Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Season of Suspension

Some people look for signs of fall by the cooler temperatures and changing of leaf colors.
I sense that fall is here by the dramatically increased appetite of the mallards.
One cannot be sure if this is due to lower food supplies in the fall or whether the ducks are trying to build up fat reserves for the approaching winter.  It might be a combination of both.
But, over the past week or so, Brad has once again taken to feeding ravenously from my hand, as do some of the bolder mallards.
It is quite amazing how the birds seem to sense and prepare very early for the challenges they will have to face when winter comes.
One might guess that NYC could again be in for a rough winter based upon the behaviors of the birds.   Many, if not most of the sparrows and robins have already left Central Park, presumably to fly south to warmer regions.
And there still are no Canada geese -- but that of course has nothing to do with the weather or season changes....
Were it not for my specific concerns for Brad (the domestic, flightless duck at Harlem Meer), as well as general appreciation for the wild mallards, I would not go to Central Park at all these days as it has become such a source of sorrow and sense of loss since CP's inexplicable and senseless banishment of the geese.
Some might say to this, "But, there are the mallards and other birds to enjoy! What's the difference?"
There is a huge difference between mallards and geese.  In fact, Canada geese are not really like any other bird.
It is difficult to find the same degree of loyalty, steadfastness, devotion, organization, awareness, stoicism and adaptability in other animals as one readily observes in Canada geese.  Moreover, the geese exude a certain regalness, self-possession and dignity of character that is not easily denoted in many of nature's other wondrous creatures.  Geese of course, mate for life and it is the fortunate female goose who enjoys the companionship, protection and endless devotion of her gander. -- A devotion and bond, that upon loss of one of the birds, is not easily replaced by another. 
Loyalty to species and flock is another hallmark of the geese.  If, while flying or on ground, one goose is injured, two others of the gaggle will stay with the compromised goose until s/he recovers or dies.   Goose parents have been known to take in and "adopt" orphaned goslings who have either lost parents or somehow become separated.  Perhaps these qualities help to explain why Canada geese normally have such high survival rates.
"All for one and one for all"  might well be the motto Canada geese live by.
I love mallards (and all animals).  Mallards are beautiful, funny, feisty, whimsical and they chatter away a mile a minute.  I would love to understand "duck language" as I believe mallards "talk" more perhaps than any other bird  (certainly more than geese who are for the most part, fairly quiet and self-contained except when flying).
Like geese, mallards are smart and learn to recognize those humans they perceive as friends.  And like the geese, the mallards have a good sense of what they need to do to survive (fattening up in the fall for example, in anticipation of harsh winters).
But, in other ways, mallards are quite different from geese.
For one matter, mallard parents don't share in the raising of young.  Perhaps one of the reasons why so many more ducklings perish than goslings is that only the mother mallard raises and protects the young.  It seems that the female mallards banish the drakes when they nest and raise little ones  (or maybe the boys just take off when learning their gal is "pregnant?").   Whatever the case, if mallards "mate for life" like the geese, there are obvious periods of separation, but my sense is that they do not necessarily mate for life.
And yet, the domestic ducks, Brad and Angelina at Harlem Meer were obviously a bonded pair.  But, I am not sure now if they might have in fact, been siblings.  During the few years I was following these birds, they did not produce any young. 
Sadly, Angelina mysteriously vanished earlier this summer.  And while I hoped that Brad might take up with a female mallard, that has not happened (different species of bird, obviously).  Its sad to see Brad now. Though hanging with the mallards, Brad is obviously not a part of them.   Sometimes, while standing alone on the bank of the lake, Brad looks out and I imagine him missing Angelina. But,  of course that is to open one's self up to charges of "anthropomorphism."  Whatever.  I know that the loss of Angelina was a great loss for this particular bird.
Nevertheless, "loss" seems to be the story of this year.
Like Brad seemingly searching for Angelina, I look out at the ponds, lakes and the Reservoir of Central Park devoid of any geese now and feel a sense of emptiness and loss.
Memories of what "used to be" collide with the images of what is now.
"Highway of diamonds with nobody on it."
"...a young child beside a dead pony."
Those are lyrics from an old Bob Dylan song and are what come to mind when trying to describe the feeling of no geese in our "crown jewel" of city parks.
(A "hard rain is going to fall," indeed.) 
I feel no sense of optimism or hope these days.
If personally despaired with the recent banishment of the geese in Central Park, I am totally horrified that geese would be drugged, rounded up and killed now in a New Jersey park just prior to a "gun and decoy show" -- and in the midst of early and expanded hunting seasons in almost every part of the country. (See previous blog entry.)
That is one load of crap that cannot be spun into cotton candy -- and yet, to this point, it has been.
"Dog and pony shows."  "Hard Rain."  "Kill all the geese."
We should not be surprised when our communities are flooded from hurricanes or ravaged by droughts, tornados or wildfires.
As once an old commercial proclaimed,  "It's not nice to fool with Mother Nature." 
We have done much more than "fool" with Mother Nature.
In the case of the beautiful, gentle and majestic Canada geese, we are scapegoating and destroying it.
Perhaps its because we know, deep down, that we will never match the qualities that these animals possess and to this point have used so well to survive the wrath and jealousy of man.  We would do better to emulate the character qualities of geese rather than seek to destroy the birds themselves. 
In the next couple of days, we will mark the official beginning of fall on our calendars.  The changes are already observed in the cooler temperatures, leaf colors and even the greater appetites of the ducks.
But, for me, the seasons are suspended, frozen, unchanging and indistinguishable in a kind of neverland of a park without any geese.  -- PCA 

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