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Pond Spoor

Bayou-Diversity (21 June 2020) Deer, gray squirrel and gray fox, ‘possum, raccoon, armadillo all come to the drying pond now leaving their spoor in the encircling halo of mud. What a difference between equinoxes. Six feet deep in the spring, the pond reflects the harvest moon from a surface barely eighteen inches above the muck bottom. Daily evaporation sucks away at the pond’s diameter. Except for the squirrels, most of the mammals come at night or at the crepuscular times in between. Deer, some heavy in their splayfooted tracks, others with hooves of the year barely larger than a nickel, wade into the tepid water to drink. The armadillo trudges like a tank plowing a trail into the shallows that smears his three-toed prints with a dragging tail. He is more amphibious than most people know. ‘Possum’s mark is the imprint of her hind foot with a toe that appears as an opposable thumb. Her kind has ambled about the older parts of bayou country since their northward trek from South America three million years ago. She is resilient. The raccoons come to eat as well as drink. With a refined sense of touch that processes stimuli in dark places, receptor-laden paws probe crevices and burrows for the delicacy of a molting crawfish. Like a dealing card shark, they look away from busy hands while plying their trade. Squirrels come to drink in a stealth mode, creeping in to stretch out full length on soft bellies before quenching the thirst with rapid lapping. If only they could control the demon-possessed tail, their subterfuge would be complete. The gray fox would roll up his britches legs if he could. His tracks never enter the water but meander along the shore behind his nose. Maybe he doesn’t even drink but comes to meddle in the business of those in Order Rodentia. On a landscape scale the pond is a tiny dot on the edge of a large swamp. For most of the year it is of little consequence in the lives of these animals as the nearby wetlands pulse with seasonal overflows. Now though the bowl contains the essence of their existence. (Adapted from “Bayou-Diversity: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country” by Kelby Ouchley; LSU Press)


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