These days, each sunrise brings with it the promise of open water.
Buddies’ fishing videos on Facebook show a frozen section of Goose Bay, while Mud Lake’s liquid top glitters under afternoon sun. A few brave souls are still cross-country skiing atop Lake of the Woods, as Butterfield shows signs of weakness around her mouths and honeycombs over her infamous springs. I walk into the hardware store and end up chatting about whether the water on either side of 26 in Alexandria Bay will be frozen or open tomorrow, as it seems to change its mind by the hour. For now Millsite is refusing to budge—but check back in a day, or a few hours from now; at which point—who knows?—she may be ready to give in at last.
Certainly the blue herons would like to know definitive answers to these pressing questions, as they swoop high over Better Farm throughout the day, eyes scanning the horizon for any sparkly patch of open water. That liquid view would signify only one thing: a smorgasbord just below the surface of tiny amphibians, crustaceans, or fish ripe for the plucking.
Competition will be stiff, of course. This winter was (is!) stubborn, and all the critters slinking around this neck of the woods are hungry as can be. I saw a mink take off after some creature of prey today at a breakneck pace. And two nights ago, for the first time in months, I could hear the coyotes spread out across every compass point, totally encircling this property with their yips and starts. All your birds, bats, snakes and the like are on the prowl, salivating over what will be dished up in the coming days.
All this activity is no doubt making a few rabbits, fish, and yes even hibernating bugs more than a bit nervous. But one of the things that make creatures so cool is their ability to be in the here and the now—to put worry and self-doubt far from their minds in order to relish the sweeter things in life.
I present a case in point. Last night, the only duck on the property was out in the pond well after dark, when she should have been snuggled up in a bed of hay inside the barn alongside the chickens, horses, and alpacas. It’s safe in the barn. She’d have been away from an errant fox or coyote bent on terror.
But this duck had bigger things on her mind than safety. The pond was open! She wasn’t going to waste a second of this fact holed up inside some dry building away from that precious water.
We could help but chuckle at the audible flapping of her joyous wings against the water, and the small splashes caused by her head dunking below the surface over and over. Hers was an early spring water dance after too many months spent waiting. Happy quacks bounced off the black silhouettes of trees; the only sound in the evening air, for what must have been hours.
Soon enough, there will be other sounds to join hers: bugs ready to strike newly exposed skin, the increasing traffic along Cottage Hill Road as the summer lake people arrive. The crackle of a solid bonfire. The chatter of visitors, joining up with the hum and chirp of frogs, birds and bugs to overtake the still air.
But for now, if only for an evening to remind us to slow down and be here now, just the quacking and splashing of one very happy, very daring duck.
Until next time, better be.
Nicole Caldwell is an author, journalist and editor in Redwood. She is also co-founder and CEO of Better Farm, a sustainability education center, artist colony, animal sanctuary and organic farm. Learn more about Caldwell at www.nicolecaldwellwrites.org.