My site was on the banks of the Poudre River just northwest of Lee Martinez Park in Fort Collins. I sent an email to everyone in our class this semester with the audio recording from which I made my maps as an attachment. If you’d like, you can listen to that while reading this excerpts. You can also check out my personal blog for more photos of/words on my site!
In the water, a fresh four-foot Russian Olive branch with all its leaves floated by. I noticed stray, straight spider-silk threads in the grass and in the elm branches above me. Slowly a dragonfly flew by me toward the east. Some individual sparrows crossed the river as well. Dogs barked in the distance, and thunder could be heard coming from the north; the clouds grew darker across the river.
The river banks smelled faintly of warm mud, of minerals. The gray clouds lost their oomph.
I always thought the Poudre River was named after snow powder, especially since it drops 7,000 feet in elevation from the Rockies through a narrow, chiseled canyon, to conjoin with the South Platte River east of Greeley, Colorado. It actually refers to French Canadian trappers, in the early 1800’s, hiding their cache of gunpowder there during a particularly bad blizzard. The Poudre River is Colorado’s only nationally recognized “Wild & Scenic River.”
Behind me, a woman running west clears her throat. Two bikes tick east. The sun clouds over.
I return to my usual spot beneath the box elder maple, whose winged seeds sit clustered like grapes, unfallen. Behind me the clicking of bike wheels, a chiming of dog tags, the gentle pounding of tennis shoe soles on the cement of the paved trail. Across the river on its north side is a woman on her cell phone, two large black and white dogs on two leashes in her other hand. They sniff the water, then continue on their way. There are crickets in the browning bluegrass that surrounds me, and birdsongs in the cottonwoods, willows, and elms above. One bird repeats a lonely minor third refrain, no response.
I kill a brown mosquito, bursting its abdomen whose rusty blood contents smear on my bicep. Behind the bluegrass I hear the thud of deeper water, a disturbed trout. Along the bank two blue jays stutter squawks at one another. One flies into view and lands on yellowing cottonwood branch. His body is a jewel blue and he wears a white collar just above his breast, beneath a blue cockscomb. Later I learn this is the edge of the blue jay’s livable range, as far as they come; the foothills of the Rocky Mountains halt them the way they halted railroads, the way they still halt clouds and precipitation.
I stand up to leave, brush the bluegrass from my back pockets, when I see them, coming from the west, from the mountains – four female ducks flying in pairs, brown, their heavy duck torsos unmistakable. They fly almost upright, as an angel might – webbed feet tucked underneath, wings arched open behind them, bills (a softer version of “beak”) up and forward. They descend heavily onto the water’s surface, upstream just enough that I hear rather than see them land – the first pair, then the second. I wonder where their grounded nests are hidden, in what patch of grass or thistle.
I read once that ducks are among the animals who don’t fall asleep completely, ever—unlike us humans. They quite literally always have an ear out, even an occasional eye open. They shut off about half of their brains and then switch eyes, to balance things out. Always waiting, essentially, for a confirmation of danger.
The male duck lifts both wings up behind his back as if he were trying to touch his elbows together, if he had any. One female does the same, then the other. Silently, they take off headed west, upstream, the same direction as their peers went earlier. I considered the inherent contradiction of the phrase “take off” as in, “The ducks took off, headed for Disneyland.” How does one take off? Accrue it? Grasp it? Hold on for dear life?
Yesterday Boone and I walked the half-mile from my Fort Collins house to Martinez Park, and the additional half-mile from there to the banks of the Cache la Poudre River. We went down to the smooth, fist-sized pebbles and I let him off the leash. He immediately bounded up and down the shallow parts of the river, splashing, grinning, tongue flying out the side of his muzzle-mouth. I bent over to pick up pebbles and tossed them into the deeper, calmer sections of the river and, with each kerplunk, Boone pointed instantly in the direction of the disturbance, toward the center from which the ringed waves expanded.
The following two images come directly from my notebook as I began focusing my energy on soundscapes for my maps. These notes remind me a lot of the image of Wendy Burk’s notes on the back cover of Tree Talks, which is funny since I hadn’t yet read Tree Talks when I made these recordings and took these notes.
The following image is the from the recording I used to make both of my maps.