Monday, April 9, 2012

An island rises

In 2012, three turtles consider the emerging island of peat to be an excellent place to catch some rays on an April afternoon

Simply Living
April 9, 2012

An island is being born. I can see it from my kitchen window.

Beneath the shimmering surface of our 12-acre lake lie scattered mounds of peat left over from a mining process that ended a few years before we purchased the property. Some mounds are small. Others are big.

One of the broadest swaths of submerged soil sits smack in the center of the lake, only it isn't underwater anymore.

Day-by-rainless-day, the lake level gets lower and the island of peat becomes more and more visible. Last week I couldn't see the island at all. A mere seven days later it was large enough to support three turtles soaking up the midday rays. If the drought continues, it soon will be to the point it was 11 years ago when a pair of sandhill cranes chose the peat island for a nest site.

In 2001, water levels dropped so drastically it exposed a huge mid-lake island of peat. Although by then we had been living on the property for nine years, it was the first time we saw the peaty mass. Before, it had always been underwater.

We weren't the only ones to notice the change. The black mucky refuge attracted all kind of birds along with a variety of turtles, alligators and otters. Some came to perch, to hunt or to sun, but a pair of cranes staked a claim. They set about building a scrappy nest out of sticks and reeds and promptly filled it with two large brown speckled eggs. Predators arrived to case the situation but mama and papa crane were protective parents. They scared off or kept at bay any animal intent on devouring their offspring.

A family of sandhill cranes, one crow, an otter and a turtle took advantage of an exposed peat island in 2001.

As much as I worried about the low water level that year, I enjoyed the daily antics of the cranes and other critters. On one memorable day, I woke up to see not only the crane family (by then two babies had hatched) but also a crow, an otter and a turtle on the island.

It has been over a decade since the water level was that low but it seems to be happening all over again. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is look out the window. How big is the island today? What animals are on it? Will the cranes nest there again? If they do, will summer rains come and wash it away?

I have mixed feelings when I look out at the island.

On one hand, I want the rains to come. The drought is severe. Plants are suffering. Water levels have receded. We need rain to replenish our own supply as well as to satisfy the thirst of plants and animals.

On the other hand, wildlife is adapting. I see more turtles now than during wet periods and that means the otters probably will return to snatch easy meals. Previously submerged landmasses like our peat islands now provide safe harbor for birds. Plants are springing up in the recently exposed soil and more ospreys than usual have been hovering overhead in search of crowded fish in a decreasingly smaller pond.

Change is one of life's few givens. It happens whether we want it to or not. Rather than fret over possibilities beyond our control, it's sometimes best to accept the inevitable while focusing on the positives that accompany all situations.

It's not every day one is privy to the birth of an island. I'm excited to see what happens next.

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