Sunday, June 10, 2007

Impressions from the Unofficial Waterloo Park Nature Show

Sitting on a park bench inside a boardwalk gazebo, Silver Lake spread out in front of me. The lake is motionless and looks like a child's science project: stagnant clouds of algae and bird shit. Big green fish swim in and out of sight, catching water striders while a young rough-looking kid tries to entice them with a fishing rod. His lure is an algae-coloured blob with a bright red mast. The fish aren't fooled and they go about their business.

To my left is a mother duck, with five ducklings just out of the egg. She's the most non-chalant duck I've ever seen and I can't decide whether she's stupid or just unconcerned. They have a tiny patch of gravelly duck-beach among the weeds, and while the babies swim languidly through the muck the mother just stands and stares. She stares at the swans and at the ubiquitous single blue heron in the middle of the lake. It's a lazy day for ducks, apparently.

Human parents bring their children to look at the dirty-water-nature-show. They come and go under the shade of the gazebo, some of them pushing elaborate multi-child carriages with embedded toys and little grasping hands. Everyone is enchanted by the swans, who glide back and forth like stage performers, sometimes diving under to clean their feathers, sometimes floating lazily with only one foot docked on tailfeathers.

Two siblings are particularly interesting, a boy and a girl. The boy is the face of evil, a well-spoken manipulator already, he knows how to work his mom. He throws a piece of garbage at the baby ducks, and his mother says no..."garbage goes in the garbage can." He picks up a scrap of paper and says "this garbage goes in the garbage can!" and then walks slightly away from his mother and throws the paper on the grass when she isn't looking. He tells his mother how beautiful the baby ducks are, and then throws pebbles at them when his mother is distracted. The younger sister does the same.

Meanwhile there's an ongoing sparrow drama above my head. Two different families have established nests opposite to each other in the rafters. In between bobbing around looking for gravel and cheerios and nesting material, the parents stand by their nests and yell at each other. Tension builds until one male finally encroaches on the wrong nest, and then the chase is on. The males attack each other, pecking viciously. A third sparrow, apparently a bystander, joins in the fight. One of the mama sparrows flies down and now there are four of them in a big, jumping mass of feathers and beaks and little kicking feet. They roll behind the bushes and carry on fighting for no reason other than revenge and wounded pride. The squawking is terrible.

Far off is the giant blue heron in a position of prestige. You often see him around town. He is aloof and serious, the king of the birds, unmolested by virtue of his size and solitude. When his head is up he looks like a dinosaur ancestor; head down, he looks like a hooded ghoul. He alone among the waterfowl has too much pride for begging.

The rough-looking fisherman has gone. A long-haired couple sits on the dock, quietly, girl's head on boy's shoulder. There's a chipmunk here and a gentle father with his son. The son is fat and totally absorbed with the water; he sees sunfish and points them out, and the father follows, approving, loving him.