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Thursday, March 27, 2014

It's a Wild Life

The poetry of the earth is never dead.  ~John Keats 

   As we work our way south again, Les looks for spots to moor that offer some trees and local wildlife, knowing that I may not see the 11 million people running the rat race in London, but I feel their overwhelming presence all the same as we move ever closer.
The bridge at Sharpes Lane, Bourne End.
   Bourne End is one of those places offering a charming snippet of countryside for the eye. Across the canal from our mooring is Pix's Farm with its eight horses, two goats, and a bank that rises and curves, offering ducks, geese and swans a premium mooring place. Sharpe's Lane crosses over the bridge in front of us, a typical narrow, leafy lane to the bus stop up the road by the pub. We took the bus into Watford so I could have an eye exam and order new lenses for my glasses.
   Les and I spent a week here enjoying the farm across the way, taking walks up the towpath to the Gulf station for a Saturday paper, saying hello to boaters we know like Les and Heidi on WB Blue Pearl, and waving to those we've never met like Graham and Brenda on NB Jannock. We enjoyed four continuous days of sunshine in which spring busted out all over. 
   Les began the ritual of grinding away the rust spots which have formed on our boat over the winter.  We found it necessary to place round cushions in the cabin windows at night now to completely block the light, allowing us the luxury of sleeping in as dawn arrives ever earlier. Spending five days in one place is a radical departure from our usual brisk habit of mooring of two or three days and then moving on. It gives us time to notice the rhythms of local life...
    A pair of Canadian Geese have staked out the high ground across the way,
Gander and goose on guard. Pix's Farm is in the background.
warning off any interlopers stopping to rest in the farmyard or cruising down the canal from Kings Langley. On any given morning their obnoxious honking starts in just before sunrise followed by wild splashing of water as the male chases off any who dare to pass his demesne. This particular male gets so worked up, that once all the strangers have cleared off, he gets out of the water and stands with wings practically on hips, complaining quite loudly to the Missus. At one point this gander went after anything that moved--small songbirds winging over his patch, a butterfly, a Moor Hen nibbling the greens at the bank's edge, several ducks having their morning bath, and even a pair of swans who ignored his bad manners and continued on down the canal without so much as a ruffled feather. 

   I woke one mist draped morning to a raucous ruckus just outside our bedroom porthole. The gander was having after a pair of his species who hadn't heard about this stretch of the cut being off limits to anything that moved. 
After ruffling their feathers, said male goose was in such a tizzy he flew up on the bank, stretched out his long, black neck, folded his wings behind him, and stalked across the bank hissing and honking at another goose--only to be bought up short when he realized it was his partner. She was not amused.
   The next time her mate took off after some intruders she glanced over her shoulders and stalked away to commune in the farmyard with the new goose crew that had just flown in. Her fella returned to his patch to find it, well, abandoned! Calling for his partner, the gander stood looking around, listening for her return call. Nope--nothing; zip, nada. The morning air was still and quiet. The gander dropped into the cut and began swimming slowly up the canal, away from his beloved territory, lamely calling for his best beloved.."Honk....honk......honk." He floated in quiet dejection. Movement caught my eye. I spotted his Missus up on the bank, listening to her partner's lamentable cries. She still didn't give him a nod. Finally when he fell silent, head down, she took off in low flight up the canal and flew right by the gander. He rose out of the water, following. Later that same day they returned to their patch having made up, the male goose a bit more circumspect.   
  Sitting on the bow of a sunny morning, tea mug in hand, a warm spring wind ruffled my hair and kissed my cheek. I heaved a sigh of delight, stretched my bare toes against the bow and watched as one of the horses on Pix's Farm led a mutiny. 
   The farm yard was standing under a fair amount of water after the winter storms. There was still enough water in the low lying areas for geese to float on the informal lake. The farmer had fenced off a drowned corner of his land which abutted the canal. Willow thickets and dry reeds stood forlornly in deep water and thick mud. The fencing consisted of metal rods stuck in the ground with tape strung across to keep the area off limits. 
The fencing in question...
   A large white horse decided the young spring shoots were looking MUCH better inside the fenced off corner. She looked back over her shoulder several times, tossing her mane, checking with an edgeward looking eye to see if the farmer was paying any attention. Quickly the white mare pushed against the tape, stretching our her long, white neck until the metal posts slid sideways against her weight and the tape fell to the mud. She was in! 
   While this was going down a brown gelding and darker pony stood watching. The gelding too seemed to look off towards the farmhouse for anyone scoping the action. Soon he followed the white mare over the broken fence line with the pony close behind. Eventually the farmer's wife came out, saw the broken fence and spent an interminable time coaxing the horses back to drier pastures. 
   In the meantime the police showed up on the bridge in front of us, looking for some crook on the lam who had sprinted away down the canal. They shouted out to Les if he has seen a man in Levi's and a black shirt. Nope...shortly thereafter a woman cycled down the towpath and stopped to say she told the coppers she had seen the man in question out of breath further up by the petrol station, talking on his cell phone. The perp managed to escape despite four police cars spending hours going back and forth across the bridge and up and down the lanes. This same guy was spotted several days later sitting on the benches by the pub waiting for the bus!
   Not fifteen minutes after the horse break out and the appearance of the police, three CaRT employees showed up in bright green vests. One had a shovel and the other two had large clippers in hand. Apparently a local jogger called CaRT to say her dog had hurt its paw of a piece of rusted barbed wire sticking up out of the ground along the stretch of the towpath just adjacent to our boat. Off they went--Larry, Moe, and Curly--to uncover what turned out to be a twelve foot length of old barbed wire partially submerged in the towpath dirt. A yank on the end and it came loose from the dirt. Job done but it does beg the old joke, "How many CaRT employees does it take to free a bit of wire from the ground?"
    The bird life is different over here from those I know back in the States. I don't recognize their songs here in the UK. I wish I did know which bird in particular repeats just one note, over and over, sounding for all the world like the alarm on a truck backing up. I would like to thank it for the best morning laugh I've had in a while.
Les in recovery from his morning wildlife alarm.
   I woke one morning about an hour before the sun rose, to a bird repeating this one single note. As I lay there half awake Les shot straight up from a dead sleep and declared, "There's an alarm Jaq--an alarm is going off on the boat!" Dear Sir thrashed about, struggling to escape the embrace of the duvet he had wrapped snugly around him during the night, Pajamas all crooked and wonky, sleep still lingering in his head as he tried to climb over me, get out of bed and find the problem. One never knows when the next bit of excitement will strike on the cut!


Carol said...

Your bird could be a Great Tit Jaq. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Wheelbarrow bird’ as it sounds like a squeaky wheelbarrow being pushed along the towpath. Go into the RSPB site, it gives you info on all bird life in the UK, including their calls.

SnowyOwl said...

I just love the way you write, it paints such a wonderful picture of life. I used to have a narrowboat but circumstances dictated having to give up boating but one day I hope to be able to get back to living the life your words paint.
I live and was raised in Chesham, not so far from where you are and spent many a happy hour along the stretch from Berko throught to Hemel.
Take care

MikeW said...

Hi Jaq
Lovely piece of writing. You captured it all.
Somwhere I have an phone app that details British Birds and plays their song.I'll dig it out and text you.
Regards to Les-he looks lovely in his jimjams!
Mike Independence

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thanks George! Will do.

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Lovely to hear from you Snowy Owl. Perhaps one day we will have an opportunity to meet in person. IO am glad you enjoy my posts and I hope they serve to support your goal of getting back on the cut again.

Carol said...

Hi Jaq,

Lovely written post as usual - try the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) website - it’s great for identifying birds and the audio of their songs in wonderful. The wheelbarrow bird is definitely from the tit family - try these links to see if it’s a great or a bearded one!

Carol said...

Sorry Jaq, didn’t realise that George had also given you this info!

Bryce Lee said...

Canadian Goose, not.

Canada Goose yes. They love grassed areas and seemingly poop every two minutes or so it seems. Enploy a large barking dog to keep them away. Although still a protected species in Canada suspect many would wish they weren't and could dispose or remove them without fear of prosecution.

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Mike,
Glad you enjoyed it.

Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Carol,
It just goes to show great minds travel in the same direction!

Jaqueline Biggs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jaqueline Biggs said...

LOL! Yes Bryce you are correct on all fronts.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs