City Scape

When my youngest son was 11, he took me aside one day and said he didn’t want to go on family camping trips anymore. He said he didn’t like getting cold, wet, and dirty in the great outdoors, and he disliked sleeping on the ground. He told me he preferred staying home on weekends, hanging out with his friends. “I guess I’m just a city kind of guy,” he said.

I had to excuse myself to go fix the rib I had cracked trying not to howl with laughter that a kid so young thought of himself as any kind of a guy. I still smile when I think of it.

I suppose that’s why I have become so very fond of the male Barrow’s Goldeneye who has ensconced himself in University Slough for the past several weeks.

Our Barrow's Goldeneye swimming in University Slough.

Normally, Barrow’s Goldeneyes are wild ducks of the mountains and sea. They nest in tree holes and cliff niches in the untamed regions of the north. In Washington, they spend the breeding season in the Cascades or the Okanogan and Methow Valleys. They spend the winter mostly on saltwater. They dislike to be looked at by people and swim or fly away if people get too close.

But not this guy. This Barrow’s Goldeneye has chosen to live in the busiest slough in all of Washington. Every day, hundreds of people walk past him on their way to work at the university. The UW’s cross-country and crew teams run beside him as they train for their next meet. Construction workers who are building the UW’s new track drive up and down the road that parallels the slough, mere feet from the duck. A pile driver has been driving dozens of 60-foot metal pilings into the field a few meters away. In the afternoons, the baseball team works out at the south end of the slough, practicing to the rhythms of rap music played so loudly it can make a grown woman’s eardrums throb a quarter mile away.

Meanwhile, the goldeneye paddles serenely up and down in the oily water, diving for mussels and watching us birders as we watch him. I guess he’s just a city kind of guy.