As kids we were drawn to my uncle’s pond which is now part of the Sydney Fuller Wildlife Preserve, a Suffield Land Conservancy property. It was across the street and down the road from us. No matter the weather, we would make the pilgrimage to it, cutting across my grandparents’ field.
In the spring there were blobs of frog eggs to hold in our hands, and in the summer, we looked for four leaf clovers on our way through the field. At the pond, we searched for snapping turtles, and helped our uncle corral pillows of algae that floated across the surface. We ushered the algae out of the pond and down into the brook. It was a Sisyphean task, and no matter what we did the algae just kept coming.
In the fall, we would look for muskrats and run our fingers down cattails, releasing all the down into the air and all over our wool clothes. But winter was the best, because a trip to the pond meant skating. We’d bundle up in layers of wool, hand me down hats and boots that gave our feet blisters. But there would be no complaining as our reward would be an afternoon at the pond on the ice. We would lace up our skates on the bank and spend the afternoon shooshing across the pond. Friends met us there, and we would pass the hours with no parents worrying whether the ice was thick enough. I was stuck in remediation as a skater and spent several seasons in double runner skates while all my friends had graduated to one blade and were literally skating circles around me. But I still had fun making my way around the pond at a snail’s pace. When the humiliation got the best of me I could always be cheered up by peering into the ice and imagining what the fish and frogs were doing beneath my skates.
Decades have passed, and I eventually graduated to a single blade. So, when the ice cometh, I like to venture to the local ponds. This year in anticipation, a few hard-working friends helped clear the trail, which had become like a jungle around my uncle’s pond. When the work had been completed, we took many laps around the pond, checking out our path and thinking about winter looming on the horizon. One morning we were out early and admiring a huge flock of Canada geese that had gathered. The geese were honking away and debating their next move as they floated across the pond. And there among all those geese we spied an aberration. With our binoculars at the ready we focused on one lone goose looking very different from the others. He was smaller with a white face, black neck and a pale grey back. We snapped a quick photo, and long story short, there was a barnacle goose, considered a rare bird in this area. It turns out that the barnacle goose and most of his kin folk are in Greenland or the British Isles at this time of year. So, quaking with excitement, I posted him on ebird. And for a short period of time, the Fuller property was attracting birders from all over the state who came to see the barnacle goose and add him to their life list. There were also some fetching green winged teals that milled around the edge of the pond. It was a lovely scene. The barnacle goose has flown away, and by the time this goes to print the pond might be iced up. Maybe some shooshing around on the ice will take my mind off his departure. Maybe not.
I recall Rita Dove’s poem about birds “who praise the miracle of flight because they use it so diligently.” And they leave “us singing in the field.” That song will help me hang onto the memory of the barnacle goose. I will try to remember to stop and check out all those massive flocks of Canada geese around town because you never know if a renegade bird is among them. It would sure be a shame to miss. And our recent renegade, the barnacle goose, helped put Suffield and one of my favorite land conservancy properties, on the map.