At dawn after a fierce Friday night storm, Xena and I went down to the dock, where I nursed a go-cup of coffee and tortured worms while she pondered Zen dog thoughts. The water was muddy and strewn with leaves, branches and other detritus from the previous night’s fury. Crappie and minnows churned and swirled in the diarrhea shallows. This was a very tenuous calm after the storm. The two hounds were still missing, having run off the previous evening before the full fury cut loose. As I fished, I wondered where they were, alternately seething at their insolence and worrying that they were crumpled on the side of the road somewhere.
Then something amazing happened. A gang of blue herons, maybe 10 or 12 in all, invaded the cove in a cacophonous squawking, flapping stormfront of their own. I’ve never seen more than two of them at once, and usually there is just one heron who reins supreme over the cove. But this morning, there was an army, fighting, feeding and presumably mating all around us. It was sublime, causing even Xena to sit up and take notice.
After we settled back in to a becalmed morning punctuated by the herons all around us, Xena and I were startled to hear a splash and rattle on the shore not 20 feet from where we sat on the dock. A heron had approached stealthily, spotted swirling prey, struck and was now gobbling a crappie pelican-like. The Newfy and I exchanged a startled look. The heron paid us no mind, even as Xena rose to her feet to warn him against approaching her dock, and after he was done devouring the fish, he took flight with a hop and a croak.
The sound of leaf blowers and chainsaws rings through the cove as frantic suburban barons try to cleanse their fiefdoms of last night’s blow. And I find myself growing progressively more annoyed at the noise pollution destroying an otherwise supreme spring evening. Moving into suburbia has taken some adjustment on my part. While it’s hard to tell for all the isolating trees and water, we’re nestled in a series of subdivisions, each with that burning desire to impose order on nature that subdivision life seems to breed.
In Hardin Valley, our previous home, the noise nemesis came almost entirely from the road, which was slowly being overrun by the area’s rapacious growth. But subdivisions had yet to strangle our rural stretch of Hardin Valley Road so lawn mowers, weed eaters and leaf blowers were a fairly uncommon annoyance.
Not so now. It seems as if someone somewhere is always running a whining, sputtering, two-stroke gas engine, and as much as I abhor the government-run-amok edicts that seem to emerge from places like California on a regular basis, I’m starting to wonder if bans on leaf blowers and restrictions on noise are such a bad thing …
Tonight, the leaf blowers are out in full flail.
But something more melodious rises up and grabs my ear, pulling me away from thoughts of legislative tyranny against landscaping.
Sitting in a dead poplar, a cardinal sings with the passion of Amy Winehouse right after she’s inhaled crackpipe inspiration.
Cardinals are one of those birds that, despite their brilliant red feathers and regal crests, often go unnoticed. They’re fairly common. But this guy wouldn’t be ignored. Framed in the dead poplar branches with a riotous green background from the canopy of trees covering the hill, he pops up like an instant message from a long lost friend. He’s looking for love, and he’s arrogant enough to believe he can out-wail the moronic drone of the leaf blowers across the cove. What he lacks in decibels he overcomes with finesse.
The leaf blowers disappear. And all I hear is his song.
The prodigal hounds returned, but not without a little help. Someone a subdivision or two away found them and managed to coax Gilligan close enough with an offering of dog food to get a look at his 2006 rabies tag, which prompted a call to Hardin Valley Animal Hospital, which triggered a call to my cell phone. The final domino fell when I called the guy who found the hounds.
Yes. I’ll be right over to get them. Relieved. And angry.
There they were. Standing in the middle of the street, disheveled, hoping for more food. They approached my truck cautiously, wondering if they were going to get kind words or a slap upside the head. I opted for a stern order to get in the back of the F-150. They obliged and spent the rest of the day sleeping off their all-night party and steering clear of me whenever I entered the room. The storm clearly had taken a toll. They were soaked and weary. But they were unscathed.
Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for poor Hurricane, the basset hound Leanne rescued from Katrina’s aftermath in New Orleans. Apparently, the weekend wind brought down tree limbs that compromised her fence. Hurricane stormed out of the safe harbor of the yard and into the path of a car, where he was killed instantly.
In trying to offer condolences to Leanne, and perhaps feeling a bit guilty that my hounds had returned home safely after their illicit sojourn, I feebly offered that while it was sad poor Hurricane was spared from Katrina only to be killed by a car, he had lived his bonus time on the planet to its fullest. What basset wouldn’t want to be part of Leanne’s pack? He was already in doggy heaven …
But what I really wanted to say, and couldn’t quite conjure the words at the time, is that somewhere a cardinal is sitting in a dead poplar tree, singing with all his might, searching for a mate.