Four Feet on the Monocacy


Yesterday was a good day for sitting by the river. It was warm, and I had my binoculars, lots of trash bags, and only my younger son with me. The older was in the mountains with his father and our younger dog (who, as it turns out, was dodging hunter’s bullets), and, when I took out the leash before our walk, our old labrador had cracked open her eyes, sighed and given me the most rueful expression a dog could muster. I took pity and, with one boy and no dogs, found enough peace to sit down with my binoculars and look for birds.

It’s a time of transition. The noisy red-winged blackbirds have left the marshes, replaced by finches and sparrows and other lesser-seen migrants feasting on the seeds of spent grasses and wildflowers. My favorite juncos have reappeared on my deck, looking for the seed I had kept tossed across it last winter and spring. Just for them (and the cardinals, finches and increasingly vocal squirrels), I resumed the custom last week. Every day now, it feels as if I’m having old friends over at the house.

On the river yesterday, I saw chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, goldfinches, chipping sparrows, house finches, robins, cardinals, crows, a kingfisher and a red-tailed hawk. In other words, nothing new or remarkable enough to be of interest to my younger son, who was contenting himself with styling swords and spears out of branches. Then, just as I was giving up my search (because this is always the way and is so narratively handy), I saw something large moving on the opposite bank of the river. Thinking that it might be a wild turkey, I grabbed my binoculars, only to realize, as it further emerged from the trees, that it was a fox.


As it happens, I am uncommonly fond of foxes, a fact for which, I am ashamed to say, Disney must either be blamed or credited. When I was a girl, I fell in love with the animated Robin Hood of Walt Disney, who, as you may remember, was drawn as a handsome, well-spoken, red fox. Likely this early crush was only exacerbated by Wes Anderson’s stop-action adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is chock-full of lovely foxes (including the title character, voiced by George Clooney). Of course, they’re beautiful, interesting creatures all on their own (if you’re not raising chickens). Lots of nature photographers and videographers have caught them adeptly diving for mice in the snow or slinking about with their long tails held low and keen eyes high. So, of course, I was overjoyed when I saw this fox prowling along the shores of the Monocacy.

After I satisfied my own hungry eyes, I quietly alerted my younger son, who took the binoculars and held on to them until the fox disappeared into the distance. While he watched, he hushed me when I tried to speak or move and was clearly as mesmerized as I was. Even after the fox was gone, we both just smiled at each other as if we shared some special secret. Or at least I thought so.

Until my son looked at me seriously and said, “Now I’m gonna have the song What Does the Fox Say? stuck in my head the rest of the day.”

Sublimity, meet the Internet.

A Bridge Over


There are so many irresistible, pop-culture puns on bridges, and all of them are awful and overused, therefore I will not finish the title of this blog with a nod to Simon and Garfunkel. I refuse.  Because you can finish it yourself.

I’ve done a pretty poor job lately of pointing out the beauty in the ugliness of the Monocacy River, as I originally promised to do in my “About” introduction.  Really, there’s just too much conventional beauty this time of year to focus on the unconventional, or, at least, it can seem so when you when you shut your ears and imagine away what doesn’t suit.  In fact, as an urban river, the Monocacy can be a loud, brown, smelly place, particularly where I walk every day.  For instance, as I took this picture yesterday, I was inundated not just by birdsong, as the peaceful photograph suggests, but by the windy roar of cars passing over the bridge to a nearby highway, the distant grumble of a jet on its way to Dulles, and the industrial drumming of a helicopter landing at the local airport. (A fun fact: sometimes the helicopters I hear are carrying the president to Camp David). Also, there was a distinctly fishy smell emanating from the bank below, not to mention the sulfuric funk traditional to standing water mixed with rotting organic material.

I could drift into poetic enthusiasm about the joy of witnessing a kingfisher dive into the river and emerge successfully with a minnow in its beak, or how the setting sun sparkled on the miniature tributaries in the muddy shallows, or how a swallowtail slipped through the trees in mute conversation with the goldfinches and cardinals, but there is another truth. The kingfisher’s bickering chatter competed with belching diesel trucks, the water was choked with muck (and a random metal grate), and the swallowtail flitted over cellophane and alien species choking out native wildflowers. If I am a reliable narrator, which truth do I share with you?

The first photo?

Or this?


Or this?