Saturday, July 22, 2017
The Mask at Ashley
It was the mask that called me to attention, halted my forward progress. So black and intricate, wrapped with exquisite precision around the head from front to back, a small equal splash of white at the edge on each side, the eyes lost somewhere in that amazingly seductive, majestic veil. The lines were crisp, the design mesmerizing as I stared up into the tree. Frozen.
We watched each other, at least I watched the mask. I sensed it watched me but I could not confirm eyes were behind that mask. It spied me with unflinching intensity; the svelte, sleek dirty yellow body positioned strategically about six feet above me. The high ground, a position of advantage.
Time felt stopped as we held our gaze, me, the mask, watching. Then came the small sequence of infinitesimal movements that precipitated the sudden bolt of action. The mask shifted its focus to my right, for just a second or two, low, apprehensively, anxiously then back to me. Testing, probing, exploring.
When I noticed the change in visual angulation of the mask, sensing the mask was watching something else besides me, I slowly reached for my pocket. The mask immediately perceived my movement, looked back to me from the previous focal point to my right, slightly in front of me, low to the ground. What was the mask so intently watching?
I refroze in place. We resumed our optical standoff. The mask looked on less intently now, perhaps a bit more relaxed and comfortable with the new normalcy of my presence, an acceptance of this new object of nature. To the mask, did I now appear to be as inanimate as the soil, rocks, branches and grass around me? Did my stillness invoke reassurance and safety?
The instant I felt our standoff had evolved into an understanding, the mask made its move. With grace and purpose and complete disregard for me, the mask darted from the tree to a small but sturdy and leafy stalk of vegetation slightly in front of me, to my right, about three feet tall.
Food. A meal. The standoff with the mask was all about food. Whatever was on that leafy, green sprig of summertime vegetation just off the gravel walkway was irresistible to the point where my presence would not detract the mask from snatching up that tasty little entomological morsel.
The black mask of the cedar waxwing lingered for just a second or two to secure his catch and off he went, his flight erratic, perhaps evasive, making his way to another tree further ahead closer to the water’s edge.
I never was able to retrieve the camera from my pocket in time to photograph this beguiling encounter with the mask but my memory will forever record yet another intriguing interaction with the natural world at the Ashley Reservoir!