way. I stop to take photos of tangled, black, skeletal bushes, aster husks, a cairn, a dried rivulet, a twisted drift tree. I sit in a rounded hollow and meditate on the fallen tree. I take a photo of my handprint, lay a dried aster across it and snap that, even though it’s artificial, kunstig, the Danish comes to me first. A lone and lowly sparrow chitters at the feet of wintering cattails, wanting attention. I sit on a bench overlooking the lagoon and eat my snack of string cheese, dried apricots, and almonds. A small water bird swoops by, scolding. Killdeer? Sandpiper? Later I realize it is probably a shrike. I don’t know much about birds. Diving ducks make plopping sounds. I draw the negative spaces and then fill in the line of reeds at the far end of the lagoon, the cottonwoods and mountains behind. I realize that sketching is little about my finished product and how faithful it is to reality. It is about me seeing more, being more alert, alive to what I see. Taking the time.
A little after five, I think I’m going to walk the slightly more wooded John P. Taylor, Jr. Memorial Trail. But right at the trailhead I am arrested by this sign:
I decide to take the sign's warning and not walk the trail alone.
Dusk is coming on, so I want to get back to the water. The brochures say that the most wildlife can be seen at dawn and at dusk. The dropping sun turns everything that special gold of evening. The last gold. I stop by water and see only ducks in their calm, regal float. A raven, familiar. Or is it? Its flopping wings look somehow different.
It’s animal life, bird life, that people come here for. But I don’t mind if I don’t see anything rare because I’m in love with the reeds and willow stands, the copper-headed cottonwoods, the brown and purple and lavender mountains in the distance. I’m even in love with the dust that hangs behind my truck, not going anywhere at this time of day, as if knowing it has only a little time left to be seen. And then a quiet field of fat mule deer—eight? The setting sun—done in 9 minutes from now—and the dust obscure them. They graze on after glancing at me. Yes, it’s eight, I determine, when I change my angle. A large bird of prey, majestic atop a small cottonwood flies off before I get a good look. Eagle? Hawk?
And then over pink, glassy water, I see flocks of wheeling birds—joyous, hundreds of them, wheeling like grackles in the city. Then the long-leggeds. Cranes? Storks? Standing in the water in flocks. Ohh! White and gray, a water field full of standing herons. The sun is down and they release themselves from their day. Wheeling, arrowing in—where have they been? So still all day, and now filled with raucous partiers. The air and water are suddenly filled with them, and they call without stinting. As they near the water, they lower their legs from their long, slim bodies, like landing gear, and glide into the water. Later, I pass a lagoon that thousands of snow geese have reserved for the night.
The mountains set their sharp black lines against the paling sky. I realize, driving alone along these gravel roads, as dusk passes into twilight—just me, the cottonwoods, the willows, the birds, two more mule deer beside the road, alert lest I be foolish with this huge machine—how much I love this state, my state. New Mexico. And I also realize that I must renew this way much more often, now that I have chosen to live in the city.
I stop at the Owl Bar and cafe. I was last there 40 years ago. They advertise “best burgers in the world”. You know it’s New Mexico because the first burger on the menu is a Green Chile Cheeseburger. You know it’s rural New Mexico because the locals all say, “Hi,” when they pass your table. I don’t have the best burger in the world—beans and green chile instead.