Coming home to roost to celebrate San Jacinto Day?

corrmorants

 

Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life,
The middle Tree and highest there that grew, 
Sat like a Cormorant; yet not true Life
Thereby regaind, but sat devising Death
To them who liv’d….

Paradise Lost, John Milton

Satan disguised as a cormorant to spy on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden seems apt to me.

stretching-cormorant

USDA photo

The gloomy-looking double-crested cormorants always spook me. They love to pose on the chains by the dam by the marina, stretching their pterodactyl-type wings as though offering to lift the chains for the barges to cruise right under, dramatically plunging to the level below.

I feel a little bit better about this display now that I know they have no oil glands to repel water; they have to spread their wings to dry out their water-logged feathers. They can’t help it.

But cormorants pop up suddenly from underwater, seemingly out of nowhere, as you walk along the river’s banks. Like Lola Fandango swimming in the tank in Where the Boys Are, these expert fishermen can hold their breath as they swim underwater for a long time. More than a minute.

Even one of river’s cormorants can give me the willies. That’s why this Hitchcock-like gathering of the birds on the Mission Reach seemed particularly ominous the other morning. For birds added to the list of those protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the 1970s, this had to represent some kind of major powwow. Fortunately, their eyes focused toward downtown, the water buzzards let us pass by them unharmed.

What could the convention of cormorants portend? The Irish part of me heaved a sigh of relief – at least the sea crows were not perched atop a church steeple.

Some cultures consider cormorants noble, but, while I’m trying to regard the glass as half-full, I can’t sell myself on that one.

Fishermen regard their sighting as good luck; the fish they seek should be found nearby. One plus for the cormorant.

According to the USDA, greedy cormorants keep fish from overpopulating the river. They actually are an environmental indicator species, meaning the environment of the Mission Reach is healthy. So our cormorants are bearers of good news. Chalk up one more for the cormorant, plus one for the work of the San Antonio River Authority.

In old Norwegian legends, a trio of cormorants bear messages or warnings from the dead.*

But we encountered a whole army of them ready to invade downtown. There were maybe 100 of them. Maybe even more than 200 (Okay, I’m not sure how many. But we definitely were outnumbered.).

But good ol’ Cliff helped me figure this out. Norwegians also believed the dead used the cormorant guise another way as well – so they could fly home for a visit.

the spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

the noble spirits of defenders of the Alamo?

So, based on my extensive research, my interpretation of the meaning of the gathered army follows.

Obviously, those cormorants were the defenders of the Alamo, rising up to celebrate the anniversary of the defeat of the Mexican Army at San Jacinto in 1836.

What do you think of that brilliant idea, my friend, Phil Collins?

Fiesta San Antonio must be their favorite holiday for rising from the grave. Betcha they come back next year.

*I have to stop right here and make a confession to the spirit of Mrs. Masterson. Some of these concepts came from CliffsNotes.com. But I promise. I never opened one of those guides once in your class in high school. Not for Milton. Not even when Moby Dick threatened to swallow all time for social life. Plus, I knew you could smell a CliffsNotes’ idea in the answer to a discussion question before the ink dried. Toward the end of the book, though, I did start reading only every fifth chapter…. That was still a whale of a lot of pages.

The Recipe for ‘Unchopping a Tree’


unchopping

But actually, without branches
or roots, it wouldn’t be a tree.
I mean, it would just be a log.

Wallace Shawn in My Dinner with Andre, 1981

Unchopping a Tree.

The title of the book published in 2014 by Trinity University Press immediately conveys the message inside.

Despite the promise of the title and your wish for it to be possible, you know it is not. W.S. Merwin almost could have stopped there – a perfect reduction of words to express concern for the environment.

But your desire to believe a toppled tree could be healed in a magical way that “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” failed to achieve for Humpty Dumpty and the lyrical prose of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning writer entice you inward:

Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nest that have been shaken, ripped, or broken off by the fall….

The soothing silverpoint drawings illuminating the inner cellular life of trees by Liz Ward, a professor of art at Trinity University, lessen the fear of approaching the immensity of the task of righting a tree.

inside

Finally the moment arrives when the last sustaining piece is removed and the tree stands again on its own. It is as though its weight for a moment stood on your heart.

Walking the Mission Reach along the banks of the San Antonio River as it wends its way southward makes one wish all the towering trees that shaded the river for centuries before mid-20th-century bulldozers eradicated them for flood control could be “unchopped.”

Alas, the dictionary fails to include the word in its inventory of things that can be undone for obvious reasons.

So great patience is required as the San Antonio River Authority painstakingly strives to restore the natural habitat, sapling by sapling.

tree-sign

A Chinese proverb reminds us:

One generation plants the trees;

another gets the shade.

For, to heal our environment, as Merwin advises in Unchopping a Tree:

Everything is going to have to be put back.

March 16, 2019, Update:

Mr. Merwin’s ardor for the natural world took frequent root in his poetry….

Stylistically, Mr. Merwin’s mature work was known for metrical promiscuity; stark, sometimes epigrammatic language….

Lawrence Lieberman wrote…. “The poems must be read very slowly, since most of their uncanny power is hidden in overtones that must be listened for in silences between lines, and still stranger silences within lines.”

“W.S. Merwin, Poet of Life’s Evanescence, Dies at 91,” Margalit Fox, The New York TimesMarch 15, 2019

Justin Boyd: Squeezing a year’s worth of river meanderings neatly into a box

Sergio Gonzales and Randy Allee of KLRN on location filming Justin Boyd

Sergio Gonzales and Randy Allee of KLRN on location filming Justin Boyd

The river is an amazing resource.

Justin Boyd

How do you take the essence of something as sweeping as the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River and compress it into a to-go size box?

Artist Justin Boyd does this in a multimedia format incorporating sound and video recordings and natural and manmade found objects in “Days and Days,” an exhibit on display through February 10 at the Southwest School of Art.

Although not as immense as trying to condense a broad landscape into a small box in a gallery, I struggled with adjusting my writing style to a television format in collaborating with the crew at KLRN-TV for this piece for ARTS. Whittling and weaving Justin’s dialogue into a story presented difficult and complicated choices for me, and, in turn, for David Bibbs at KLRN.

Here’s the result on ARTS | January 18, 2013 on PBS.

Although our paths never had crossed, Justin and I walk the same stretch of river often. But he has added new layers to my thoughts – the river representing time and its passage – as I meander southward along the river’s banks.

While celebrating the restoration of the Mission Reach as part of the San Antonio Improvements Project, Justin’s art is conscious of the litter man continually discards:

The impact we have as humans on the landscape…. This impact is so heavy…. Manmade objects are sitting right next to natural objects….

When you are down here everyday, you can’t help but reflect on how we are affecting our landscape.

January 28, 2013, Update:

The photo above was shot at the point where the waters of San Pedro Creek (left) join the San Antonio River. The San Antonio River Foundation recently announced, according to the San Antonio Express-News, the commission of a pair of designers from the firm of Ball-Nogues Studio to design amenities for this point, to be known as Confluence Park:

With vague hopes of developing “some type of gathering place for the community,” the foundation spent about $300,000 on the park site several years ago and deeded it to SARA, said foundation executive director Estela Avery, wife of James Avery.

Plans gathered steam late last year, after Ball-Nogues Studio was invited to offer designs. The award-winning studio has created installations around the world that meld art and function, including works in California, New York, France, Italy and Hong Kong.

In recent months, designers Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues have collaborated with local water experts, botanists and others to create tentative concepts for the site at 310  W. Mitchell St.

“We’re working with an idea for a pavilion that will be enshrouded in vegetation, that’s also three windmills,” Ball said.

“We also have some features we’re calling ribbons, which are a man-made geology for the site. We’re trying to create some sense of discovery when you’re moving through the site so that you’re creating different vistas, different moments,” he said.

Added Nogues, “There’s going to be quite an extensive rainwater catchment system, which is going to mimic a cistern.”

Nogues appreciates the river restoration, noting that the Los Angeles River “suffered a similar fate” as the San Antonio River when its natural channel was lined with concrete decades ago. Most concrete has been removed here in the past few years during the river’s ecosystem restoration.

“It’s really an inspiration for what the Los Angeles River could become as  well,” Nogues said.

Foundation interim project manager Stuart Allen said design details are pending, but the park’s purpose is firm.

“We want this park to be a really unusual destination,” Allen said.

“It’s going to be a park geared toward teaching about ecosystems, sustainable living, water transport mechanisms and watersheds. The park will be designed around forms that collect water and direct them to an underground cistern. The water will be recirculated back into the park.”

confluence-parkl

Fundraising received a major boost from a gift of $1 million for an educational endowment fund from James and Estela Avery.

January 31, 2013, Update: Nancy Cook-Monroe writes about Confluence Park and the announcement of the Avery gift to the River Foundation:

This one, with a water catchment system, solar panels and windmills, will be all about teaching sustainability, stewardship and environmental science. Its centerpiece will be an artistically designed educational pavilion. Other elements will be laced with double meanings, such as a “foraging fence.”

“It doesn’t keep neighbors out but invites them to enjoy decorative and  edible plants,” said planning architect Gaston Nogues of Ball-Nogues Studio in Los Angeles.