Monday, April 21, 2008

black as coal

My sister's new zoom lens brings Saturday's mystery bird into clear view. It wasn't a Lesser Scaup, and it wasn't even a duck! It doesn't have webbed feet. The lone paddler on the Kam by the Island Drive Bridge is an American Coot. A migrant on its way somewhere else, not here. Apparently plentiful in Cajun country where it was popular as an ingredient of Creole gumbo. Now many go to the supermarkets to get their shrink wrapped fowl on foam, so chicken has replaced the coot for urbanites. In Louisianna the coot is known as 'pouldeau', from the Fr. 'water hen'.

With the ice breaking up, now is a good time to see spring migrants. The coot on the Kam hadn't landed (or should I say, 'watered') to make a nest here, however. It was simply a sojourner. While the coot's head is black as coal and overall the bird is somber in colouring ~ almost funereal ~ its chick, which looks a lot like Woodstock, has an irascibility to its look. The coot chick has a bright red head and beak with an orange ruff around its neck, like a mini ostrich feather boa.

The coot's chunky body makes taking off to fly difficult, but once in flight, its stamina is renowned; it's been tracked to have crossed the Atlantic! Hmmm... I wonder how the expression "old coot" as referring to "an eccentric or crotchety person, especially an eccentric old man" is related to this bird? A group of coots is called "a cover of coots" or "a commotion of coots" or a "codgery of coots". Isn't a codger also an irascible old man? a cantankerous curmudgeon? The bird I saw was definitely solitary; it had no cover or commotion about it.

Is it the determination to stay the course that links the idiom with the bird? a steadfastness to not adopt the new-fangled? to stay with old patterns and ways of doing things no matter the consequence? Even if deleterious to one's well-being?

The surface of the Gaa ministigweyaa, the Anishnawbe name for the river with islands, reveals the late morning sun trying to break through the clouds. Below, you can see one of the island deltas of the river we now call the Kam; it's the far bank; it's called McKellar Island now as it was claimed by Peter McKellar, one of the "founding fathers" of the town of Fort William. Before that it was Anishnawbe land -- which it still is according to the land claim of Fort William First Nations (some of their treaty land claim was recently negotiated).

You can see what we've done to this part of Mother Earth since settling on the shores of Kitchee Gumee. The island is the home of Thunder Bay Terminals, the resident coal plant, where coal storage piles sit in the open air. Last year this time a gust of wind set the coal mounds astir and sent a waft of dirty coal dust swirling over the harbour. The ugly black cloud settled on Kitchee Gumee. This isn't the first time this has happened. There was no effort to skim the pollutant off the surface of Lake Superior. So down it went. Floated like black snowflakes down to the home of the trouts. Like I have told you earlier, I live in an AOC, an Area of Concern. We have upset gwayahkooshkawin [balance] and ninoododadiwin [harmony].

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