Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 3: Owl City

I’ve been a bicycle commuter off and on all my adult life. Starting one bicycular period (round two) in the early nineties, I researched the topic on the nascent Internet, and read the account of a four-season bicycle commuter in Ottawa, who once nearly endoed off a bridge into a frozen river after slipping on ice. If he could manage, surely I could in this more temperate climate. I often thought of him when biking in the teens on winter mornings, as ice rimmed the mouth hole of my ski mask. And I thought of him on my ride home tonight, still in the mid-nineties after 6 p.m., heat and humidity unbroken by any afternoon storm. And that’s all I’ll say about this weather.

My first stint of bicycular commuting was in the days before the Internet, at least as a matter of common usage, and the only research I did involved my field guides: to trees, to wildflowers, to birds… My route was along the greenways of North Raleigh, from Crabtree Valley to near Strickland Road, over six miles each way. Mostly off road, I traveled a narrow wildlife corridor, a riparian route that followed Leadmine Creek for much of the way, including the part where it expands into Shelley Lake. I carried my field guides in my pack, and I often stopped to study leaves and seed pods. I made a big deal about the distinction of species among hickories. I took notes.

Now, here in Durham, I own a small lot of trees I’m not entirely sure of. Those white oaks in the backyard are easy enough to ID, but I’m not sure what sort of elm it is on the east side of the yard, and I just tonight concluded, using both field guides and Google, that the three tall, wart-barked trees with elm-like leaves that grow along our western frontier are hackberries. But that’s a whole genus; species remains elusive. I’ll have more chance to study them as I hack back the invasive English ivy that constantly threatens to kill them all, and the other trees, too. English ivy and bamboo run rampant in Morehead Hill.

Fauna, do as well. The abandoned house across the street has a wild yard, where a barred owl is hooting, even as I write: “Who cooks for you?” Recently we’ve even seen a red fox, trotting down the street, barking hoarsely, like a canine cough, then disappearing into the overgrown yard. While I’ve been happy, as a homeowner, to see signs of possible restoration of this property, the amateur naturalist in me worries what might happen to fox and owl if humans move in.

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