Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Swamps Are Special

Until about ten days ago, my family was headed to South Carolina for this third week of June to visit my wife’s parents. My wife had offered to teach summer school if the need arose… and it suddenly did; so we postponed the trip. But could we find another week during which all the kids were available for a family trip this summer? Of course not.

So, to salvage any hope of a “family” vacation, I called my dad in Ithaca, and asked whether he could put up with us for the week. The “us” would be me and the kids as my wife’s teaching gig was to start on Monday. Thankfully, my dad accommodated, and we’re here at his cottage on the western shore of Cayuga Lake.

We spent the morning today visiting Cornell University’s Sapsucker Woods bird sanctuary. This is a research facility and observation center built on the bank of a swampy pond. Trails thread through the swamp and surrounding woods, providing various options for visitors who enjoy walking outdoors. We do, so we did.

I’d been to Sapsucker Woods many times as a kid, and have taken my kids there two or three times over the past fifteen years. On each of those visits, the observatory was closed, so we gave up, figuring to walk the trails another time when we also could enjoy the exhibits and views inside. On this visit, the observatory was gone!

I exaggerate. The observatory I’d known as a kid was gone. In its place stood an enormous replacement that far better fit the semi-wilderness setting of the bird sanctuary. For casual visitors, the main feature of this building is a large room with a glass wall facing a pond. On the banks of that pond, and in a small garden to one side, the employees maintain feeders that attract dozens of varieties of birds.

Within the observatory there are spotting scopes that let you get really close to the birds, and there are computers to help identify the birds you see. In about a half hour we saw, perhaps, a dozen types of birds. We also enjoyed the antics of several chipmunks who obviously enjoyed the birdseed as much as the birds did.

Finally, we walked the trail that circled the pond outside the observatory window. Much of the trail passes through forest, but eventually you get very close to some of the swampy end of the pond. Today was a great day to be there.

From a small spit of dirt that went right to the swamp’s edge, we saw many frog eyes poking above the water. We also saw frogs and turtles sitting on logs that had fallen into the swamp. While we were enjoying the turtles, a doe stepped out of the trees about halfway across the swamp and walked out into the water. She nibbled leaves as she casually made her way across the swamp, and eventually disappeared into the trees on the other side. Later on the path, we watched geese waddle from puddle to puddle, and enjoyed the water lilies that were in full bloom.

We’re very lucky that institutions invest in trails and other facilities to make swamps accessible. I imagine there are many more swamp walks in store for my family.

For the complete City Slipper experience, please visit my web site at http://www.cityslipper.com/.

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