Sunday, April 25, 2010

Zen And The Art Of Tree Swallow Greeting

Spring is official for me when I can make the trek over to Arcadia to greet the return of the Tree Swallows.

One of my favorite birds to observe, for their sharp speedy flying, their warbling whistles, and their irridescent blue on bright white feathers...

I found a couple of boxes bustling with activity, and got in close for some pics.

At the other end of the meadow, I could just make out a kestrel hovering over it's prey, before nose diving to earth for the kill...

That's not the only battle going on; their's an annual tug of war between the swallows and the bluebirds for ownership of the nesting boxes.

As one leaves the other lands and vice versa, sometimes with a split second confrontation during the transition.

But still peace seems to reign, even with the odd struggle for survival taking place all around.

The main thing about the annual Tree Swallow greet isn't just the bird watching. It's being out on the lively bright spring day, with the cool breeze, the warming sun and the fields alive with sound.

It's a refreshing break, from everything. Until it's time to fly again...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's A Bobcat, Bob

Here's something cool; just got a look at a bobcat, while driving in Ludlow...

He(?) jumped out onto the road right in front of me; I slammed on the brakes and layed on the horn...

And he jumped back into the woods.

These were the only shots I was able to get, with a camera phone through the passenger side window. Traffic was piling up behind me, and the cat slinked away just as I had to get going. hometown is wilder than I give it credit for...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Riverwalk, Er, Stroll

The bloggerette and the lately-interminably-teen-age-angsty-moody-kid joined me for a jaunt downtown and a quick look at the Riverwalk and Riverfront Park in Springfield.

I've heard this one is best travelled by bike, but we risked it on foot and stroller.

With the weekend's relapse into the worst of early spring weather, the pathway wasn't too populated anyway. Just a few fishermen, a couple bikers and a small gaggle of kids were with us in the cool damp park.

There are better days to check out bike trails, but we made the best of our limited time and what fleeting good weather could be had by doing something close to home base. Cool overcast days can sometimes present their own qualities.

Parking in the lot under the highway that cuts overhead through the edge of downtown, we crossed the active railroad tracks to the park entrance.

Both the tracks and highway run parallel to the river and unfortunately both were laid down without any foresight to the potential for future development. They now effectively cut off the riverfront from easy city access; a big reason for it's long delayed and anemic development.

But a strong effort and some good progress has been made anyway. There is still plenty of land here for green and recreation.

From the main entrance we made our way south, passing the triple-tiered ramp and railway overpass that leads to the old Basketball Hall of Fame, now converted to an LA Fitness gym and the Onyx Restaurant.

...a little further on to the new Basketball Hall of Fame...

...and then backtracking and venturing north as far as the Memorial Bridge.

The trail goes much farther, on into the north end. But we were only here today for a quick scouting run. A more thorough exploration will have to be done with more welcoming weather.

City recreation must always be seasoned with a pinch or two of situation awareness. In spots along the trail was the inescapable graffiti and minor littering of a metro area, countering the grass and river views and reminding us of where we were. But old whitewashed sections of wall showed the marks of constant battle and vigilance against spray painters and ne'er do wells. And vigilance can be good enough.

Although I don't think I'd chance a night ride out here, the trail was pretty clean and well kept, all things considered. We passed up and down our section of it very nicely, making it back to the car unscathed, although not without loss.

It seems one of our party couldn't help but take the opportunity during an overlook stop to conduct experiments with the effects of gravity, trajectory, current and snack food. Science is not without it's costs, and although no humans were put at risk...

...let's just say some goldfish are now sleeping with the fishes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Give Forest Park A Break

Kelly loves Forest Park; while I've always had a more or less ambivalent attitude towards the place. The park is absolutely beautiful to be sure, and big. Manicured acre for manicured acre, probably the biggest in the valley (bigger than Stanley Park for sure, but I'm not sure how it matches up against Look Park). It also sports a fine zoo (though not as good as the Lupa Zoo in Ludlow -a long overdue blog post, btw). Wonderful gardens, hilly pathways, and duck ponds galore. So what's the problem?

It's just that too often my visits there have been, to put it nicely, less than peaceful. The park is just too close to the big city I guess for a true break from the squabbles of life, as far as my suburban taste goes.

So although it should, the park has not often been near the top of my outings list. Maybe this will change and I should give it more opportunities to impress, I thought to myself, as Kelly twisted our collective arms and drove us there Saturday afternoon. It is close by.

The three day taste of summer having passed, and with the more Aprily temps and breezes, the park was not too crowded and we had plenty of room to roam. Kelly took us down to the section of park called the Aquatic Gardens.

Here green grass surrounds pond after pond, with cool streams crossed over by quaint wooden bridges running between them and into the surrounding woods. That three day spell of warmth has hastened some of the bloomage, which the cool air and bright sunlight was crisply highlighting this afternoon.

Down here, it's water water everywhere.

Each of the light posts lining the main roads and walkways have neat signs hanging from them representing the local life aquatica, like this small mouth bass.

These guys were trying to get first hand looks at the advertised fish.

The "Garden" part of the Aquatic Gardens haven't unpacked for the summer yet, but looking at some strange roots in the water, I can imagine what the next few weeks will present.

The fast moving streams presented something I had never seen before; this duck was running through a couple stretches of rapids like a kayaker.

Although there were blue jays,


...and geese aplenty,

...Saturday at Forest Park turned out to be predominantly a duck day.

They seemed to be flapping around everywhere.

These three, two males courting a female I assume, were constantly on the wing, madly swooping by overhead, back and forth.

There were also tree swallows buzzing and darting close to the water surface, but they were too quick for me today, couldn't get a decent shot. They have to be quick after all; not all the nearby observers were there to bird watch...

Before leaving the Aquatic Gardens, we huffed up a nearby hill for a quick look where the Carriage House and mausoleum are. The hill is near where the Barney mansion used to stand; Mr. Barney being the 19th century ice skate tycoon who generously left all of this land to the city of Springfield for the creation of Forest Park.

I shot this quick video from there: (ever abhorrent of homework, my commentary on the video is mostly based on what I remember reading or hearing about once or twice long ago, rather than any real research, soooo...)

From there it was a short meander back to the car, a-picking dandelions along the way.

I have to say this was a nicer walk around the park -or this section of it, than I'd expected. I'll check my misgivings next time and we'll give the place a few more goes this year, especially during or after the bloom. It is worth it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Swift Rivers

A local blogger's wife recently suffered an aneurysm, and their family is now dealing with the sudden life changing experience. None of us are guaranteed immunity to such changes, and his brave way of dealing with the situation has got me wondering again about it all...

Although three of my four grandparents have passed away over the decades, my immediate and extended families have been extremely lucky as far as illness and tragedy goes. But the last several years have begun to bring home the realities of the other side of our existence.

Three years ago I was basically a useless bag of poop layed out in a hospital for eight days, in the midst of a two month bout with a fierce case of pneumonia, not entirely sure whether I was going to come out of it the same or even live through it for that matter; and since then have never seemed to fully recover. For me it was a brush with death, or at least with the specter of long term debilitation.

A couple of years earlier an uncle had suddenly suffered a major, debilitating stroke in the golden years of his life, changing the course of his family's lives. More recently, another uncle had died after a long and painful fight with cancer.

Just a couple of weeks before him (now a little over a year and four months ago), my Mother, who had struggled for years with symptoms of Parkinson's and (I suspect) depression, passed away unexpectedly in a hospital after a simple cyst removal procedure. She had just turned 65.

Health and happiness are such fragile things. To stop and really think about it opens the door to an endless depth of questions, and most all of them variations on the one, main question: "Why are we here, anyway?". We might come up with some simple answers to get us by and ease the pain and confusion; or leave the question on hold. But we never really know.

Even before these things happened, after several wasted years of my own youth that could have been better spent and that I'll never get back again; a day had come along when I resolved to try not to waste another precious hour wallowing in self pity, depression, regret or resentment. To try not to waste it, anyway. That's all anybody can do. To help me in that effort and seize what (God) has temporarily afforded us, I try to spend as much time out in his world as possible.

Sometimes, I'll bike through it.

We headed up to Turners Falls for a revisit to the CanalSide Trail they got up there. We had only checked it out once before, shortly after it's opening in the fall of 07'. No greenery on the trees yet but we figured it'd be a good way to get a look at the raging torrent that the Connecticut river has become, after the recent global warming storms that have struck the northeast. (sorry).

And a torrent it was. The rail trail doesn't get too close to the famous Turners Falls dam, but you can get a view of the immediate aftermath of the water pouring over it's top near the bridge.

The trail does go along the canal that begins at the dam though, and standing on one of the short bridges over it will give you a sense of the speed and strength of the current plowing by just inches under the deck.

Turners Falls was more or less a 'planned' industrial center, ala Holyoke, with the canals designed and built expressly to power as many factories as there was room for.

Many of the factories buildings are still standing along it's edges.

With all the talk about green power, I'm always surprised we don't tap more heavily into the 400 mile long energy machine that is the Connecticut river. Good old fashioned water power. There must be a way to build water turbines that are every bit as effective as wind turbines that can be turned by the constant water current.

But I guess until Wall Street finally speculates fuel prices into the double digits, we'll just continue to grit our teeth and fork over the money until the whole kit and kaboodle crumbles...

Or maybe move to this street.

The trail was just as good as we remembered it, though a little on the short side; about four miles end to end. But with the canal at the beginning...

...a long, classic 19th century rail bridge in the middle...

....and an active rail yard at the end,

this short trail provides much to keep a traveller and lolligagger interested.

...and much to keep the occasional trailside critter curious.

The whole thing is a mystery to be travelled through. Best to keep pedalling.