per amica silentia lunae

or, across the ferny brae with the evil voodoo celt

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by the riverside
The milkweed seeds are flying again today, like a migratory flock of stars. There's an amazing number of them on the ground by the edges of the trail, on the bluff upriver from my office. They look like smoke or ground-fog at the foot of scrubby trees, lying there in the close-cut grass; some have drifted like snow on the path itself. There are a few old spiderwebs on the rails near the power plant; they have caught enough of the seeds that they look like starmaps from some ancient alien spacecraft. One floating seed even followed me indoors when I reluctantly went back to work.

I'm fortunate to have worked near the Potomac River for the last ten years or so, at the quieter end of Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. A trail runs past my building, heading south for Mount Vernon. In the mile or so that I walk on routinely, there are parks and wilder bits, bluffs and flats, coves and headlands. There's a good variety of birdlife, everything from ducks and geese to the occasional osprey- I've even seen a bald eagle a couple of times, and once a kestrel. Lots of red-winged blackbirds, herons, and a bunch of cormorants who compete with the fishermen near the water outflow from the power plant. There used to be more crows- they used to gang up on the wintering seagulls and insult each other from tree to tree, but I think West Nile has thinned their ranks considerably.

The river is a daily companion to me, a gauge of the world and a source of constant changing scenes. My office's window looks out on it, and by getting up and going out on the balcony, I can see a huge curve that stretches from the Washington Monument all the way down to the Wilson Bridge. The colors shift, the tide changes, boats course up and down. I keep hoping to see a periscope, but no luck so far. The Potomac is brown, green, grey, blue; clean and dirty, glass-calm and rough with chop. Last year it shrank in the drought; this year it keeps overtopping its banks and leaving arcs of driftwood and trash in the parks.

I've written poems about the river and what I've seen along her. Sometimes I call the Vortex and tell her what I have seen on my lunchtime walks, or what I can see from my window. I don't always limit myself to the truth- this past winter, there were vast rafts of ice drifting downstream in the shimmering January sun, and I told her of the polar bears hunting seals, and Inuit hunters paddling kayaks.

Running water, in streams and rivers, has always had a mystery and a magic for me. The inexhaustible, ever-renewing flow of water following gravity to the sea... every time I see a spring welling up with crystal at the head of a stream, I know that it would be fantastic and wrong for humankind if they hadn't deified the waters that defined their lives.

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Ducks and geese and *coots*! I don't know if you've seen them, but if you see black waterbirds that aren't ducks, I found out that's what they are.

I'm very fond of the river, too. I keep thinking I should scout out the trail I used to take from my parents' in North Arlington down to the river and see if it's all still there, and then lead an expedition.

Coots! Coots! Coots!

Yes, I had ID'd the coots before. Then I told the Vortex, and we decided that it was fun to say, so we went around saying it for awhile, alarming the cats.

Seriously, they're pretty little things, and fun to watch.

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