Monthly Archives: October 2010

A Blue Streak

Western Scrub-Jay

Last week I was somnambulating at a meeting of the Friends of Yesler Swamp. Not that the meeting or the speakers were boring, mind you. On the contrary, the speakers were substantial people who knew what they were talking about, and they were talking about an issue I am very interested in: the future of Yesler Swamp, the easternmost part of the Fill.

But the afternoon was warm and sunny — one of the last remnants of the summer we should have had back in June or July but never did. The windows of the conference room were open, the air was balmy, and the voices started to fall into a rhythm akin to white noise. My eyes glassed over, and I found my mind drifting into a dream state, a kind of waking sleep similar to what fish, who have no eyelids and thus must always look glassy-eyed, experience. The last time I can remember falling into this state was in high school calculus class, a class I had to drop eventually due to complete lack of mathematical brain cells. My last thought, as I drifted off, was, “I hope no one calls on me.”

Suddenly, a cobalt blue shape streaked by the window, calling its creaky gate-hinge call. “That’s a scrub-jay,” I yelled, levitating out of my seat and waving my arms like a semaphore. Western Scrub-Jay

Western Scrub-Jays are a kind of blue jay originally from California. Ever since the 1970s, they have been expanding their range northward. I saw my first Western Scrub-Jay at the Fill two years ago, a bird that showed up in the company of our resident Steller’s Jays, hung around for a couple of days, and then disappeared. The bird I saw at my meeting was only the second one I’ve ever seen here. I tell you this so you will see I was justifiably thrilled when another one flew across the CUH yard like a glorious blue comet. Thrilled, not nuts.

Everyone else began to look wildly around for the source of my excitement. One woman, as I recall, even looked under the chairs at the floor — I guess all she heard me say clearly was the word “scrub.” Of course, the bird itself had long disappeared.

“IT’S ALL RIGHT,” trumpeted a professor on the committee. “It’s all right,” he repeated more calmly. “She’s a birder.”

Everyone, including me, sat down again. The meeting resumed. I tried to look normal. A few minutes later, when a Northern Flicker flew by and attached itself to a wooden beam only a few feet away from the window, I didn’t say a word. I had had enough attention for one day.

A Merge

On these early fall mornings, when the fog grips the tops of the cottonwood trees and last night’s dew beads every blade of grass like liquid diamonds, I go to the Fill with a sense of great anticipation. Migration is in full swing now, and I never know what I will find around the next bend in the path.

Two days ago, I heard a burbling, gurgling kind of song near Main Pond. I scanned through the willows, trying to find the singer, but it was hopeless. A breeze had blown up from the lake, jangling all the leaves and making it impossible to see any birdly movement.

In earlier years, I would have ground my teeth, knowing I was missing a new bird, possibly a great bird, thanks to the ding-dang, bleeping wind that never blows when you want it to, or where you want it to, or how you want it to. Capricious, the poets used to call such a breeze, and they were right.

Nowadays, though, I am more mellow — almost zen-like, you might say, in my acceptance of whatever it is nature chooses to send me. If nature sends a great bird, I accept it with peacefulness in my soul. If nature sends obscurity, I smile my Buddha-like smile and pass on with serenity, at one with the universe and…

That hee-haw noise you’re undoubtedly hearing now is my husband’s horse-laugh at the notion that I serenely accept missing any bird, great or otherwise.

Fortunately for my amour propre, the burble bird eventually came winging its way out of the willows to perch on top of a small fruit tree in Hunn Meadow West just as the sun broke through the fog. A Western Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark

For a brief moment—the mere length of one bird’s song—I lived on a planet graced by a binary star: the sun on high, and the meadowlark gleaming as brightly down below. Then the bird loosened up its vocal chords and serenaded the world. Its liquid notes trilled through the motes puffed here and there by the wind, joining together the tangible and the invisible into one glorious whole that enwrapped every living thing. Including me.