It is the Lenten season; it is Friday … and for sure we need a diversion, so I am offering up this catch-of-the-day fish tale for my post-of-the-day.
This trek actually happened last Friday, March 27th. I ventured out after it had rained from Thursday afternoon, throughout the night, stopping just short of dawn. It was dreary, drab, dull and damp- how’s that for a description? It looked as if it would pour raining any minute, as dark clouds were brooding overhead.
I got to Council Point Park, opened up my bag of peanuts and looked for my furry and feathered friends as no one came over to see me. Even the smell of fresh peanuts wafting out of the bag did not entice any peanut participants, so I ambled along the perimeter path, alone on the asphalt and alone in my thoughts.
The perimeter path is about ten feet wide. While I didn’t take a yardstick with me, I stomped across in my heavy walking shoes and that was around eleven of MY feet, so I’m guessing it is a ten-foot-wide path. I figured since no one was looking, I could measure it … for social distancing purposes you know.
The Park looked a little desolate – no walkers, no critters. The playground equipment had been taped off with bright-yellow caution tape, similar to what the police use to cordon off a crime site. I had read on social media this practice was instituted statewide the day before.
Out of the corner of my eye I finally saw a sign of life, a big, fat Robin tugging on an equally big, fat worm. The torrential rain had pounded into the ground softening the earth and I could sense that Robin’s glee about its discovery. I was treated to a surly, if not cautionary, look as I approached, as if to say “just touch my worm Girly – don’t even think of it!” Robins always have that bad boy demeanor don’t they? They look at you face on, like the stern librarian did when you dared to utter a few words in the hallowed halls of the local library – at least that’s how it was when I was growing up.
I kind of chuckled to myself at the antics as the worm held its own, resisting mightily against each of the Robin’s tugs. I didn’t want to witness the gory final slurp, so I continued on my way. I rounded the bend over near the Creek and heard some birds tuning up, first the Red-Winged Blackbird trilling in the chilly morning air and then a Song Sparrow or two with a range of melodic notes. Great – I no longer felt so alone out there on the path, but still no squirrels.
Seeing none of my Park furry friends these days is worrisome for this squirrel lover. Sadly, I’ve learned to scan the not-so-friendly skies above the Park lately, since the Cooper’s Hawk has been trolling almost daily. I see this pesky bird of prey gliding about, surveying the premises for its next capture. I feel a little sick every time I witness a Hawk glaring down from the electrical towers or a tall tree. Just then, a Cooper’s Hawk passed overhead. “Aah” I thought, “that explains why the welcoming committee is MIA this morning.” The Hawk glided effortlessly, a dark blotch in the gray sky, and, as he tilted his wings ever so slightly, I noticed some small birds, likely Sparrows, take a quick detour, scattering in the wind, not unlike when a cue ball sends the billiard balls across the felt surface of a pool table in one quick motion.
But the closer I got to the trees on the other side of the “loop” a Blue Jay looked down from his high perch and screeched – wow, what a brave boy he was, fearless of the Hawk! Then a second screech – so was that a disgruntled noise since a Hawk was present in the Park, or just my cue to get cracking and give him some peanuts?
I didn’t take the camera out, as it was too gray of a day to do so, but I rose to the request and feeling generous, I let three peanuts tumble to the path. That Jay blitzed down to the ground in a heartbeat, politely surveying the booty, then picking up one scraggly looking peanut, quickly tossing it aside in favor of a longer peanut (perhaps a triple-nut prize). That picky Jay then flew away, the coveted peanut clenched in its long and lethal-looking beak. The Cardinal who previously had held back, somewhat timid of the imposing Jay, soon swooped down for the leftovers.
I sighed, sorry I had not taken the camera out, but there would be other bird photo ops.
The avian action continued when a Downy Woodpecker was content to peck away at the damp wood on its tree and paid me no mind and neither did a White-Breasted Nuthatch who surveyed me from its upside down pose. It was the first time to see these type of birds and it was a real treat. They were both at eye level; of course, once again I reckoned these would have made pretty good shots, had I simply taken the camera out of the case and had it at the ready.
“They’ll be other shots down the road” I told myself.
The Red-Bellied Woodpecker peered at me from the dead tree as he had heard the Jay calling. Interestingly he created a “first” for me at my favorite nature nook by doing a flyover and zooming down to the ground. Now this has happened at the “Birdie Nirvana station” at Elizabeth Park – never at this venue though. Once again I cursed myself for not having the camera handy.
“They’ll be other shots down the road” I told myself.
As I neared the cement landing, just as I always do, I peered between the bushes looking for Harry the Heron, but instead of that gangly bird, I saw a chair on the cement ledge and knew there must be a fisherman there.
But I didn’t see anyone right away, just the chair. “Hope he didn’t fall in!” I thought. I rounded the bend and saw a young man crouched down on the ledge with a big dip net floating on top of the water. Two fishing rods were propped up against the nearby wall. I stood and watched thinking “you’re dreaming Buddy – there’s no way you need that for the shad, those tiny silver fish about the size of minnows!” Luckily I didn’t voice my opinion as suddenly, he scooped up a huge fish.
I stood and watched as there was a lot of movement in the water. Mere seconds later, he lifted the net and a huge fish was flailing around inside it. He set the net onto the cement landing and the fish continued thrashing about. By now, a walker appeared out of nowhere, coming from the opposite direction on the path, saw the action and we both stood there, transfixed with our eyes glued to the fish in the net. The young man picked his fish up with both hands, as he cradled the catch of the day in his arms. Finally the fish relaxed just a little …
Ever your roving reporter, I said “I’ve been walking in this Park since 2013 and have never seen a fish this size – it’s mostly just shad. I write a blog about walking – can I get your picture?” These words spilled out of my mouth while unzipping my coat, then wiggling my left hand into the vest’s zippered pocket to retrieve the camera. “Sure” he said and belatedly I saw the other walker had already pulled his phone out and was taking a picture or video. Remembering my “who, what, where, when, why and how” from my school days eons ago, I fired off questions like “what kind of fish it is?” It was a Carp we were told. Then I asked “how much do you think it weighs?” He struggled to keep the fish from flopping onto the ground, but picked it up and held it – it had to be two feet big! He didn’t tell me how much it weighed, it was wiggling around too much.
The fisherman handled that fish with one arm and hand while he grabbed his phone and handed it over to the other walker asking “would you mind taking a photo for me Bro?” The guy did so, then the fisherman bent down close to the water and released the fish (who got the heck out of Dodge before the guy changed his mind). I said “I thought you might be keeping it for a Friday fish fry for Lent” and he laughed and said “no, the water’s not safe.” I agreed – the Creek water is dank and dark. The fisherman watched his prize fish until the water was still again.
By now we were all standing fairly close and I turned to both and said “yikes – we forgot all about social distancing – we were all so caught up in the moment!” The fisherman piped up with “I’m clean” and we both hurried to announce ourselves as “clean” as well. Then we all had a little laugh over it. The other walker said “it’s human nature – we were enjoying this fish story too much!”
I told them to stay safe, which seems to be the post script to our conversations, e-mails and blog posts these days, and, as I once again ambled down the pathway, a blog post was bubbling around in my brain.
I kept the camera in my hand for the duration of the trek, intending to return to the area where the Red-Winged Blackbird trilled and the Cardinals, Jays, Woodpeckers and Nuthatch thrilled me, but there were no birds to be found. The Cooper’s Hawk, still circling overhead kept my squirrels tucked in their hidey holes. I knew the weekend would be rainy both days, so I left a pile of peanuts on the picnic table for my furry friends for when they finally emerged.
I now know what type of fish makes the big splashes that I hear as I walk along on my treks in late Spring. Just like clockwork, I’d hear huge belly flops and see water drops spraying up during spawning season, yet I could not see through the bushes to see the fish acrobatics.
And that my friends is your fish tale for the day.