Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Happy Earth Day!

Ellen in the British Columbia rainforest, 2013

Ellen in the British Columbia rainforest, 2013

Remember back when you (or your kids) were in elementary school?  We celebrated Earth Day when we learned about this amazingly complex and beautiful planet we all live on.  I remember going on field trips—to the San Francisco recycling depot or to a beach with tide pools.  But for me Earth Day really came when my family would go to British Columbia and instead of being in school I could be out playing in tide pools all day long, or in the giant trees of a temperate rain forest, or in the windswept grasses of a meadow.  I loved being outside, surrounded by the beauties of nature, and constantly stumbling upon new experiences.  Anemones curled up to my touch; sand dollars were covered in soft, black fur when alive; minnows hid from my shadow in the seaweed.

Of course all these things are new and thus endlessly fascinating to a child.  Adults tend to forget them, or at least not be enthralled in the way a child is.  So it’s good to have Earth Day to remind us to look around and appreciate them once more.  I try to make time for this in my daily life, and also for decisions that will help maintain these wonders for generations to come, but I can’t say I’m always successful.  Everyone gets swallowed up in routine and today for me was no exception.  I went to the grocery store and the pharmacy and took my recycling to the depot (they don’t come get it from your doorstep here in Switzerland); I went upstairs to my home office to work; and I wrote e-mails.  But I remembered it was Earth Day when I was walking past a stretch of Lake Geneva on the way to my Pilates class.

Obviously these are nesting swans, not coots, but I didn't have my camera with me that day. I took this in Geneva in 2011.

Obviously these are nesting swans, not coots, but I didn’t have my camera with me that day. I took this in Geneva in 2011.

There on the rocks not twenty feet away was a coot—a duck-sized black bird with a sharp white beak and enormous feet—sitting on her nest, surrounded by a chirping brood of little ones, just hatched.  She had two more eggs beneath her that hadn’t hatched.  The little ones paddled in the water around her but kept scrambling up the rocks, wanting her to feed them.  As I watched, their dad appeared and swam up to the them to let them take food from his beak.  Then he dove down to the bottom of the lake—I got a glimpse of what those huge feet were for—and popped back up to supply them with more food.  He did this again and again and I watched until I realized I would be late for my class.  Of course I knew parent birds fed their young, but it was marvelous to watch it happening so close, wonderful to take a little time out of the day to appreciate the other beings on earth with us.

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