The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 23, #2: There’s No Room to Share
Bonus Sunday Nature Call this week. My walk just got me inspired, I had to write.
There’s No Room to Share
A hen Goldeneye flew low and fast upstream, I was now on the downhill part of my walk on the upper reach of Akerselv, the river that flows from Maridalsvannet. Marisdalsvannet is a special lake and off-limits because it is a source of drinking water for Oslo. I volunteered to take #2 son to a nearby birthday party. One, maybe I could passively-aggressively use it as leverage at a later date. Two, I could walk the river in hopes of seeing some new birds. The latter point being more important than the former.
Moments later the duck had reversed course and landed with a unusually loud splash about 50 meters ahead. I would expect a female duck to be far more furtive. It took until the next bend in the river for me to understand the cause for such a scene.
Akerselv is a thoroughly modern river. I say that because it was used by early Oslo citizens for water and simple economic uses. During the Industrial Revolution, the river was put to task in a form of wage slavery that surly matched the working conditions of the laborers. As the factories took in raw products they created finished goods for profit, and waste. The profits went up to the villas and corporate offices, the waste was left to stew in the river.
As the factories were ultimately abandoned it seemed like the Akerselv was as well. A tired and worn relic from an older time. Yet today, the river is a prized public possession and in quite good health.
Thankfully the Akerselv had one thing going for it, it was in Norway. In particular it was in Oslo where there was an existing movement and mindset for conservation and public use. The banks, once denuded, are vegetated. The water, formally filthy and devoid of most life, is vibrant. The people, historically exhausted, now walk its lengths for salubrious effects.
The river source is 149 meters above sea level, the length is 8.2 kilometers. Walking to the fjord on the additionally meandering paths will take you longer. If you only measure your life in quantifiable distances, then you’ll have know idea how far you’ve gone.
As a modern river this river is neither wild nor enslaved. The water volume is managed to prevent flooding. The streams sides are naturalized, landscaped, and hardscaped. Its lower watershed is urban run-off. But there are wild creatures, some of which are local and other migratory. Some of the migratory beasts come from the fjord, others from West Africa. They are people from all corners of the earth enjoying its riparian charms.
All this use means sharing. There are beaches for people, and turtles if they’re reckless. There are pools for fishing but with limits. Most of the banks have paths, but not all. Some sharing is difficult if not intolerable. Beavers are present but only with the overt toleration of the management. Moose, as amazing as they are, are not welcome.
Despite the lifetime of lessons in Kindergarten, sharing is a tough thing to practice. To share is to trust, to empathize, and to take a risk. I think I need to go back to my little country schoolhouse and get some more lessons from Mrs. Fritz.
Aldo Leopold wrote that our time of an Abrahamic view of the world must end. That own-consume-destroy-relocate zeitgeist must be replaced with an acknowledgement of the permanent damage that people can do to the world. Instead of owning the world we need to share it, with the living and the unborn. His words came in the afterglow of the atomic flash. I can think of no more profound genesis.
Extant American conservation champion E.O. Wilson recently published words calling for a radical idea that will not be considered that radical in the future. Wilson believes that we need to set aside half the earth for nature. The half that remains needs to be shared with other life as well. For Wilson, like Leopold, sharing is necessary, hard, and probably an unachievable goal in full but one that must be pursued.
Reserving space for wild creatures is an easily appreciated sentiment and a difficult practice, consider the moose of the Upper Midwest. PreColumbian Wisconsin had moose, pre-settlement Wisconsin had moose. For a period in the 20th century moose were absent. Today a handful inhabit the state. Unlike Whitetail Deer, moose do poorly around people and disturbance.
Sure, the climate of the last generation is now warmer than the past 500 year, the heat is hard on moose. Of course there is far less unbroken cover in the Great Northwoods, everybody wants a cabin and a couple of acres, moose don’t like neighbors. The Fish and Wildlife Service just accepted a petition to initiate a study for the moose of the Upper Midwest (Acles access anderson) to see if they qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The moose are strong candidates for protection, how hard could it be? Here is where it gets really hard really fast. I thought about what habitat is most endangered and vital for the moose, especially in a warming world: water. Moose need unmolested access to shallow lakes and bays on larger lakes to feed and especially to lounge and “beat the heat.” But the lakes of Badger state are developed, unfettered recreation is a god. Would people be willing to share access to the lakes with moose? Could society tolerate retarding the develop of remaining tracts? Moose are cool, but if you don’t know them, then it’s hard to share.
The duck took a long and low position on the water, fairly mimicking an alligator. It was a sight I’d never seen. Slowly and then with a burst of speed she rushed towards the bank and the shadows. I heard the commotion but still didn’t see the object of her ire.
Large fluffy balls scattered on the water. A hen mallard gave kurt quacks to her chicks. The Goldeneye approached again and snapped. I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if it wasn’t like an alligator attack!
She returned to the center of the river. Victorious and proud she dipped and flailed her wet wings. It was a display of authority, and in the low light a luscious sight. Topping off the exercise were fits of aggressive calling, something like a rolled “R” three times capped with short and hard “R!” “Rrrr, Rrrr, Rrrr, R!”
The Mallard made a beeline for me on the opposite shore and hauled out at my feet. I never imagined that a duck would ever see a safe harbor in me. I guess your enemy’s enemy is you friend, genus and species be damned.
I was perplexed. All this work, all this flying for a hen Goldeneye without young. Was she angry for loosing her clutch? A gull flew overheard. The Goldeney called with rage and display her wings. The gull flew back and the hen gave a stunted chase. And then I finally saw a small fluffy ball swim from the shadow of the bank to the hen, she was a mother.
I was heartened and saddened. The little guy was really cute, the marking with white and dark feathers were surprisingly conspicuous. Yet, she would have laid about 12 eggs. To think that only one survived to this point, maybe less than a week old: nature seems too cruel at times.
Her loud calling continued, though the tone was a little different. And then I saw a second chick, near the first. Ah, two, good. A chick needs a sibling. Wait, there’s number three!
Three is a reasonable number for survival in the city. With all the house cats on the prowl it’s a wonder she has any survivors. Happy, I left my vigil to continue downstream. But wait, here comes number four to the call, it was all the way on the other side. What an unexpected dispersement. And then I saw number five also swim out of its hiding spot on the far bank. Five, five is a good number, a prime number, I’m sure she can keep track of five.
The Goldeneye didn’t want to share the river with the Mallard, the Mallard didn’t mind me. I can’t help but think that maybe out of that 8.2 kilometers of river we couldn’t find a way to make a little more safe space for a duck. I think that in this relationship we’re the only ones who know how to share.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.