Adventures in Autistic Parenthood

Friday, August 8, 2014

Tuppence a Bag:

Over the last year or so, I've taken it as my familial duty to show my niece, Alexis some of the interesting things about her/my adopted state. Of course since Dude-Dads are only consistently Dude-Dads and not tour guides, showing her around isn't exactly a regimented, or even predictable event. Things around Dudes rarely are.
    One of the things that I've been meaning to get around to taking her to do is  (as Raine and I took to calling it) feeding the 'Fat Fucking Fish' at Pymatuning (pie-muh-toon-ing) State park in Northwest PA. Let me explain: Pymatuning is a man-made lake that was formed in the 1930's that straddles the PA-Ohio border. It was actually formed from reclaimed swampland. It's a pretty good sized lake that has a smaller lake kind of attached to one side that's used as a large sanctuary for the young fish released from the hatchery further up the shore from the spillway that connects the two bodies of water. (take a breath, man!) The spillway is a concrete half-bowl about 20 yards across that the water from the smaller lake flows down into and then under the road to the main lake. It seems that, almost since the spillway was formed people have been gathering there to throw chunks of stale bread to the fat, greedy, well-fed, but very ugly, brown carp that now gather there by the thousands to gobble up the offerings. It's really kind of a disgusting, roiling, fishy carpet of carp when they get going, with hundreds of ducks, geese and gulls gobbling up whatever tidbits are left.
   On the face of it, it doesn't sound like a very interesting thing to do, but Pennsylvanians have been traveling there for generations to participate in a super-sized version of feeding their goldfish. There are postcards from the 30's and 40's touting Pymatuning as 'The Place Where Ducks Walk on Fish'. (something I never saw) because of the density of the carp feeding frenzy. In every other State Park in PA it is illegal to feed the wildlife anything, but here they sell old bread at the concession stand along with hoodies and T-shirts and other touristy things.
     While Raine and I had mentioned to Alexis that we'd been there a couple of times we had never taken her there. On one recent Saturday I was feeling a bit restless and asked everyone if they wanted to go to Pymatuning sometime that day. Raine wasn't feeling well, but Alex and Dude were willing to go. (actually, I don't really know if he was willing or not, but he was going) So we loaded up in the car, bought a loaf of cheap bread and headed for the fish.
   Normally I have a sense of direction that makes people (Raine) sick. I can generally find things I've never seen before in places I've never been to before. Raine calls it my 'radar'. Well, I must have forgotten to charge the batteries, or I left the remote with Raine because when we unknowingly arrived at the lake I immediately took a wrong turn. Then another. We went on a big, looping circle through Eastern Ohio and NW Pennsylvania for about an hour. And then, just to prove the first two weren't flukes, when we had almost made it back to the lake again (still couldn't see it) I quickly executed a third wrong turn and sent us back 10 miles to a town we'd passed through on our original stab at getting to the lake. Naturally bypassing the town that's right on the edge of the entrance to do so. I also wish to state for the record that this entire time I had an atlas in the trunk that I had completely forgotten about until we'd hit Greenville for the second time. Once I'd pulled it out I found that I had been within rock-throwing distance of the lake, not once, but twice. I don't really get upset on the few times this kind of thing happens to me. I've learned to just ride it out. I think Alexis may have been expecting some sort of meltdown, but Dave, not knowing how long it should take to get to Pymatuning was content to sit in the backseat until the cows came home... or the batteries ran out, which ever came first.

  After finally making it to the lake and getting a park map and directions from a Ranger (and possibly divine intervention for all I know) we finally made it to the spillway. Dave was so ready to go by this time he completely forgot the bread. But we finally made it to the railing preventing the fish feeders from becoming fish food, where we waited for Alexis to catch up to us with the bread. Dude had been there before, and had witnessed and incited the feeding frenzy and seemed to have fun doing it, so I wasn't ready for him to mutter something about 'greedy fish' and 'Got to feed the ducks!' Well to feed anything he'd need some food. We looked around to find Alex methodically feeding the 'poor starving fish'. Throwing out bread like she was feeding grain to the chickens. I walked over and stopped her before she could tear apart the whole loaf feeding the greedy things. She said, 'But they're hungry!' I assured her that people stand at the railings from early in the morning until dark and never run out of fat fish to feed. I told her to take a few steps down the rail from her grain-dependent fans and see what happened. 'All you have to do is stand at the rail, and the fish will show up whether you feed them or not.' She looked down at the rows of gaping mouths and said, 'They do seem to be well fed.' I laughed, 'You could stand there all day and never see a skinny fish.'
     We walked over near Dude and I handed him a slice to distribute to the masses. He immediately cocked his arm back and was ready to fling the whole piece into the air. 'Wait a minute!' I said quickly, 'Tear that up and throw the pieces!' He looked at me like I was from another planet. (And there's no direct evidence saying I'm not) He simply tore the piece in half and cocked his arm back saying, 'Here you go ducks!' and gave it a mighty heave. It was doomed from the beginning. Not only was the gauntlet of portly pisceans about 10 feet deep at that point, but since the breeze was blowing right in his face it forced his grain-parachute to land in the water about 3 feet from the edge. He looked down with disgust at the carp rapidly
and kind of grossly making his offering disappear. He then looked up at me, 'He has to get it to feed the ducks.' I looked down at the now bread-free water. 'You're going to have to rip it into smaller pieces, or it'll never get there.' He seemed to consider my advice, tore his half slice into further halves, cocked his arm back like Billy Dee Williams in Bingo Long's Travelling All-Stars and winged a throw that just barely managed to clear the back edge of the throng and into the duck's territory. One of the ducks darted in and snatched up the bread and hurriedly paddled back to the Duck Zone and safety for his feet, from nibbling fish.
     I was explaining to Alexis how not only was this the only publicly owned land that you could do this, but it was actually illegal to feed wild animals in PA State Parks. Unless you had a license and that food was attached to a hook, when David decided that he was the friend of all flying creatures. He came over to us to demand more bread because he had to 'feed the geese and the ducks and the American Eagles.' I had a brief flash of him throwing bread to customers of AE Outfitters, but quickly banished the thought. Now while there are 4 or 6 pairs of bald eagles in the park area and they do nest on an island in the sanctuary part of the lake, I hadn't seen any. The three kinds of birds in the immediate area were Mallard Ducks, Canadian Geese and some Ringbilled Gulls. As I handed him more bread I told Dave, 'Those are seagulls, Dude.' 'American Eagles.' He repeated. I shook my head, 'Sea. Gulls.' He cocked his head at me, 'Sea gulls?' He asked. I nodded, gravely. 'Seagulls.' And I heard him as he turned away, 'Sea gulls' He stated gravely, 'from America.' I shook my head and gave up. Figuring that was about as close as I was going to get.
An American (Ringbilled) Seagull
     Since we'd only brought one loaf of bread it didn't really take all that long to fling it all out there. I didn't keep track of how much of David's share actually went to the Ducks and American Seagulls but he seemed happy with the result. And he did drop some little bit of bread straight down occasionally. I think to keep the greedy carp up next to the platform.
      After Alex took a quick walk over to the spillway to see the greatest and ugliest concentrations of fish we hopped in the car and drove across the bridge that bisects the main lake. That being the only other interesting thing about Pymatuning if you don't have a boat or a fishing license. Thankfully I was much better at finding my own house than I was finding the lake, (after all, all my stuff's there) so the return trip was rather a lot smoother. Unfortunately my earlier delay meant that we couldn't stop at the Apple Castle, an orchard and farm market slightly out of our way, but probably closed. So instead of apple products and farm fresh produce (I knew they also sell donuts, but didn't tell anyone) we had to struggle through on hot dogs and french fries and apple sauce... I'm actually proud at how brave Dude was about the whole thing.

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