At the Stewart Park Promontory
Humans and Animals Seen:
- People running and walking around the park loop
- A man parked in his car with the windows open and music pumping
- Geese, gulls, water birds on the grass, in the water, in the air
- A dead goose next to the road
"A new love affair is blossoming on the peaceful waters of Fuertes Pond in Stewart Park — at least that's what Cornell University ornithologists and Ithaca Park Department officials hope.” So stated the Cornell Chronicle on November 5, 1970. (There is an excellent photo of the new swan in this link.)
The resident female mute swan had died, while the male “has splashed about on the pond for a month without a mate.” At the urging of Cornelius L. Edsall, the Stewart Park caretaker at the time, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology acquired a second female mute swan. They introduced her to the pond and hoped for love.
But swans mate for life. Would it be that easy to replace the female, just by shipping in a new one? Could I replace my husband were he to die? It seems a silly idea. But the ornithologists of the time felt differently. "The pair of mute swans should hit if off fine," Tate [assistant director at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology] said, "because they're two of a kind not too common in this region." So, oddity seeks out oddity?
There are no swans at the Promontory anymore. But the oddity remains.
In the parking area, a heavily-bearded older man sits in his red Esquire, windows open and pumping some jam band music. I don’t get a whiff of anything “recreational,” but I don’t doubt something is brewing in his car. To each his own, but his engine-running presence for the hour I wander, unnerves me.
What has been frozen and out of sight for the past three months is now reemerging. I walk past empty bottles of vodka, plastic coffee cup tops, and crumpled fast food wrappers and bags. I make to walk down behind two of the thick willow trees to the rocky beach, but a thawing pile of human shit stops me.
I notice that there is a way to walk out onto a tiny spit covered in willow sprigs and scratchy shrubs that sticks out in the middle of the Swan Pen. At the end of the spit I find a shed. More of a doghouse, only bigger. Six feet long, three across, with green shingles and a wide open front door. I note a layer of hay on the floor. The little building is tucked into the shrubbery and is not easily accessed. It seems somewhat new, yet not used. I explore all around it, but no further clues present themselves. It's the strangest thing.
And then there's the dead goose.
Just off the road; head bent back under its body, wings slightly splayed, black feet lurching stiffly up into the air. It looks so soft and light. But the heavy weight of emptiness pulls it down. I stand over it, thinking of Barry Lopez and his essay “Apologia.” The man drove across the country, and stopped to move hundreds of road-kill carcasses off the road. It was a meditation, an apology, a penitence.
I wonder about the swans. When one bird died, she got replaced. How did the love affair go? Did the two hit it off? Were there babies? Canada geese mate for life too. But this bird laying on the cold ground in front of me can't be replaced. There are no ornithologists here to offer her mate another chance at love. I wanted so much to touch this broken creature in front of me, unpin its head from its body, fold its feet down, and lay it out for all to see. But I can't bring myself to do it.
Usually I take pictures of everything, but today, the first day of spring, I can't photograph more waste.