Finding Peace Can Be Fishy

By: Mary Richmond

Mary Richmond illustration.

All week long the weather folks had predicted a perfect spring day on the horizon, so I cleared my calendar, packed a snack and some water along with my binoculars and sketchbook and prepared to drive off shortly after dawn the next day. I slept and dreamt of wandering, then woke and hit the road.

As most of you probably know, getting from here to there is fraught with utility trucks, construction cones and tree cutting crews just about everywhere right now. After I’d done my fair share of waiting in lines I finally reached my destination. I stepped out of the car in a parking lot next to a fairly busy road filled with morning commuting landscapers and builders and into the woods, where the noise of the road was quickly left behind. 

In its place was the insistent calling of red-winged blackbirds and grackles. Up the path a bit some blue jays were conversing and overhead a small flock of crows was having a loud discussion that didn’t sound overly friendly. There was a phoebe calling his old man, scratchy voice “feeebeeee” song, a few nuthatches and woodpeckers chiming in and a robin singing from high up in a pine tree. The sounds of birdsong were actually more discordant than symphonic, but they were still better than screeching tires on the road or yapping heads on TV. I turned the ringer off on my phone and continued on my way.

There’s something magical in early morning light. It comes in low and golden and flows around and onto every branch, every blade of grass. It can light up a newly yellow goldfinch like a lightbulb as he sings his heart out high on a bare branch and turn a mossy bank into a delightful, invitingly soft carpet, just begging for company.

It’s still April so the air was crisp but fresh smelling and clear. There were still more tired grasses and leaves than new ones but everywhere I turned there were signs of growth, renewal and hope. After a week of bad news full of illness and death and disagreements, I needed that reminder of newness, freshness, and harmony.

Migrant songbirds have been trickling in and pine warblers were singing their familiar trilling songs above my head while deep in a thorny thicket a lone towhee called, reminding me over and over to drink my tea. The towhee was a first of the season bird for me but later on the same walk I saw two more, both males, probably newly arrived overnight.

There’s a marshy, boggy area in this beautiful place and the old shrubs and trees are covered with old man’s beard lichen. In the soft morning light, the green shone against the gray branches, well coordinated with the greening gold of the grasses beneath. The water was a deep blue, shadowed with brown, and as I stood quietly, slowing my breathing, I saw what I was looking for. A pair of wood ducks flew in and landed with a quiet splash. It was only a quick glance, for these lovely birds are extremely private when they want to be, and they floated in the sun for only a minute or two before slipping under the overhanging branches, disappearing from sight. I would later see several more wood ducks as I made my way through other boggy areas, an extra treat for rising early and getting outdoors.

I eventually made my way to the fish ladder, recently restored by the two towns that this lake or pond (depending on who you talk to) borders. Each town claims half, and it is a site known well for centuries by indigenous people, their descendants still boating, fishing, and hunting in this mostly pristine area. It was between tides, not the best time to see the herring “run,” but the pools below the ladder were full of hundreds of healthy fish, twisting and turning as they swam and sparkled silver in early morning light. Seeing herring making their annual pilgrimage to lay eggs always strikes me as a fortuitous thing to witness. It is as if time stops for a few minutes. I am deeply aware that I am seeing what people have seen for thousands of years. The fish are different, as I am from the ancestors who stood here so long ago, but we are also the same. It is an interesting moment in a time and space continuum, and I can get totally lost in that thought.

An osprey flies so close to the top of my head, I duck. It is coming in low and grabs a fish right out of the pool, just feet away from me before lifting up again, flapping its strong wings as it rises, turning the fish in its talons and flying off over the trees, dripping luminescent drops of water behind it.

I sit in the sun on a bench conveniently placed for observers of the migrating herring, alone, watching cormorants float on the pond, waiting for the herring to start swimming over the edge of the ladder into the larger body of water. Red-winged blackbirds sing and a flicker calls from off to one side. More ospreys come. A great blue heron “gronks” and lands not far from me.

I don’t say a word or do anything at all. I just sit very still and take it all in. For just a few minutes, I am completely at peace, one with a world as old as time.