Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Non-Paris Interlude: Of Bikes and Birds

This Parisian bike has very little to do with this post, other than being a bike. Mais, c'est jolie, non?
Some days, I confess, I'm less fond of my carless lifestyle than I like to let on. I sigh as I get onto my bike for the ride home, which is largely uphill, and I find myself thinking about putting Bessie on the bus, and then I fantasize, ever so briefly, about having a car. I've signed up for the November "Ride in the Rain" challenge and, by gum, I intend to bike, although I don't have proper cycling gear and I'm not sure how well-lit my route is likely to be. But it's bike or walk and biking is faster but if I had the option, I think I'd drive, especially since rather than becoming a stronger cyclist, I feel that I'm getting slower and less willing more reluctant to ride up that final hill to get home. All of this preamable is to explain that some evenings, especially as the dark and the wet start to move in, I get on my bike with a certain lack of enthusiasm.

 A few days ago I was particularly cranky leaving work and I said to Bessie, as I turned her around and pushed her out of the warehouse, "Do your magic." And she did. It was an excellent ride on a crisp autumn evening, and I felt a million times better by the time I reached home. But even knowing that a few miles on the bike can have this happy effect on me, I still dragged myself out of the office this evening, rather discouraged because I was too late for one bus and too early for the next. But I cycled to Longfellow Creek where I paused to see what birds might be on offer. It was maddening; I could hear any number of birds but saw very few. At last, after looking through my binoculars to identify a robin and a black-capped chickadee, I tracked down an irate (is there any other kind?) Bewick's wren and then decided that I'd be on my way. But the birdsong intensified and I decided I simply must see one more bird so I pushed my bike along towards the second bridge, a hundred yards or so down the creek. I could hear one very odd, "large"-sounding bird that I was certain I'd be able to see from that second bridge. As I got near, however, I encountered a young man who told me, with a certain gleam in his eye I recognized only too well, that he'd seen an owl. He was so excited, telling me about how it turned its head and how it looked and, well, it was utterly charming. He said he'd watched it for a while and then it flew off, maybe about one hundred feet, but he'd lost it. He hoped I'd see it on my bike ride and we parted. Meanwhile, the bird that had been making the intriguing noise had fallen silent or flown away.
Not today's barred owl, but probably a relative.
 I had a good look around anyway and, by gum, eventually the owl showed! It was, as I had suspected it would be, a barred owl so not one for the life list but, OWL! I don't think I'll ever yawn about seeing an owl. And it flew hither and yon and I lost it again and I was thinking about maybe finally heading up the hills to home when a woman came by walking her dog. Seeing my binoculars, she told me that that morning she had seen, right there on that log in the creek and then right there on that low branch of a tree, an OWL! I shared her excitement and then told that I had just seen the owl myself! We bonded with some owl enthusiasm and then she continued along to her house. A few moments later she came back out to tell me that the owl was now in that tree over there! I parked Bessie again and sauntered up to look. Suddenly there was a great deal of commotion: I swear I saw a black cat streak through the underbrush, a thrush-size bird flap away, a small dog bark madly in its yard, a squirrel hasten along a branch, and an owl and a hawk suddenly start to wing about, chasing each other through the trees. It was all pretty damned amazing. Eventually the hawk landed on a branch where I could have a look at it. It looked somewhat like a harrier to my excited eyes but it was more likely a Coopers or sharpshinned hawk as I don't think we get harriers at Longfellow Creek.

 A little time passed and I finally pointed Bessie towards the hills and wended my way home. I had to push her up part of one block which is, yes, downright dispiriting but I blame some trouble with my gears rather than entirely attributing it to my old age. But mostly I was thinking people in cars don't go by Longfellow Creek and don't stop upon noticing birdsong and spend time with their binoculars tracking down little--and not so little--birds and, very likely, don't see owls on their evening commute, let alone an owl and a hawk hashing out their territorial disputes. So it's not so bad, this bike commuting thing.

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