South of 11th street, the Indianapolis Central Canal finishes its last mile and a half in a concrete basin. At, roughly, sixteen feet below the city streets, it is a welcome and mostly pleasant alternative to the ordinary urban bustle. Nonetheless, but for goldfish and mallards, it’s a lifeless display. The ecosystem is still recovering from the city’s $423,000 cleanup (completed three years ago) and battling a monthly barrage of anti-algae treatments. Before the “cleanup” the canal (especially near the government building and the State Museum) was a foul mess. Full of weeds and algae and rotting vegetation, the methane was strong and gurgled audibly. But the weeds, while hiding the concrete, gave cover to the fish; the bass, bluegill, and carp swam slowly, in and out of view in the submerged forest.
Today, the ginkgo trees have shed their nuts and the mums have begun to brown. The water’s surface gathers corner blankets of blown leaves, slowly sinking. November tannin and tea. Below, the goldfish, some with fan tails and few longer than a hand, hang two feet and deeper beneath the wind and rain. Waiting.
I miss the old, foul canal. Without another cleaning, it will return … probably within the decade. I miss, already, the seasons of increase. The bottom growth rising to the surface, fecund and rich. But the summer passed with equal violence and the fall was too warm, and now, the waiting.
In the last month, at least one small family of goldfinches has moved into the neighborhood. I hear them more often than I see them, but last week I found them feeding on the neighbor’s parched, but fully-seeded Echinacea plants. Two adults and two, completely fledged, adult-sized “chicks”. The adults were busy prying tiny morsels from the densely packed seed heads, but the minors fluttered on nearby stems, crying to be fed. When the adults saw me and took flight, their young followed, begging, airborne over the rooftops. No doubt, all this begging accounts for the fact that I have heard them more often than I have seen them.
Of all the creatures that rear their young, perhaps the birds are the most insistent at pestering for nourishment. Whining puppies are annoying and I’ve seen a few frustrated, tired, nurse mares, but most mammals satiate and move on. Humans whine for food more (and certainly across a greater number of years) than do most mammals. My nearly adult-sized adolescents are still begging. The “what’s for supper” questions begin as soon as we finish the school and work day. The finches, however, are nagged all day long: chick-wee, chick-wee, chick-wee … is so nearly: feed me, feed me, feed me …. I’ve never heard this ruckus in the winter. Sometime soon they must learn to feed themselves.
The coming winter will be both a burden and a season of rest.
American Goldfinch. Bob Hines, United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 1974.