Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Short Stories

In Oak Park, Illinois, a car stops at a traffic light, an older and a younger man in the front seats, a young woman in the back. She opens the door, steps out, tosses a keychain into a storm drain and gets back into the car. The light turns green.

Great Blue Heron with catfish
(Click on photos to enlarge)
In Boca Raton, Florida, a Great Blue Heron caught a catfish as large as its head. Standing in the water, it spent minute upon minute upon minute repositioning the fish in its beak, at times shaking the fish, placing the fish on the shore to start over, or dipping it in the water.

A bicyclist is riding the wrong way on a one-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A pedestrian steps out…

A bicyclist is riding the wrong way on a one-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A car door opens…

A bicyclist is riding the right way (with traffic) on a two-way street, next to the line-up of parked cars. A door opens…

Griffith Park, entirely within the City of Los Angeles, has signs at every entrance warning visitors that the Park contains rattlesnakes. One LA newbie exclaimed “Why did they put rattlesnakes in the Park!?” The answer was that the snakes were there long before it was designated a park. Snakes can strike to a distance of 1/3 to 1/2 body length. More to the point, snake strikes occur in one-twentieth to one-tenth of a second, whereas human reaction time is about one-fifth of a second. Snake beats human every time.

In addition to rattlesnakes (and coyotes), Griffith Park is home to one male mountain lion known as “P22.” The lion has a GPS tracking collar, so park staff know its location at all times. This did not prevent P-22 from entering the Griffith Park Zoo in March 2016, scaling a fence, then killing and carrying off a koala. P22 has TWO Facebook accounts.

The Assabet River rises after every rainstorm, after every snow-melting day. During winter weeks the water level can slowly drop while the air temperature is below freezing. Along the branches of trees that have fallen into the river, icicles form. Rather than tapering to a sharp point, the bottoms are blunt-ended, terminating just about the water’s surface. In sunlight, a long row of these, each several inches long, look like the pendant glass of a chandelier, shimmering white.

Great Blue Heron preparing
to swallow fish
The same river, summer, observed from a bridge: there are fish down there, swimming just fast enough to counter the flow of the sluggish low-water river. The fish are doubly camouflaged. From above, the dark upper surface blends into the dark tones of the river bottom. From below, silvery scales blend into the brightly refractive surface of the water above. One way to spot fish is to look for shadows on the bottom, then find the fish above.

Get in the habit of throwing food scraps out the back door and there will be visitors. Footprints from cats, skunks, raccoons and opossums can be differentiated in a night’s dusting of snow. The morning after tossing out some lamb shanks a murder of crows was working over the remains, scattering when a pair of ravens dropped in.  

Great Blue Heron
swallowing fish
One sunny late August day, gusting cold front blowing in, water temperature in the 70s but air temperature in the low 60s – the result for one small-boat sailor tacking into the wind was gradually progressive hypothermia. Each splash of water felt warm on a cotton T-shirt. Between splashes, evaporative cooling chilled. Physical clumsiness set in, and a touch of mental fog. A gust tipped the boat over. Swimming to the overturned hull, flipping the boat back upright and climbing in was more wearying than it should have been. Same the second time. The sailor turned toward home, miles away.       

Roadside, rural Pennsylvania: A fawn was thrashing about in the ditch next to the road, unable to stand, legs broken from being hit by a car, but otherwise apparently not seriously hurt. A doe stood in the wooded edge of the road. Cars drove by, occupants observing or oblivious. A bicyclist rode by. Stopped. Laid down the bike. Picked up a rock. Walked back…

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