‘Vole Angst Sign’ by Bob Hubbard © 2012, All Rights Reserved
A couple years back, when the Index-based nonprofit organization Friends of Heybrook Ridge was involved with fundraising activities aimed at purchasing a 130-acre parcel of land directly across the river from Index, so the forest there could be preserved, I was out hiking on the park quite a bit, looking at different ways of getting from the bottom to the top, so when we got the parcel we could eventually pick one of these routes—the best—to put a trail on. I thought it would be a good idea to keep track of all the plant species I came across and pretty soon I had a fair sized list, a plant inventory. The list soon grew to the point where I hardly ever found a new species, so I started adding animal species to the list, as well as any insects I could recognize. Cate Burnett, another member of Friends of Heybrook Ridge, also got into hiking on the ridge and plumping up the list. (Inventory Plants and Animals) .
I was out on a hike on the property one day, down at the base of the north side, approaching a small pond with wide flat beaches of damp silt and clay, when a small mouse-like critter jumped out of the leaf litter in front of me and ran down on the beach. There are so many small critters like that that I doubted I’d ever know what this one was. I regretted not memorizing the pictures in a field guide to mammals that was rotting away on a shelf at home. Too bad.
I thought he would have gone down the beach a ways and back into the woods but instead he ran down to the water and shot straight out across the surface of the pond. He didn’t sink in the water, or even slow down. Like a windup toy with limbs whirling too fast to see, he kicked up ruckus of spray, and made the Roadrunner look like a geriatric mollusk. In a few seconds, he was diving into the leaf litter beyond the pond, and there was nothing but ripples in the water to say anything ever happened.
I was nonplussed. But I knew I had him now. His behavior gave him away; when I checked the book later I found he was an aquatic vole, also called a water vole. But a name is only part of his identity; I wanted something to describe his distinctness, his gestalt, something expressible in haiku.
The ripples told this to me:
Just to make darn sure
I don’t feed a predator
I run on water.