Monthly Archives: November 2010


In the wintry months, when the air is still and conditions are right, the night fog rises from the lake and drifts through the moonlight to shroud the land. On those occasions, I like to get myself to the Fill at dawn, just as the sun is topping the foothills of the Cascades. If I’m lucky, the rising sun will warm the air enough to collect the fog into one bank of cloud in perfect alignment with the mountains. It is then that I will see gold.

Quickly I sling my campstool over my shoulder and hurry down the trail. I ignore the flock of American Goldfinches foraging in the alder tops. I can’t stop to look at every one to see if a Pine Siskin or maybe even a redpoll has joined the flock. Nor can I scan the brush to the east of the Lone Pine Tree to locate the Bewick’s Wren who likes to hide there and who starts buzzing as soon as he sees me. I’m convinced the little beggar teases me on purpose. But as my passage swirls the silver mists clinging to the ground, I tell him, “Not today. I have no time for games.”

For I must reach East Point before the sun rises.Great Blue Heron

The sparrows who have favored the chicory field north of Boy Scout Pond are already awake and active. I can see them rummaging through the grass, pushing the blades aside with both feet at once as they search for seeds. I do not stop, not even when a Lincoln’s Sparrow hops up on a blackberry stem and chips at me, his crest raised in alarm, his black eyes snapping. “You can just put your little crest down,” I pant as I go by. “You know me, and I know you. We see each other every day.”

At last I arrive at the overlook. Just in time. The fog bank has already risen from the water. It lies between me and the sun, just above the foothills, creating a narrow slit for the sun to shine through. The sky turns pink. The sun’s corona glows. And then the light bursts forth, carving a golden path over the water. The path widens until it becomes a road of molten gold, shimmering, beckoning. Ducks and grebes and geese paddle into the shining corridor to soak up the warmth. I cannot tell their species, for I am dazzled.

Everything in my spirit tells me to join them, to step onto the road of light and follow it. Toward what? And how?  I do not know, but still I yearn. The sun enters the fog, the light dims, the road narrows, the path disappears. It’s gone.

The Great Blue Heron who has been watching from the shore stirs his feathers briefly and goes back to sleep. He sees the sun-path often, and the mist, the moonlight and the dawn. He lives here. But I can only visit.

On Color

Golden-crowned Kinglet

If you want to be happy in Seattle, you must learn to love the color gray. This is especially true in winter, when it is perfectly possible to lose the sun in November and not get it back again until March. By that time, most Seattleites have forgotten what the sun even looks like. We squint at that strange glowing ball in the sky and then head as fast as we can to the drug store to buy a pair of sunglasses to rid ourselves of the pain of the glare. Ow, we say, grateful that we don’t have to live in L.A., where the sun never seems to take a break.

For us northwesterners, there is great beauty in the gray light of a November morn. Somehow the silvery mists of clouds make every spot of color in the surrounding landscape glow the brighter. Who needs sun when the spirit can be warmed by the reds, oranges, and yellows of a perfect fall day?

This morning was a case in point. A flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets came foraging through the shrubs around the Wedding Rock to brighten the world with their energy and their colorful feathers. Golden-crowned Kinglets are tiny songbirds that forage for insects along the bare branches of bushes and trees. They are graced with black-and-white racing stripes on their heads, topped by a bright crown of golden feathers.

In the flock were two males who apparently had it in for each other. I think they must have been quarreling before they ever got to the Wedding Rock, because they were already all worked up when I first noticed them. Golden-crowned Kinglets don’t have loud voices — they sound like far-away high-tension wires to me — but these two were piping insults at each other as loudly as they could.

Finally, they decided the best way to settle their differences was with a duel. So the first male put his beak down and shined his golden crown at his rival. Without hesitation, the rival took up the gantlet and shined HIS crown right back, upping the ante by spreading out his little golden feathers to reveal a spark of fiery orange in the middle of all that gold. That seemed to deflate the first duelist because he put away his crown, backed up a step, and then flew to the next branch, where he began searching for bugs, leaving the field of battle to the rival.

There is something utterly charming in watching two creatures battle by shining their heads at each other. If only we humans could do the same.

Creatures Great & Small

Gulls are among the most under-appreciated birds in all avi-dom. When most people see one, they give it only a passing glance at best. If they remark the bird at all, it’s merely with an offhand, “Oh there goes another seagull.”

But gulls are well worth a second look. Depending on the species, their eyes can be warm chocolate brown or sunshine gold. Their legs and feet are bright pink or lemon yellow. In breeding plumage, their bellies are spanking white, their backs a natty gray, their wingtips gray or black. Many sport ruby-red dots on the undersides of their bills, a target for babies to tap to remind the parents to give them food.

Although we see gulls in the city in winter, they are not urban creatures at heart. Most fly north to breed, where they seek out rocky haystacks far from predators. I have seen them in their northern reaches, standing guard over their precious eggs in the nooks of the sheltering cliffs, or drifting like living snowflakes above the pewter gray ocean as far as the eye can see.

The waters and the land where these birds live are a remnant Eden that invokes in me the very image of creation on the third divine day, when nothing existed but land and sea:

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of water called He Seas; and God saw that it was good.

Gulls visit this primeval world every year, but we do not see them there, and hence we know nothing of their real lives. And knowing nothing, we disdain them. We disdain them because down here where they dwell amongst us humans, they seem to prefer garbage as their plat du jour. You can see this at the Fill the morning after a football Saturday. When the Winnebagos still have all their blinds pulled against the piercing rays of the rising sun (piercing even when the dawn is cloudy, if the inhabitants of the vans tailgated too exuberantly the night before), the gulls are out there in the parking lot searching every discarded burger bag for a little scrap.

The gulls arrive while the light is too dim to see more than the vaguest shapes of the Golden Arches printed on crumpled wrappers. They have learned they must get to the parking lot early before an army of orange-vested street cleaners and garbage trucks disappears all the football leftovers, edible or otherwise.

I think they must like this part of their lives. They certainly seem to relish their garbagial finds. But they are not what they eat. Or at least not completely. They are also the pearl and pewter flyers of the Far North, whose eerie cries fill the dawn like the Creator Himself calling on the waters to separate them-selves from the land.