Winter vista

Walked across to Fairhaven this afternoon. High thin clouds had already covered the sky; the harbor and the sky were both gray. I was hoping to see sea ducks on the harbor, but aside from a few Buffleheads I saw few waterbirds. On the way back from Fairhaven, I stopped at the north end of Pope’s Island, stood for a while on the expanse of asphalt parking lot between Fairhaven Hardware and Dunkin Donuts. Through the binoculars I could see a raft of sea ducks far up in the harbor, black-and-white specks bobbing in the water almost to Interstate 195. I moved the binoculars to the old brick Fairhaven Mills building, nearly a hundred years old. Home Depot wants to bulldoze it and erect another big-box retail store that will last maybe twenty-five years before it has to be demolished. Carol and I snuck up to the top floor of the mill one afternoon last month, imagining what it would be like to have an office, or a store, or an apartment in that big, vast space; the tall windows with their views of the Acushnet River and the harbor, the skylights giving the space an open roomy feeling. The New Bedford City Council quickly voted to give Home Depot the permit to destroy; they have witnessed how the mallification of North Dartmouth sucked the life out of downtown New Bedford, and they must have thought, if we’re going to suck the life out of the downtown at least we can keep the tax dollars in the city. I moved the binoculars down the the wetlands sandwiched between the interstate and the harbor. With the binoculars, I could see that Phragmites, or Common Reeds, dominated the wetlands; a non-native species that offers little to the rest of the ecosystem while pushing out native flora and fauna; thus degrading the overall ecosystem. The dull tan stand of reeds offered little contrast to the dreary gray waters of the harbor. On late December days like this it’s hard to feel much hope. No leaves on the trees to soften the cityscape; no falling snow to gently cover the worst of the city’s ugliness; just dreary gray sky, dreary gray water, no sea ducks to watch diving, the only people in sight stay mostly hidden inside their cars, the only sound the rush of traffic on U.S. Route 6 behind me. Whatever hopelessness I feel is probably just a cold coming on, or a reaction to the short, dark days. These short days wear on you, we have a long way to go before spring comes, but at least by this time of year the days can only get longer. Then five Common Mergansers swam out of their hiding place among the docks of the deserted marina to my left, swimming away from me, warily looking back to see what I would do; the dull reddish heads of the females appearing bright against the grayness of the day. When they got a little farther out, they began to dive, staying under for long periods of time as they hunted for food, or perhaps dived just for the sheer joy of it. I stood watching them for a while until the damp cold sunk in. I walked briskly towards home. By the time I got there, I was warm and far more cheerful.