A Different Type of Sprawl

Today was a strange day. When I was a kid my mom and aunts (that my mom--the shorter one and Aunt Lorelei above) would take me to either Brown County State Park or to Polly’s house in Martinsville. Polly and her family had fishing cabins that surrounded a lake near their home and land that stretched for acres. From time to time we would go and spend the weekends in one of those cabins and I had some of my best birding memories there:

I heard my first red-tailed hawk scream over a field behind their horse barn.

After Polly described a bird that wouldn’t stop singing, we went out and I identified my first yellow-breasted chat.

I heard and identified my first field sparrow.

I heard a bird that sounded just like one of the birds on my floppy National Geographic bird records: a broad-winged hawk.

The property was wonderful and full of sorts of things to explore and I loved that field with the chat and the hawks. Polly herself was super cool. She had this gigantic kitchen with huge windows that faced the lake and there were always treats on hand. Polly’s one rule for visiting was that you were always to arrive hungry--she always had homemade donuts, bars, popcorn and the occasional soup. She’s a wonderful cook and I am lucky enough to have a small notebook full of her recipes. Polly is incredibly warm, never meets a stranger and is incredibly beautiful. Her hair turned white by the time she was 18 and she’s incredibly striking with her brown eyes, light completion and soft musical voice. I knew I loved her when the first time I met her, she showed me her barn swallows nesting in her garage. Her husband loved barn swallows and it was a rule that the garage door always stayed open in the summer time so they could use the rafters to nest.

It had always been her family’s dream to build a bigger lake on the property and that lake would cover that field. They finally finished the project last year and the water has almost completely filled in on the lake. It was strange walking around where the field used to be and seeing water covering all the shrubs. Since the water just started to collect from last year, the birds are still in transition from it. Field sparrows sang all around the edges of the lake but I did see a blue grosbeak, which I had never seen on Polly’s property.

We walked around to where the fishing cabins are still standing. No one has stayed in them for years and they have fallen into musty disrepair. Looking at the cabin and down at the dock I suddenly had a flash of all my teenage dreams. I started remembering the odd way I had my life planned out. For some odd reason, I though theater was a logical choice over birds as far as careers went and had decided to be a theater major. I figured that I would reach stardom at an early age and would one day return to this fishing cabin to escape all the pressure and fame. While there I would of course write a prize-winning novel and to find my inner peace and myself.

It was about the times I was formulating that dream that I had begun to notice Polly’s youngest son, Craig. I had met him before when he was a young, skinny country boy but around the time I turned 15, I noticed that he had changed and was chock full of muscles (or was “burly” as my mother would say). To my young mind, he was handsome and exciting (can I tell you how much I loved it when he would take me out on his snow mobile—especially at night?). He loved the outdoors, he had cool parents and some of the best birding property I had laid eyes on at that point. So, of course it seemed natural that when I would retreat to the fishing cabin after attaining stardom that we would fall in love, get married and I would spend the rest of my days on that beautiful property.

Well, that obviously didn’t happen. Craig and I did date and we had absolutely nothing in common except the outdoors and his mom, but we stretched it out as long as we could. I think later my Aunt Lorelei asked each of us separately what happened and we both responded the same way. “Nice, but weird.” He is a sweet guy and I hope he’s found as much happiness as I have. It was just so strange to have all those memories and dreams come flooding back to me as we walked around Polly’s property. I had forgotten about them until today. Ah well, it’s best it didn’t work out; I would not have been on board with whole giant lake plan. The lake is beautiful and it wouldn’t surprise me if they end up getting an eagle or osprey nesting on it one day. They’ve designed an island to go out in the middle, perhaps one day that will house a rookery.

I did have to include a photo of this spot. My mom was seeing some bird in this area pictured above:

Mom: Sharon, there's something on the edge of those trees.

Birdchick: Where?

Mom: See those four trees over there?

Birdchick: What trees? There are 400 there.

Mom: It's on the edge of those brown trees.

Birdchick: What?

Mom: That pile, on the edge.

Birdchick: Which side?

Mom: The edge!

Birdchick: Right or left?

Mom: Left, right above about four trees back on top?

Birdchick: I don't see anything on top.

Mom: Not that high.

Birdchick: Wait, are you talking about those dead leaves that look orange.

Mom: Probably.