Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trousers (and Birds) in Waterland

As our friend Sarah, who’s lived in the Netherlands for eight years, drove us (Annie, Annie’s sister Christin, and me) towards the quaint villages of Volendam and Edam, we passed a road sign that made Sarah laugh. I don’t remember the Dutch, but Sarah told us that the translation was something like “Trousers in Waterland,” and it meant, more or less, “Be grateful you’re wearing pants [and therefore not underwater].” I’m not entirely sure why trouser-wearing should be the antithesis of being submerged, but maybe it’s a Dutch thing.

In any case, the point to take away from this is that the Netherlands should, by all rights, be underwater; the country is, in fact, below sea level, but its submersion has been indefinitely delayed thanks to the work of centuries of engineering. Still, if the land isn’t quite suffused with water, it’s still infused by it—as you can see from every town and city’s myriad canals and from the channels of water that cut through the flat sheets of fields like patterns of inlay.

Our drives—even our first drive from the airport—were full of visions of vast stretches of green dotted with sheep and frisking lambs, of fields streaked with bands of colored tulips and bordered with strips of water lined by an incredible variety of birds. During our stay, I saw: oystercatchers; innumerable coots; horned grebes; cormorants; little and great blue herons; mallards and other domestic-y ducks; plovers; and what I’m pretty sure were lapwings. (For those of you who are not birders, these are all names for types of waterfowl.)

[horned grebe]

Because it was spring, we saw not only waterfowl but waterfowlettes—that is, baby waterfowl: ducklings of all size, color, and number, and also baby coots, which I will insist on referring to as cootlets.

The ducklings were, of course, adorable and fuzzy, and as all good ducklings should be—but the cootlets were a complete surprise.

Who would have thought that such chic-but-austerely-plumaged adults could produce such vivid, punk little offspring?

[the little punk crested heads of the rainbow-y cootlets
behind their mother]

[parent-child bonding]

It was quite a surprise, and I have to admit that, for me, seeing my first-ever cootlets was the highlight of our day’s visit to Amsterdam (what red-light district? What Van Gogh museum?).

We saw a variety of adorable domesticated animals in our trip, too, and I’ll no doubt spend another post discussing those—but what charmed me was how welcoming the country seemed to be to wild birds; in every field, cows or sheep or goats coexisted peacefully with herons and coots and plovers and oystercatchers—the very design of the fields and towns and cities is such that these birds always have habitat available to them. It made it seem more possible for humans to coexist with wildlife, too, in a way that doesn’t involve requiring other species to adapt to an urban environment and then resenting them for it.

[a coot on a nest of its own design
in an Amsterdam canal]

[baby coots in a Leiden creek]

Of course, I was just a visitor, so who knows what kind of skewed impression I got of the country. But it was a pleasant one, and it left me feeling somewhat optimistic: what with global warming and the likelihood that sea levels will be rising everywhere around the world, maybe the U.S. will eventually have to become a bit more like the Netherlands.

I’m not sure I’d want us to go so far as to put up road signs about trousers, though. I do have some national pride.

{A note: I do write all text and take all pictures. Please do not reproduce either without my permission.}


Good Ol' Ant said...

I can see why you wouldn't want to call baby coots "cooties" (for obvious reasons), though I wonder if "cootettes" isn't better than "cootlets" (cute as the term is) because the latter sort of reminds me of a meal (you know, as in "veal cootlets"). But maybe that was your point, and I missed it.

Anca Vlasopolos said...

This is my fifth try: I found the post enormously cheering (though the attempts to post made me want to scream), and the cootlets are indeed a surprise! What's the bird in the first photo? A stork of some kind? Quite elegant.

Kathleen Cunningham said...

Thanks for the charming pix. The fuzzy chicks & ducklings are just too cute. Isn't it gratifying to be in a country where money is spent to better the environment & the life of its inhabitants? It sounds like a great trip.

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