Who is Paying Attention and Who is Passing Through?
Seeing so many walkers and cyclists cross the bridge everyday, I find myself wondering why so few people ever stop to see the activity happening on the bridge. I have seen a lot of sleepy walkers cross the bridge. Very few people ever stop to watch activity from the bridge in the morning. Afternoon visitors are far more like to wander, watch and stop, if at all.
I believe the act of walking or cycling is far more interesting if it includes paying attention to what is happening where you are. When crossing the bridge, I wonder who is making a choice to “be where you are” or “be diverted with conversation or random thoughts until you are where you are going?”
Cyclists arrive by 630 am on any given day. Most of them race by at top speed as if this were their personal raceway, inattentive that anyone else uses the bridge. They look straight ahead, neither to the left or the right.Appears they are also focused on passing through – that the destination or a resting spot when they can ride no further is the only place where they will notice?
Not a single chicken in sight when drive into Fair Oaks Village. Yet the morning symphony is as loud and as long as ever.
The songs of Fair Oaks Chickens are my favorite way to start the day – far better than a wake me up beverage!
Today is a cool morning! It is only 55 degrees. I wonder if the cool temperatures wake them earlier and inspire them to begin calling each other.
The brutal 100-degree days of summer are behind us. What a change from two weeks ago when morning temperature had not dropped below 72 degrees at 630 am. I wear a light jacket and jeans. For the first time, my hands feel chilled in the moist morning air.
Loosely scattered clouds define this morning’s sunrise. I missed yesterday’s fiery orange sunrise behind a dense cloud cover and hoped for a repeat. Not today. I watched yesterday’s sunrise from afar as the brilliant yellow ball emerged from the clouds a full 45 minutes after the first glow rose from the horizon.
Fair Oaks Bridge is one of few places where I can find joy when my days are filled with too much drama. I always hope others can find peace in sharing these morning walks on the bridge and the river’s edge.
By the time I arrived at Fair Oaks Bridge this morning, the glorious orange and pinks of sunrise were already faded. I drove toward the sunrise enjoying its brilliant display by car instead. I listened to the “Fair Oaks Village symphony” informally conducted by at least a dozen chickens. Then I heard even more singing on the bridge.
I gazed into the American River and saw small white patches of clouds reflected from above. Seven Canada Geese flew over the bridge against a backdrop of fluffy white clouds.
Fishermen were in their places, fishing nets hanging off the side of their boats and kayaks. I watched a Great Blue Heron at the boat launch ramp take a careful stroll along the riverbank until it disappeared under the bridge. Its soft blue and gray coloring blended into the landscape from a distance. Staying focused on this majestic bird took constant concentration.
Last night’s rain washed the air clean. I see sharp clear lines on the trees, landscapes and structures.
Even after the rain has come and gone, I still see spider webs clinging to the rails of the bridge. Today is a crisp and warm morning. White billowy clouds cover the sky. River is still and seems empty.
As I stand on Fair Oaks Bridge, the small bird that favors its observation post at the top of the frame calls out a good morning greeting. An usual morning because so far, I see no ducks swimming, no seagulls flying overhead and no Canada Geese honking or approaching from any direction.
By this time of year, I expected to see many salmon jumping out of the water. Instead, see very few.
I imagine them swimming slowly and intently beneath the visible surface. Are they swimming deeper, so I miss them? Salmon are easier to spot at the shallow, rocky area about a mile upriver to the east. I wonder how many salmon stop to spawn in the waters of the American River before they reach Fair Oaks Bridge?
I hear many people remember, as do I, the years when salmon lined the weir at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. So many, they formed their own solid bridge. No more. Their numbers are far fewer these days. It is common to see a handful jumping at the weir (gate on the American River).
Later in the morning, a dozen ducks swim in from about 100 yards away upriver. A few walkers pass and a solo cyclist. I hear one splash down at the river. I walk to the “shallows,” pictured here, where salmon spawn. As many as 30 seagulls float in the water looking for salmon treats to nibble on. Canada Geese fly in here to check status on a variety of tasty food sources.
I wonder why the Egret and the Great Blue Heron always arrive alone and stand apart from other wildlife. They always keep their distance from each other and stand on the opposite side of the river from the gulls, geese and ducks. Both are easily disturbed.
It seems that November is one of the “stillest” months for mornings on the American River. Leaving the wildlife alone to find food at their leisure without boaters getting in their way. During the week, driving down city streets, as seagulls fly overhead, I wonder are they headed to the American River looking for salmon.
Do seagulls carry maps in their head, in a way similar to salmon use their powerful sense of smell to find their home river from hundreds of miles away? I imagine this a seasonal migratory habit leading them to find salmon year after year.
When a dozen ducks finally arrive they “own” the river, swimming down its center of the empty water, leaving a wake behind each of them. Sun has finally risen over the wide cloud cover with a brightness that hurts my eyes. Today I hear a new bird call, in addition to the others I hear regularly each morning visit. This one is a shrill whistle – Whoo – oo—oo. We ee uu.
Every morning a different experience visiting Fair Oaks Bridge.
In their customary morning ritual, chickens wake early to call from the trees where they hide and sleep at night. As morning temperature warms up, chickens fly down to patrol the streets and park.
Clouds dust the sky in the same way powdered sugar falls on cookies through a strainer. The bridge deck and rails are heavy with moisture. No spider webs today. A beautiful morning. River is still. Runners, walkers with dogs and cyclists pass by. Everyone dresses in hats, gloves and jackets. Each breath comes out as small clouds forming in front of their faces.
I hear the whistle of a different bird this morning and it reminds me of a circus calliope playing a tune. A seagull calls from a distance. Pigeons circle the bridge in their daily morning dance.
Diving ducks are out searching for breakfast. I watch a Goldeneye dive underwater and disappear four times in rapid succession. It stays underwater 30 seconds before rising back to the surface again.
Several weeks have passed since I last saw turtles sunbathing on their favorite branch at the riverbank. That branch is slowly sinking into the American River.
Arriving at the boat launch ramp, a dozen ducks fly in all at once and approach me thinking I have food. Ducks slowly waddle up the ramp, shaking their tails from left to right. Pigeons arrive. Everyone is frustrated because I brought no food. Pigeons rise up in unison and fly toward Fair Oaks Bridge and circle twice. They settle back down on the ramp, but not for long. Pigeons are collectively so “nervous,” they repeat this morning ritual every time they sense slight movement or a sound. Meanwhile, a seagull out of sight continues its wailing.
I notice a newly installed memorial bench at top of the boat launch ramp – one of many benches along the American River Parkway to celebrate the life of a treasured friend or family member. The ground beneath it is fresh and smooth.
I wonder who was this person and what was their relationship to this place?
Walking farther east on the American River Parkway to a wide and shallow place, I watch salmon as they swim upstream through the current. They rise above the water just long enough to see the gray and white colors of their badly deteriorated bodies. Within ten minutes I see five salmon swishing and splashing through the shallow waters. Their short lives (three to four years) and several month journey from the Pacific Ocean is coming to an end.
A group of salmon circle near the surface of the water. Only their fins and top edge of their bodies are visible. Salmon splash and stir up whirlpools in three separate places. Not a single seagull is waiting here to grab a meal. Some will stop here to spawn. Others will search for another shallow area along the river. Many more will swim another mile until their passage is blocked by huge gates (called a weir) at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. Salmon will spawn along the riverbanks here or climb the fish ladder into the hatchery.
Turkey vultures search a small nearby island for remains of a dead salmon. The vulture pictured guards his salmon and chases another away from the catch.
With flapping wings and a snap of its head, the competing vulture withdraws and leaves to find food somewhere else.
When I return to the boat launch ramp a cyclist has arrived with a bag filled with food for the ducks. The pounce on it and the feeding frenzy begins. I watch two ducks struggle to bite off large chunks of bread. The lone seagull stands at the end of the boat ramp feeling left out. When most of the food is eaten, ducks quack all their way down the boat ramp and swim away. Pigeons are today’s clean up crew, snatching any tiny leftover bites.
I continue to be amazed at how each day’s sunrise can display such a diverse palette of vibrant colors. Some sunrises dazzle the sky for 45 minutes as the spectacle of light spreads through layers of scattered clouds. On dense gray cloudy days, the brilliant colors of sunrise hide in 10 minutes.
Thursday morning’s sunrise was a palette of pinks. Clouds held shades of pink from the early morning sunrise and reflected them like a mirror in the stillness of the American River. The colors are magnificent and well worth an early morning visit.
Today I arrived at Fair Oaks Bridge too late to catch the vibrant colors of sunrise. Morning air is still with no breeze and smells damp. This is not the fresh, clean smell after a refreshing rain. This air smells like wet and stale carpet. Where could that scent be coming from? I hear the sound of a foghorn (once again) and wonder where is it coming from?
I quickly learned the morning wake up patterns of Fair Oaks Village chickens and wildlife of the river during my morning visits. At least two or three chickens are always awake by 6:30 am – all still tucked away in their sleeping posts in trees and shrubs. Some mornings, so many chickens wake early, I hear a symphony across the Village and neighboring streets. When I walk on to Fair Oaks Bridge, I always spot the Buffleheads diving in the middle of the river first. They come out in all weather to dive and search in the center of the river channel. A few resident Mallards emerge from hiding next. As morning temperatures grow warmer, pairs of Canada Geese fly over me standing on Fair Oaks Bridge, honking and giving directions.
Today’s stay is brief – long enough to see the sun peek over the horizon and begin to warm the bridge. With a parting glance at the sparkling water, I walk off the bridge to return home.