Planes, Pine Trees, Birds, and the Lake

Today’s morning ride was a cold one which is all-too common in many springs. The sun was just clearing the spit of Lake Norman we live by, and planes busily passed overhead on their way to Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The landing traffic here is steady, but not heavy, and I enjoy watching the massive machines seemingly float across our part of the world as they glide into the airport southwest of us. The planes come in from the east at about 1,000 feet and some bank for their landing and others directly approach it, but I enjoy watching them all, especially the larger international planes which, at first glance, appear not to be moving but hovering above in the golden hued morning light. While my view of the air traffic is a relaxed one, I’m sure the workers in the airports and control stations must be hard at work to keep up with all the coming and going. So much technology and human work is involved in accomplishing what I leisurely watch on many morning rides.

But the man-made flights are not the only ones this morning. Across the street is a flock of crows, their rich blackness almost too large for the landscape. They fly from pine top to pine top while telling each other some morning news. Lower to the ground are the robins who, after having established territory, busily build nests made of mud and pine needles which are almost perfect circles.  Behind me the resident mocking bird, named Atticus, announces its presence from the holly tree while the smaller Carolina wren challenges with its own high and melodious volume.

But my attention is held by the bird box attached to a tree directly in front of me. In the past nesting seasons it has been the home of titmice; however, this year its tenants are brown-headed nuthatches or bluebirds. I can’t decide which because there is a dispute going on over who has rights to the bird box. I watch as I ride and note that the small nuthatch seems to have the upper hand because one of the pair occupies the box-its small brown head protrudes from the entry hole and its mate calls from a near-by tree. But the usually timid bluebirds are not giving up and one of them flies from the roof of the box to a tree and back again to scold the brown-headed nuthatch in the box. It is a back and forth with much bird communication between each pair and harsher notes aimed at the opposing pair. I ride and watch. Eventually the bluebirds leave, the one nuthatch remains in the box, and the other glides over from its perch on the tree to take dominion over the box as it sits on the roof.

And while I have watched this dispute in nature, planes continued their approach for landing  at the airport over thirty miles from where I ride. Certainly the speed, the size, the noise, and more features of the planes overshadow those of the crow, the mockingbird, the nuthatch, the blue bird, and the other birds in every way.  The planes provide a service as does the lake I live on with its shoreline of 520 miles. It provides power for citizens of this state, and most civic leaders and other people extol the lakes economic benefits. In 1959 Duke Power began the damming of the Catawba River just northwest of Charlotte and the flooding began–all the way to the 760-elevation line when the lake is at full pond. All this and more for progress we are told, and some of that argument has merit, but not all.

The 42 pine trees in our front yard prohibit us from having a manicured lawn like our neighbors. More than once we have been advised that, if we removed the trees, we could have an overly sculpted, sprayed, and un-natural shade of green grass. That may be true, but we then would be trading the birds, the shade in summer’s hot western sun, the butterflies, and all the other abundant life that, along with us, call this spit of land home.

I have ridden in planes. I enjoy seeing the piece of Lake Norman we live by. But most of all, I cherish the life under, in, and by the pine trees. All 42.

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