Friday, December 17, 2010

A Short Walk

The south window of our kitchen overlooks an ice-edged pond, one of 2 on our property, and we love watching the wildlife it attracts.  Deer and turkeys often drink from the pond, and in the heat of the summer, the deer will wade right in.  Sometimes we watch wood ducks paddle there; dragonflies frequent it in the summer, and a myriad of birds use it all year long. Every spring until recently, red-winged blackbirds could be found nesting in the cattails around the pond’s perimeter.  They would attach their sack-like nests to the stems.  When we approached, the birds would fly up to the treetops and sing their exquisite song.*   For a good part of one season, a male red-wing battled regularly with his reflection in the kitchen window.  We dubbed him Patton, because his strutting, and his bright red and yellow wing patches reminded us of George C. Scott’s well known depiction of the general. 

Although picturesque, and useful to blackbirds, cattails are not generally desirable in a pond, as they spread aggressively by way of thousands of seeds, which disperse on the wind. They send down tenacious roots, often displacing any other vegetation, and can eventually choke a pond. That said, I’ve always felt that there is something a little bit magical about cattails, especially when the flower opens and exposes their fluffy white seeds against the furry dark brown exterior, like sheep skin on popsicle sticks. 

In her fascinating book, Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook, Billy Joe Tatum has a number of delicious sounding recipes utilizing different parts of the cattail.  One of these days, I’d like to try cooking the asparagus-like stalks in the spring, and, a little later when the pollen forms, “cat-tail pollen pancakes” sound interesting.  Stay tuned. 

A couple of years ago, for reasons we have not yet been able to ascertain, the cattails disappeared from our pond, and when they did, the blackbirds moved on, too. 

Our second pond is larger, but it has never held much water, except when we have an abundance of rain, and then only for a short time.  Right now it has about enough ice-covered water in it to fill up a large jacuzzi.  Years ago, willow trees volunteered there, and now their bare branches reach high overhead.  I hadn’t been down in that pond for some time, but the other day I didn’t have time for my customary walk with Barley, so he and I made a brief ramble there.  Barley was fascinated by the scents, and fresh deer tracks gave a strong visual cue about what he was smelling.  I made a discovery of my own.  A small new patch of cattails now stands in the bottom of the pond.  They are headed out, and their seeds, like drifting snowflakes, were traveling upward in the breeze. 

The magic continues. 

*Incidentally, the song of the red-winged blackbird reminds me of the theme music to NPR’s St. Paul Sunday with Bill McGlaughlin.  Let me know if you concur.


Violet Lemay said...

lovely, Connie!

Janet said...

It's all in the eyes--and the mind behind them--to see such beauty in the seemingly mundane things around us. I love your "take" on cattails. I've never listened to St. Paul Sunday so cannot offer an opinion about the red-winged blackbird's song, but I do love to see and hear them. On my "regular" walk in spring and summer, there is a particular thicket where one is almost always hanging out. Now that I've learned more about them, thanks to you, I'll be looking around ponds' edges for their nests.