Entries in Susan Fox Rogers (80)


Enjoying the Spectacle

Masses of gulls at Reed's BeachI wasn’t ready for the mass of screaming gulls, or for the piles of Horseshoe Crabs along the shoreline, the males riding tight to the females, tails spiked toward the overcast sky. With each wave another batch of horseshoe crabs washed up on Reed's Beach near Cape May, NJ, and what ensued was a wave of  screams and hollers, whistles and hoots, a frenzy of the Laughing Gulls and Herring Gulls, and those remarkable little shorebirds, the Red Knots, fresh in from Tierra del Fuego.

Cape May is always good birding. On my few visits there, I’ve always left a bit dazzled by the sights. Once was a flock of hundreds of Sanderlings swooping the shore, landing, then circling out to the ocean in a choreographed movement that took my breath. Now here I had stumbled onto one of the great events of migration, witness to more feeding gulls and shorebirds than I had ever seen on one slim beach.

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Mono LakeI write this sitting in the town of Pahrump, outside of La Vegas. So this is a rich perch from which to think about gambling. I always say I’m not a gambler—I’ve bought a Lotto ticket or two but I wouldn’t know what to do in a casino. Yet the truth is, we all gamble all the time—when we decide to take this job and not that one. When we decide to go to dinner with this person we will fall in love with and not that person. If you leave money out of the definition of gambling, replace it with, for instance, birds, then it reads like this: playing games in order to find birds. I gamble in this way all the time.

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Bad Water, Beautiful Flowers

One guide for Death Valley writes that people go to National Parks to get away from the stress of the outside world. And then they come to Death Valley to get away from the crowds of the other National Parks. I’ll agree to the first statement, but not to the second. When I hiked Theodore Roosevelt Park I saw no one in five hours; at Crater Lake, I snow-shoed out alone. In Death Valley: lines of cars waited in the lot so that people could park then saunter out below sea level and experience the frying relentless sun. Caught unaware, everyone turned some shade of sweaty pink. In March. In the camp ground my little tent wedged between two RVs, the couples cheerfully grazing their way through retirement in the National Parks. “What’s not to love?” one said, sweeping a hand toward the horizon. What’s not to love? That there are no birds.

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Teddy, I love you

West of Dickinson, North Dakota, the land mounds up, mini volcano-shaped hills made of a beige gray clay or sand, punctuated by sage brush and grasses. The texture of the land was a relief; the previous six hours of driving had offered expanses to the horizon, cultivated land, flat and harmonious. I had enjoyed that great sense of empty flat land while chuckling over the joke my cousin told me:

What is the North Dakota state tree?

A telephone pole.

True, there are few trees punctuating this North Dakota land. Those I saw huddled together, braced against wind or farmers.

But now I was in a land largely untouched and certainly not by a tractor, speeding into the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I think of Teddy as a privileged easterner who headed west from time to time to hunt. The story told here is that he came to shoot his bison and stayed for several years, buying two ranches. In that rugged landscape, he became tough enough to become President of our country. He owes his greatness to this landscape.

 It was what he saw out west that convinced him that we had remarkable natural resources and that we were not conserving them for the future. In the case of the bison—he arrived in the nick of time.

Theodore Roosevelt did not protect this park I drove into and hiked for two days, but it is named to honor the fact that he preserved over 230 million acres of land during his presidency. This park needs protecting: just outside its borders are the pumps, fracking into this land.

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Sax Zim Bog at Dawn

Sax Zim Bog at dawn is even more empty than at mid-day, the narrow snow packed roads squeaking beneath my tires. In front of me, the sun turns pink orange through spruce and tamarack, those spindly deciduous conifers. I’m out in my car, heat turned high, hoping to see what everyone has flown or driven to see in this Northern Minnesota bog: a Great Gray Owl.

It’s a foolish thing to go looking for owls, because you have to accept that you won’t see one. In Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon, Pa takes his little girl out owling. He hoots for the owl, and we learn this: “sometimes there’s an owl and sometimes there isn’t.” What it takes to look for an owl is many things—hope and being brave in the night. But the most important thing is that to see an owl you have to go out, into the woods, into the world. It wasn’t going to come to me.


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