Monthly Archives: November 2012

Hope Springs Eternal

Female Bufflehead (left) pursues a likely male.

The Buffleheads have recently returned from the far reaches of the taiga, where they spent the summer and fall breeding and raising their young. You would think that after months of child-rearing, they would want to give it a rest. But no. Yesterday, the males were vying for females in Yesler Cove as vigorously as if the believed the females had never heard the babies of their latest brood incessantly crying for months, “Feed me! Now!”

Mother Nature probably programmed Buffleheads to forget the pangs of duckling-rearing. That’s my husband’s theory, anyway. Of course, he thinks women quickly forget childbirth too, so there you go.

To attract a new mate, each male Bufflehead flies near a rival, spreads out his ruby-red feet, and splashes down, puffing out his chest and giving the biggest  quack he was capable of. Unfortunately, since Buffleheads are among our tiniest of ducks, his roar comes out sounding more like a rubber-ducky squeak. Macho Man. The rival squeaks in return, and then they both look around to see how impressed the females are.

Very impressed, if the females’ admiring looks are anything to go by. As for me, I was doubled over on the shore, laughing.

Winter in Seattle is just around the corner, with perpetual gray skies, sleet alternating with cold rain, and daylight hours restricted to the ones you spend indoors, hunched over your computer in your work cubicle. Ancient peoples of the Northern Hemisphere, faced with similar conditions, would sacrifice their first-born, hoping the gods would relent and make summer return. Luckily, we more modern types don’t have to go to these extremes. All we have to do is walk down to Yesler Cove and watch the Buffleheads for awhile. They know spring will come again soon, and they plan to be ready.


To see a Western Grebe floating serenely on the lake, its long white neck punctuated by the black comma of its head and nape, is to see grace itself come to life.

“Grace” is an odd word in our language. It comes from the Latin word gratis, meaning “a pleasing quality.” Over the centuries, as Latin became more vulgar and eventually turned into French, the “pleasing quality of grace” came to mean “elegance of form” or “beauty of movement.” Along its way toward elegance and beauty, though, grace took a turn toward good will and also came to mean “favor” or “gratitude.” That is why devout people say grace before a meal and also why they pray for grace from God.

For me, the Western Grebes who grace the waters of Union Bay embody all the definitions of the word. They fill my eyes with elegance and my soul with gratitude, whether they are fishing for minnows, or briefly coming together to swim side by side, or floating with necks curved into telephone cords of folds so they can tuck their bills into their backs for a nap.

To see them for yourself, you should walk out to the crewhouse at Conibear, where they hang out almost every day. They aren’t shy. If you walk slowly out onto the dock and make no sudden movement, in all likelihood, they will let you get close enough to see every feather.

In this world of chaos and confusion, they are a great gift to all who seek grace of any sort.