Author : Aaron Koelker
Two Cardinalis cardinalis, the northern cardinal. Five Zenaida macroura, the mourning dove. One Toxostoma rufum, the brown thrasher. And the highlight of the excursion – one Pandion haliaetus, an osprey! I couldn’t wait to tell Maria, but for now I only had Ron’s apathetic ear.
We hefted our packs upon our shoulders, took up the instruments in their polypropylene cases and set off for the CP. The thick bed of pine needles beneath our boots made the walk more bearable, and the cool steady breeze told us autumn had finally made its way south. We picked our way through derelict neighborhoods of crumbling gingerbread houses drowned in kudzu and sunshine.
Crossing the river where the interstate once did, we paused to plunge the sonde into dark waters and recorded the numbers. From the far bank came a splash that I thought might be Mugil cephalus, the striped mullet, but neither of us had gotten a good look.
We made the CP just before dark and I told Maria about what we’d seen. She and Sarah had seen Dryocopus pileatus, the pileated woodpecker, but the osprey would become the talk of the CP. It marked another confirmed apex predator, and was the latest in a string of positive indicators for the region. With any luck the council would approve resettlement by this time next year.
Sara wandered off for dinner and Maria led me by the hand to their tent. I gave her a kiss and was about to try for more when she stopped me.
“Have you thought about staying yet, Harold?”
“You mean here?” I asked.
“Yes, when they resettle. Mild weather all year round. More water and sunshine than we’d know what to do with…”
“A little. But what about Tom and Jenna back on the colonies?”
“I think they’d understand, don’t you?”
“Well, when the resettlement gets approved those applications are going to go fast.”
“I know. It would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
“I think so.”
“Let me think on it some more.”
“Don’t think too hard,” she said with a smile, pulling me down onto the cot alongside her.
At the evening debriefing Ron and I reported our findings and were met with generous applause, and the following day we were dispatched eastward along the coast. It was midmorning by the time we arrived and the tide was low, leaving a wide, sloping beach littered with sargassum weed and small white crabs, Ocypode quadrata, darting in and between. I was watching a pair fight over an old plastic bottle cap when a thunderous boom sounded from overhead and frightened them back into their burrows. Two gulls, Larus delawarensis, hiding in the dunes behind took flight and made for sea, chanting in protest.
“Another colony ship,” said Ron, pointing.
The massive vessel plowed its way through the afternoon clouds, heading somewhere north and deeper inland. Sand from the top of the nearest dune broke loose under the vibrations of its thrust and collapsed quietly. I was drawn back to the gulls by their incessant screeching.
“Do you think this planet is ready for us to come back?” I asked Ron.
“They’re talking about resettlement here within the year.”
“I know what we think. But did anyone ask them yet?” I gestured to the birds, now almost invisible against the sun-clad waves. “I just wonder what makes us so important when we seem to screw up the most.”
I looked to Ron for an answer but he was already walking toward the dunes. When I turned back to find the birds, they were gone.