Friday, June 30, 2006

Hail? Who said anything about HAIL?, 29 Jun 2006

I knew we were in trouble when we came up the subway stairs. That is, Sam and I, and the wheelie bag that has become our beloved but personal Albatross. It wasn't just the gray billowing skies but there was that plop...plop...plop, of big drops of rain on concrete. A half block along they petered out but it had been one of those days already, so hope did not momentarily spring eternal.

Already a dozen little fires put out in life and a good bit of daylight yet to conquer. An irate volunteer at the Bird Park, a trip to MOMA for orientation for Sam, who suddenly needed her laundry done, and I'm already a day behind on you-name-it. What do you mean there's no money on your metrocard? Lost house keys, no shampoo, and who forgot to buy milk? I considered turning right back around and going home.

Not surprising, considering, we'd somehow forgotten to stick the umbrella back in the wheelie bag after ditching it for weight the last no-rain day. And after sweltering in 80 something heat, 90 something humidity and dressing skimpily in order to survive, there hadn't been a thought in the rush to get here, that we just might need to stick a sweatshirt into the Albatross in case of fresh breezes or rain. Maybe we really should go home.

But then, just what were the fledglings up to and how would they react to a storm if it didn't hold off. My cell phone rang, it was Stella Hamilton, a welcome fixture at the Fifth Avenue Hawkbench during the season, and after a week or so of not being at this site, she was just up the Morningside Drive hill wondering if we were coming.

So of course we were coming. Stella had forgotten her umbrella too. We were in this together. Up the hill we went.

Soon it was Stella and Sam and I and the homeless man who is convinced someone threw his paintings away in Brooklyn, standing in a little clump looking down into the Park in the direction of a chirup, chirup, scheeeep, cheep. And the drops slowly, every now and again, go plop.

Robert Schmunk, camera safely pressed to his chest, umbrella raised at just the right angle for moisture protection, arrives with anticipation. What have we found? For almost always a clump of watchers focusing in the same direction means a discovery. Not today. Because as we know, it is one of those days.

Nonetheless we're setting up the scope and catching up on the news when Robert does spot a fledgling not far from where we are standing. Excellent, but somehow neither Sam or I can immediately get the scope on her in the tree and then she's off to the next one, plop, plop, plop...plop, plop. Fine. We move a few feet down the hill and try to find her in the new tree. Plop, plop, plop,plopplopplop. We pull out the black plastic trash bag and drape it over the scope and camera. We keep shifting. She's in that tree, follow the trunk to the second left branch. Why can't we get her in the scope? Stella and Robert stand under a small tree getting smaller themselves. Less surface area being currently important.

Drat! She's off again. This time all the way down to the choice Locust Trees at the bottom of the hill.

Wait, there doesn't seem to be more than a scant sprinkle now.

See, it has blown over.

Grab the gear. Hustle down the hill before she moves again. Nearly there and BAM, a tremendous crack of thunder. Lightening spikes in the distance. PLOP,PLOP,PLOP,plop,plop,plop,plopplop, then nothing but the rush of water hitting surfaces.

We can see her right there, plain as day. Well, plain as looking through a hurricane but still. Come on, just one picture. Pull out more black plastic bags. One goes to Stella. She stands in the lee of a fat concrete park corner, smiling. Robert eyes the sky, pressing his camera even closer to his chest. Thunder continues to roll, get the bird in the scope. Too close, drag the gear backward. There she is and now a flapping of wings. They are both there! Carry the tripod even further back, up the three stairs, get them both in. Refocus the scope, good thing it's supposed to be waterproof, drop down the attachment, lock the catches, set the timer. We're standing in a zephyr.

Water is running off Sam's hair into the camera. That's not good. We've almost got it. Sam starts the sequence, I hold the plastic over the goods, sort of, but the wind is so high the bird and her perch keep blowing out of the field of view.

No head.

Up, down, and around.

And then, no bird at all.

I give it a try . Suddenly I realize Sam, who is wearing a suntop, and leaning over exposing her back to the elements while keeping the plastic out of frame, is saying, "Ouch, ouch, OUCH!" I look at her. She looks at me. She's got little red blotches appearing all over her very fair skin. I look at the black plastic. There are bits of ice in the puddled water. We're being hailed upon. I get in touch with my own skin. I'm being pelted. Stella scuttles over, hunched against the wind, black plastic flapping. She's going. Here's the bag. Thank you. See you soon. Sam tries the camera again. I hold the plastic. Tick, tick, tick, click. Tick, tick, tick, click. Everything is running with water. Tick, tick, tick, click.

Finally it begins to ease. Good grief, take a breath, switch places. And then the sun shines through. Everything is luscious. Clean and sparkling, fresh and bright. The droplets gleam on leaves, on sidewalks, on tree trunks, and spires. Tick, tick, tick, click. The rain runs past the curb with the gurgle of brooks. Tick, tick, tick, click. The world is a painting in watercolor. And suddenly it has become one of the beautiful days you remember, one of those days. Where all the other things fade away beside the glory of newly opened eyes.


Eleanor said...

Love this posting. You and Sam deserve a medal!

Yojimbot said...

I bugged out of there just before the rain and susan kept wondering...where's donna?!? now we know what happened! U r a trooper!

Donegal Browne said...

I wondered why I hadn't seen you or Susan.
Troupers perhaps, but also perhaps foolhardy. :-)

Eleanor said...

Hey "yojimbot"! That's a GREAT photo!