Friday, March 23, 2012

Fieldwork Friday: Mt. Ouray State Wildlife Area

This afternoon I wandered out to Mt. Ouray State Wildlife Area, just a couple of miles past town. The property was once an active fish hatchery, but that operation moved downriver long before I discovered this treasured spot. The old hatchery ponds still hold fish and there's plenty of access for anglers along the river, but for me the big draw is the wetland.

A ditch runs through the property all year long. It's quiet now, but before long the low areas will be flooded with water and the acres of cattails will be green and noisy with bird life.

In the middle of the property stands a small, abandoned, brick building. Well... perhaps stands is a generous word. Bricks have sagged and in many places are lost. Wood is rotted. Hinges are rusted. Most of the wooden roof shingles disappeared long ago. It feels as though it stands only because it doesn't have the energy to fall down. Indifference holds it in place.

I had never approached the building before... usually there's too much water and muck between it and my path. I had always assumed it was just some outbuilding of the old hatchery, but today I was able to pick my way across soft, not saturated, ground and discover that it was once a house.

The skeleton of three tiny rooms tentatively frames the inside. What's left of the floor is a riot of broken lath and crumbled plaster. A rusty old bed spring sighs in a corner– a broken sink suggests a kitchen.

I perched on a fallen tree to make a drawing of the door, and beyond the quiet I became aware of the trill of sandhill cranes high, high above. Eventually a group of forty or more came into (binocular-assisted) view... tiny gray specks calling across the blue. Did this building's former occupants also turn their faces to the sound on spring days as fine as this one?

When I finished my drawing and packed up my gear, I peeked into the house one more time. Up on an exposed ceiling beam I spotted a bird's nest.

Well, whaddaya know? Someone still calls this place home.