Brian's Journal - Fall 2013

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10/02/2013     
While I was out running this afternoon a dark cloud strafed me with ice pellets out there on the road and left me feeling so invigorated that I decided to tack a couple miles at race pace onto the end of my run. As the storm receded to the east a vermillion glow from the setting sun spread along the western horizon but the sun's warmth was barricaded behind a crenellated wall of gray cumulus guarded with pallid spears of stratus. The wall held unyielding until the glow imprisoned behind it was dead, though just before that happened, ambiguously, the battlements on top of the wall flared up with gold and orange and across the sky to the east, the two butt ends of a rose-colored rainbow appeared, its invisible arch framing salmon-colored clouds on a backlit field of blue-gray.
An omen, a harbinger of hope, or just an atmospheric phenomenon. I don't know.
10/03/2013   Salmo Pass  
Sleeping in my car at a pulloff about a half mile below the pass. It's silent and still here. Above the silhouettes of the trees the darkly brilliant Milky Way rotates imperceptibly overhead. Underfoot starlight glints dimly on crusty snow. My boots crunch on frozen ground. I am alone.
I arrived late in the afternoon and happened across Blair Bernson and another man (Terry?) driving down from the pass to get some supper in town. They'd be coming back up, they told me, to go owling and asked if I'd like to join them. I did. We drove to the end of the road and walked out a quarter mile as the spires of spruce fir receded into darkness around us. We played the Boreal Owl calls but heard no responses and gave up after an hour or so. Blair and I decided to keep trying so we parked at the pass and started walking up the road towards Salmo Mountain. It was about 8:30PM, a clear moonless night, temperature around 32F with patchy snow along the road. Right as we started out we saw something moving in the road in front of us - a Snowshoe Hare. It was a medium-sized gray rabbit with outsized white feet and it was hopping casually in a zigzag pattern down the road towards us. As we stood watching with our flashlights on it, the hare hopped almost right up to our feet, so close that we could hear the "pflop" of its feet each time it landed. Continuing up the road, we played Boreal Owl calls on our phones and almost immediately heard the sharp "skiw" calls of a Boreal Owl in response. Though it sounded quite close to the road and called repeatedly, we couldn't spot it with our lights.
Later, lonely perhaps, I drove to the top of Salmo Mountain thinking I might get a cell phone signal and call Susan. I called for owls in several places on the way up but with no response. Up on top I did get a faint signal but was not able to place a call. Just as well, I suspect, for my peace. Fear and sadness have etched new paths of pain across the worried landscape of my mind. Out here though, the indifferent forest, the slender firs and ragged spruces, the snowbound huckleberry bushes and frost-withered understory restore a measure of contentment. And tomorrow no conversation, just cold still air, bright sunlight, a few birds and the snow-covered trees of a forest closing up for winter.
10/04/2013   In search of Boreal Chickadees  
Blair of course saw them yesterday right at the pass, but I did not. I found only Mountain Chickadees on a walk up to the pass in the frosty air before sunrise. Perhaps I didn't eat enough for supper last night because every time I stopped, I felt faint. After breakfast I walked around the pass some more but still didn't heard only Mountain Chickadee calls. Not that the two calls are much different, but none of the chickadees I actually saw were Boreal.
I parked at the end of the road and followed first the road, then the Shedroof Mountain Trail, east towards Idaho. The trail followed a ridge through snowy old spruce trees festooned with moss. I saw Golden-crowned Kinglets and at least two Three-toed Woodpeckers, my fourth sighting for the year of those supposedly hard-to-find birds, and more Mountain Chickadees. A bear had recently tracked the snow up the trail ahead of me, and before the bear, a moose, but I saw neither of them. I wondered if the bear was a Grizzly; the print was almost as big as my boot. Out at a gap north along the ridge from Shedroof Mountain I found a sunny spot for lunch then tramped up through the snow to the top of the ridge before looping back down to the trail. I hadn't brought a map and though I had no problem finding my way, the mountains were not arranged the way I'd expected. Back on the trail again I wasn't paying attention and flushed a grouse out of the path just a few feet ahead of me. Too bad - I could have gotten some great photos. As it was I followed the bird up the hill, an adult male Spruce Grouse, and did succeed in getting a few decent shots. That's a hard species to find and it was a privilege to get good views of the male. But in five hours of hiking, I neither heard nor saw any Boreal Chickadees.
Back in the valley by 3PM, I decided I had time to drive up to Bunchgrass Meadows, another place where Boreal Chickadees had been reported. I found them, shortly after sunset, near milepost 10 on FR 1935 after wandering down to the meadows and back up to the road again. There were more camps than I expected up there, hunters or ORV'ers I suppose. I tried not to attract attention. I heard the chickadees first then got a few quick glimpses as they moved through. Even allowing for the dim light, the colors were much duller than I expected, just shades of gray. No chance for photos; I was afraid that if I tried to follow the birds with the camera, I would risk not seeing them well enough to confirm the identification. Another BVD (Better View Desired) species.
10/05/2013   Mt Spokane 50K  
I did finish the race, but only because I was the sweeper; I was more than 20 minutes past the cutoff at the first half. We started 10 minutes late and I slowed my pace somewhat to accomodate my fellow sweeper, a cute young woman from Seattle, but I can't really blame her because I don't think I would have made the cutoff in any case. It's a tough course with close to 3500' up and down in each of the two laps and a total distance of at least 55K. Nice scenery though, and pleasant running. The second half was particularly difficult. For 10 miles (the section farthest from any aid) I felt faint every time I stopped to walk and at times questioned whether I would be able to finish the run. I had my phone with me so could have called for assistance if it came to that. Cleaning the course was quite a bit of work; there were a lot of flags to pull and a couple dozen wooden sign stakes to carry. I was glad of that though - it helped to justify my late finish. James and Candace were packing up when I finally showed up at the finish, so once I'd had something to eat I helped them out. I enjoyed our chat about race-directing before I left.
10/18/2013   Gray's Harbor  
American Golden Plover (the brown one)
Peregrine over the Game Range
Tropical Kingbird
Great day of birding with Doug Schurman and Blair Bernson today. We met at Costco and I rode with them down to the Gray's Harbor area, sharing birding stories all the way down there. Blair's a bit crazy - not too surprising for the #1 eBirder in Washington state this year with 347 species. I'm #2 at 335. We started at Bottle Beach but the ponds were too deep to cross so we looked a while for landbirds, then drove briefly out on the beach from the Grayland access by the state park to look for Snowy Plovers. None (my second try) but we did flush three Lapland Longspurs, one of the species I'd hoped to pick up before they passed on. At Bottle Beach the tide was devouring the last of the mudflats, pushing a flock of gulls and Black-bellied Plovers ever closer to the beach. Among the plovers was a smaller browner bird, a golden plover. I guessed American and Doug Pacific, based in part on our respective year needs. He got excellent photos with his Canon 600mm lens and TC 1.4, a combination now too heavy for me to handle and too pricey for me to purchase when I could have handled it. We'll be meeting some of the top experts in the state tomorrow on the pelagic trip so we hope to find out for sure what it was.
We didn't find much on the north side of the bay, either at the Hoquiam STP or the Tonkin access to the game range, but while over there Doug, who gets hourly text messages from eBird regarding species he hasn't seen yet this year, received word that Ryan Shaw had a Tropical Kingbird south of Raymond. He was coming north up the coast and before long, had another at the Willapa airport. Doug called him from Aberdeen and on the way out of town heard back - now they had one at Tokeland so back to Westport we went. They were just leaving as we arrived so they turned around and showed the bird to us, a bright yellow kingbird flycatching from the top of a Sitka spruce in town. Quite out of place though not unexpected since they're regular fall vagrants along the coast. Nonetheless I wasn't counting on one. Ryan also, viewing Doug's plover photos, immediately identified the golden plover as a juvenile American based on the wing projection and lack of buff color in the face. That made three species for me for the day, not counting the Palm Warbler I heard sing twice at Bottle Beach but couldn't locate for Doug and Blair.
We checked for rare godwits (not reported recently) at the Tokeland Marina and photographed Willets with the Marbled Godwits, then wrapped up the day by driving the beach (and walking some) at Grayland in another futile search for Snowy Plovers. They're there, but being small and brown and white on pale brown sand littered with brown and whitish flotsam, they're very hard to spot. Not unlike Ptarmigan in their way. Feeling just happy for the first time in a long time, I ordered both the oysters and the scallops at Bennett's Restaurant and Grayland and of course, couldn't finish them despite eating too much for the first time in a long time. They'll furnish supper on the drive home tomorrow evening. We stayed at the spouse-worthy Chateau Westport. Splitting the room with Doug brought the cost down to the price of a double room at the Seagull's Nest, or wherever it was that I've stayed before.
10/19/2013   Pelagic trip  
In his wrap-up before we disembarked at the float in Westport, Phil aptly described the day as "magical". The magic began with the weather - mostly sunny with a light NW breeze, just warm enough to stay comfortable on deck (with Daniel's down parka under my rain gear) and a mere 3' swell, though even that was enough that the ground was still moving a bit under me when I got into my car back at Costco. The first hours were a bit slow. We crossed the bar on an ebbing tide before dawn and began to see Pacific loons, Sooty shearwaters and Common Murres as the sky began to glow behind the fog bank receding off our stern. Not many, though we did see a few Black-legged Kittiwakes fly over, my first year bird of the day. Action picked up as we approached a couple of shrimp boats about 25 miles offshore. Lots of shearwaters, including Buller's, quite a few Short-tailed, a few Pink-footed and even a Manx, their first of the year, along with somewhat reduced numbers of Sooties. After getting close-up views of dark shearwaters the experts identified as Short-tailed, they all began to look like Short-tailed to me, or most of them at least. Even some of the shearwaters I photographed on previous pelagic trips this year now look like Short-tailed, despite being identified at the time as Sooties. Oh well, I'll take them, #340 for the year.
The Manx was #341 and a state bird as were the Parakeet Auklets and the Scripp's Murrelet I photographed on the way in. The auklets were distant fly-bys and I couldn't have identified them; I barely even saw them, having missed the first four or five groups we encountered. More satisfying in their way, though not new for the year, were the Ancient Murrelets I photographed (and mis-identified as Cassin's Auklets). I've never (that I can recall) seen that species well, and my view this spring of a distant bird flying away after being identified by others was particularly inadequate. The Scripp's Murrelet was my best bird of the day. Formerly named Xantu's, it was a bird I never expected to see let alone pick up today, and I even got decent photos.
We left Westport too hastily to get the message about the Palm Warbler Bruce Lebar found behind the coast guard station a half hour later. We stopped at Bottle Beach instead where the tide was too far out and we had only a smattering of distant peeps (Least? Dunlin? Pectoral? Lb Dowitcher? BB Plover) illuminated with too much contrast by the setting sun. Great day nonetheless and I ended up counting the Palm Warbler from the day before because I couldn't think of anything else around that could make that dry "shiweeeshiweeeshiweeeshiweee" song just like the recording on the Sibley phone app. Speaking of phone, I'd left mine on the seat of my car at Costco and was grateful to find out on the way home that Susan and David had retrieved it for me before someone could break in and steal it.
10/24/2013   Snoqualmie Mt  
Engaged in conversation with Swee I didn't leave until 11AM, stopped for gas, started up the overgrown rope tow hill at 1PM. The old rough track up the mountain is well-worn these days, even though still not an official trail. About half way up the first pitch it crosses a rotting log broken lengthwise into two or three sections; I remember when it first fell, a blowdown more than three feet in diameter and cumbersome to clambor over. The waterfall was dry. I looked over the edge and wondered if I would die if I dove off. Not tempted to find out. A single bluebell was still flowering from a crack in the ledge. I photographed it. Continuing up, tired and faint when I stopped probably due to not eating since breakfast, I reached the hanging valley, passed the little cave where David scared himself and I found the fluted stick of gray marble. I followed the faint track along the steep hillside carpeted with yellowing sedges, reminding me of my late backpack trip up Clark Mountain some years ago, about this time of year. Looks like that trip might turn out to have been the closest I'll ever get to the Napeequa valley. I might have reached it but got chased out a day early by an approaching storm. I did reach the peak of Clark Mountain where I'd had just enough cell phone reception to call the bank and transfer $16,000 to pay for our new roof. That must have been about five years ago.
I hiked up to the ridge at the head of the valley, just high enough to look out at Kendall and Red Mountains from a perch on top of a granite boulder sheltered by young hemlocks. I ate lunch there. Feeling sad, I called a friend and we talked for some time, interrupted by occasional disconnections despite an apparently good signal and clear views down to I-90 east of Hyak. I cried some, asked her to tell me a story then told her some memories of prior late-season hiking trips on Snoqualmie Mt, mostly with the boys - huckleberry picking, photographing ptarmigan and the scalloped blue ice underneath old snowbanks, scrambling up over-steep ledges, exploring caves. She asked me about my symptoms and almost persuaded me to hope that they're all in my mind even as I laid out the case against myself. The sun eased down towards the horizon and though the air behind me was cool, I stayed warm in my T-Shirt alone while blue shadows crept up the valley below me.
Late for my meeting with Susan, I called her and we talked while I sat on the steep slope at the head of the valley amidst stubby alpine huckleberry bushes whose browned leaves flushed like birds when I brushed my hand over them. We talked until 5PM, then I hiked down until near dusk at 6, my legs shaky with fatigue and toes crying for relief. We met in Auburn and continued to the bird club meeting in Tacoma, the last until January when I'll do a presentation on my Washington big year. Susan was hungry and I'd missed my evening beer so we dropped by the Spar on the way home. Though I picked the oily crusts off my fried zucchini my stomach hurt anyway. I felt at peace but our conversation was anxious like a dream that keeps going but never gets anywhere. Too tired to listen any longer, I didn't even shower before bed.
10/25/2013   O'Grady  
David and I relocated the pale Thayer's Gull down at the river today. The gull flock had moved about a quarter mile downstream, presumably spooked by the Bald Eagle watching from high in a riverbank cottonwood. We walked down a gravel bar littered with dead salmon. The smell was hard to take, though more fishy than deathy. A few of the former fish were just puddles of gray liquid oozing out of masses of writhing maggots. The gulls prefer the fresher carcases which they drag out of the river. We also see them diving into the water, perhaps for salmon eggs flushed out as the still-living salmon stir up the gravel for their nests. The riverbed is pitted with nests, many of them now exposed by the low water after two weeks with no rain.
I carried the big lens for the first time since last June. Though cumbersome to use and really too heavy for me to wield for long without a tripod, it does take nice sharp photos, slightly better than the new 80-400 I've been using all summer and which David used today. I handheld it for a few shots when we passed through a mixed flock of chickadees, kinglets and bushtits but mounted it on the tripod for the gulls.
Susan, feeling good, made a delicious winter squash soup this evening, spiced with chipotle peppers. I had a bowl for desert after beer (Mocha Death), zucchini, bread and cheeses for supper. The evening has been a pleasant conclusion to an emotionally challenging week.
10/29/2013   Nachez Peak  
Trying to reach 120 miles for the month, I delayed our departure for Nachez Peak somewhat by running down to the river and once out, took advantage of the time alone to ponder the spawning salmon and to walk a bit on the way back up. Despite some similarities in our situations, I can't really relate to the fish. Most of them are already dead, their carcases furry with pink and gray mold settling into the gravel bars like fading memories. The few living fish are decomposing even as they swim, striving with their peers for preferred territory and flipping on their sides to flush loose gravel out of their chosen nest sites. Almost oblivious to external threats, they focus on finishing their life's work, on spawning before they die.
What is my life's work, I wonder. Surely not just to complete 200 marathons. That's just a milestone marking my illusion that as long as I can run 26.2, I am strong and well. To spawn like the salmon? Been there, done that. To be me, the person my Creator (assuming One exists) made? Or perhaps to love that person and those around him? Starting back up the hill from the river I determined to rejoice in the days that remain, shuffling through golden leaves under a cerulean sky, recalling the joy of dashing through piles of maple leaves on windy October days in New Hampshire. But joy doesn't come when called, or even when recalled. It always surprises me when it chooses to show up, and it hasn't so chosen the past few months. Hope too has been in short supply. Not much enthusiasm for life even though life should be good.
Delayed by my dilatory run, we didn't start hiking until after 2PM. We parked at the bend in the road near Tipsoo Lake and walked out the trail which runs across the south slope of Nachez Peak. In shady places the snow was about a foot deep and crusted so hard we could walk on it without breaking through. A bit slippery in running shoes though. At a ledgy outcrop of sorts we left the trail and hiked north up to the ridge, then west up the ridge to the south, lower and easier, summit of Nachez Peak. Bright sunshine, fine views but the breeze was quite cold. Sarah was anxious about the exposed slopes on the descent but Roger held one hand and I the other and she did fine. They stayed home while Susan and David and I went to the birding class, later than usual. Pretty much the whole class was devoted to the identification quiz, in which Ryan shows slides of about 80 birds while we write down the names. Last spring I missed about 20. This time, despite more difficult slides (female ducks, shorebirds in various plumages, hawks and gulls) I only missed 7 or 8. I've learned a lot this year.
11/02/2013   In Unity We Run Marathon  
I'm not running New York City this weekend, my last and only chance to run it. Though I don't regret the decision to stay home, I'm still sad about it. But then again, what doesn't make me sad these days? It would have cost us some $2500 to go, and the IUWR Marathon I ran today instead cost less than 1% of that sum. We spent some of that money hosting Sarah and Roger for five days instead, a much more rewarding use of the funds, and New York would have been a hassle. My sense of failure about it probably indicates my decision was motivated in part by reasons less laudable than saving money, and a feeling of loss remains.
In Unity We Run was windy and cold at times, but fortunately not as wet as I anticipated. The first wind storm of the season blew through today, starting right about the same time as the race and peaking during my six miles. A few good sized limbs broke off the cottonwoods and poplars along the course, at least one narrowly missing a runner but no-one was actually hurt as far as I know. The wind piled dry maple leaves in drifts almost a foot deep along several sections of the trail, rather fun to run through. In other places it blew in our faces so fiercely we had to walk, jackets flapping like loose sails in a gale. I ran mostly alone, though spent a little time with Leslie and later with Monte, and finished in just under five hours. My second half was 30 minutes slower than my first yet felt about as hard. I don't know whether that represents a loss of endurance due to the initial stages of decline, or just a lack of recovery from last weekend. Hopefully the latter since this was only #172 and I still hope to make it to 200.
11/04/2013   Nisqually NWR  
Shep found a Swamp Sparrow along the slough by the Twin Barns overlook last week. It was reported again on Friday, the same day we were down there (and I photographed a Rusty Blackbird, which made 45 for the day and 345 for the year), but we didn't see it. So today I'd planned to go down and try again. Talking with Susan delayed our departure so we didn't start birding down there until 11. I figured our chances for the sparrow were slim to none and sure enough, the day started out slow - almost no bird activity compared to last Friday. I decided to eat lunch at the Twin Barns overlook so as to maximize our chances of spotting the Swamp Sparrow. David asked what the sparrow sounded like so I played the chip call for him - a "cheep" call higher-pitched and flatter than Golden-crowned and less nasal than the Song Sparrow's "syip". A minute or so later, I heard it from across the slough, several distinct "cheep"s apparently coming from near the dike, then I spotted it much closer in at the base of a blackberry bush. Bold gray eye stripe, brown and black streaked crown and back, gray breast and buff-brown flanks both with indistinct streaks, and buff and black malar stripes framing a whitish throat. I called David back and we both managed to get decent photos of this attractive sparrow. That wasn't all. About an hour or so later a Northern Harrier flushed two finches from the freshwater side of the dike. They flew up and landed in the top of a small tree, too far away to identify with binoculars but even at that distance, obviously too pale for goldfinches. We hustled closer and identified two Snow Buntings, very unusual at Nisqually. When they settled down on the saltmarsh we put the scope on them then showed other birders our find. They were delighted; it was a life bird for several of the people that stopped by.
11/06/2013   Nisqually NWR  
I spent my last day birdwatching at Nisqually with the regular Wednesday group of about 30 other birders. We were out there for 7 1/2 cold hours but I saw 59 species, a very respectable count for this time of year despite not seeing anything rare. Highlights included a Peregrine pursuing a Wilson's Snipe across a half mile of salt marsh before ultimately returning with a Starling in its talons, close-up views of Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets foraging with a large flock of small birds, and a juvenile Accipiter that morphed from a Sharp-shinned into a Cooper's and half way back again before finally deciding to be a Cooper's after all.
11/16/2013   Westcliffe  
Today was a day of wind and snow, hiking and cutting firewood, a day filled with peace, suffused with love, illuminated with bright veins of joy. Before breakfast I sat with David and Miguel in Liz's hot tub. We taked about relationships, about the importance of having unsatisfied desires, about Miguel's heartache and my dying, the collective unconscious and how we reach it (whether we posess our own personal version or instead connect directly to the universal) about God and how the experience of transcendance. I realized that my model for experiencing God is a relationship, and realized too how the past 24 hours with David and Liz had opened my eyes to the importance relationships to me. I love, and am loved.
The drive down to Canyon City and up into the Wet Mountains called up memories of working on the peregrines, watching the Wetmore eyrie, even skidding on the ice in my VW one winter evening. We stopped in the canyon below the eyrie crag, where Warbling Vireos had been so abundant in the riparian cottonwoods. An intense wind was blasting down the canyon, slamming the car doors when we got out to look around. At the ranch snow drifts and bare grass dotted with cow pies shared the front yard. We fixed grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches in Liz's cabin then drove out a canyon and up into mixed woods of Aspen, Ponderosa Pine and White Fir to look for dead trees and limbs to cut for firewood. I wasn't sure whether my arms could handle the Cathy's saw, a small Stihl like the one I have at home, but they did OK. We all (except Liz, due to her back) helped with the cutting and carrying and stacking the stubby logs into the back of the Subaru.
With a car full of wood we drove up to Liz's old teepee, now a little tattered from neglect. Liz showed us the log bench from which she and Bob used to watch the sun set over the Sangres, obscured this evening by snow squalls. We took turns swinging in the long rope swing and climbed up onto the tree house platform, dodging the gaps in the boards. David and I hiked up to a prominent convex ledge on the side of a brushy peak to the north. The rock was weathered metamorphic granite, a little too steep to smear up in hiking boots but not a difficult scramble. Cold wind and the gathering dusk kept our stay up there short. I lost David on the way down, found him again not long before we reached the car. I'd wondered if the women would wait for us but they did, and we were grateful. Back at the cabin I was wiped out but supper perked me up some. We sat around with Gary and Amy and mostly listened to Gary's tales of his adventures in Peru until they left and the women sent us out to the unheated bunkhouse for the night.
11/17/2013   Westcliffe  
After an extended breakfast of Cathy's pancakes and Sally's frittata and turkey sausage (or was it the other way around) Sally went riding while Liz, Cathy, David and I went out firewood cutting again. I thought my arms might be done in after yesterday but they did OK. We drove out across the scrubby pasture towards a grove of ponderosa pine, Liz's Subaru sturdily plowing through the six or so inches of snow. "Watch out for rocks", we told her. Near the edge of the stand David and I spotted a dead pine about a foot in diameter and being manly, agreed that we could handle it. I told him how to do the two cuts. He did the first one; I did the second but started a little too low and came in below the first cut rather than above it. Though anchored by only a half inch or so of wood, the tree resolutely stayed standing until all four of us joined together to rock it back and forth. We were ready to dart behind another tree should it go the wrong way but it cooperated and fell with a satisfying crash almost exactly where we intended it to. We trimmed limbs and sawed the trunk into stove-sized chunks until Cathy's little Stihl gave up the ghost. It had worked hard; David timed me on the last cut and it took a full 5 minutes. I took the housing off and cleaned out the sawdust but it still wouldn't run faster than idle, too slow to set the chain turning.
After lunch at Liz's urging David took another look at the saw, to see if we could fix it. It didn't take him long to realize that I'd accidentally set the chain brake on. He fired it up and cut a stick or two - problem solved. For lunch Liz fixed a salad and David made grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches using Sally's leftover grape tomatoes. We sat in the warm cabin with sunshine filtering in through the smoky windows, eating lunch together in the satisfying knowledge of a winter's worth of firewood stacked outside on the porch.
After David and Cathy left, Liz and I finished cleaning up the cabin then sat on the porch for a couple of hours reminiscing in the sunshine . We started back to the Springs as the full moon rose in the notch between the mountains down-canyon from the old Wetmore Peregrine eyrie. The crazy wind of yesterday was silent and we were at peace. David was waiting for us back at Liz's but before he and I headed back to Denver the three of us ate dinner together at a Mexican restaurant he remembered. Though the cloth napkins felt a bit pretentious the food was in fact a cut or two above the ordinary. As we parted I promised Liz that I still intended to finish her painting, a landscape of Garden of the Gods which I started 33 years ago and which has hung in her kitchen for the past decade awaiting my return.
11/20/2013   380 miles, 2 birds  
Blue Jay - Moses Lake
Tennessee Warbler - Potholes State Park
Orange-crowned Warbler - Potholes State Park
180 miles from home, David and I pulled up around noon in Moses Lake and parked next to an abandoned mobile home sinking into the roadside weeds. Across the street we found the three filbert trees in the yard and looked for the Blue Jay reported two days earlier on eBird. It wasn't there. In its place perched a fat fluffy brown cat, apparently awaiting the Blue Jay too. Tiring of staring at the cat, we took a stroll around the neighborhood, a depressing collection of ramshackle houses with cluttered yards guarded by barking dogs and a few furtive cats. No Blue Jay, and scarcely any other birds either. We tried the other direction where the houses were a little larger and the yards not quite as unkempt. I was peering through binoculars at a couple of goldfinches in a hawthorne tree when I heard it - the unmistakeable "jeear jeeear" of a Blue Jay - from over near the original spot. We ran back there, found no jay, then heard it again, a block or two to the east. I ran over there, panting more than I ought to have been given the number of marathons I run, and while I was searching for it the bird flew unobserved overhead and landed in the yard. David spotted it first; I verified it then grabbed the camera and got a couple quick shots before it took off. We didn't see it again but no matter, we had it. That Blue Jay, 180 miles from home, was my 347th species for the year and single-handedly (single-wingedly?) made our outing a success.
That was easy, we thought, but surely our chances for the Tennessee Warbler at nearby Potholes State Park were slim to none. One was reported there two days ago but this would only be like the 20th occurrence in the state and it's way out of season and migrating birds rarely linger long. We drove over there anyway; it was only 20 miles, barely time enough for my fingers to thaw. The sky was blue and the sun bright but the breeze was out of the north and the air temperature scarcely above freezing. The state park was almost empty. We did find a few birds, initially some sparrows in the sagebrush and magpies in the shade trees, then a small kinglet flock and then, in the bare poplars of the tent camping area, a few warblers. I heard only the "chik" of Butterbutts but played the Tennessee song once or twice and a minute later, a greenish warbler showed up. "I've got it", I shouted to David. False alarm - it looked alot like a more common Orange-crowned Warbler. Still, eBird flagged even that species as uncommon this time of year so I took a bunch of photos then called David over and he took a bunch of photos. He was wrestling with the 200-400 lens; I felt sorry for him but not sorry enough to offer to trade my much-lighter 80-400 for it. The 200-400 is a superb lens but pretty much too heavy for me to handle any more with my weakened arms and shoulders. We lost the warbler then found it again, or one like it, took more photos, lost it again, found it again, took more photos, quite close up this time. Then we lost it for good despite searching the area for another 20 minutes or so. Back in the car we studied our photos. I'd thought at the time that we had at least two different greenish warblers and sure enough we did, and one clearly had whitish undertail coverts which extended much of the way to the notch in the tail while the other had yellow undertail coverts and a longer tail. Subtle differences at best, but sufficient nonetheless to distinguish the two species. The second bird was an Orange-crowned, unusual this late in the fall but common earlier in the season. The first bird we'd spotted though, was indeed the Tennessee Warbler we'd been looking for, a rare vagrant in Washington which upped my state big year count to 348.
I know, it's crazy to drive almost 400 miles in one day just to get a brief look at a couple of birds, unusual though they may be. For those two birds we burned 15 gallons of gas and released 100+ pounds of carbon dioxide to exacerbate the overheating of the earth. But I don't feel so bad about that anymore. ALS will shrink my carbon footprint by upwards of 30 years even if I drive hundreds of miles a day for the rest of my foreshortened life - one small silver lining to this particular cloud.
On the way home David asked me if I had any regrets about my life. That I was too timid to ask my high school girlfriend to have sex with me, I replied. A bit flippant I know; the real regret is that I was too often afraid to pursue my passions, too lacking in confidence to believe that I could achieve them, and sometimes too lazy to really work for them. After a few setbacks following college I gave up on myself, and though I subsequently drifted into what was in many ways a prosperous port, I still suspect that it wasn't my true home. But my regrets don't overshadow my successes, achievements, joys - what is the opposite of regrets, anyhow? Looking back I see my life as filled with beauty, shot through with love, highlighted by joy. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, financially, even spiritually, I've enjoyed almost an embarassment of riches. I could have done better, I could have been better, perhaps much better, but I'm grateful for what I have done, have been, am now. And I have yet a little more time and I hope to use it well and wisely, without fear and hopefully with love, to let go of the guilt about what I am not and to be who I am as best I can.
11/24/2013   Doppler 50K  
Around 5AM I awoke with a fragment of a dream. I had hoped for more of a dream and as I considered it, I remembered more of it.
I was running a trail race in Washington in the fall, about to start up a short hill on an old forest road when another runner, a woman wearing a long skirt (similar to one I recall Darchelle wearing at church one morning) ran by me, challenging me as she passed "I bet I beat you to the finish". I thought to myself "I don't think so - it's only the first loop and you're going too fast." but I didn't say anything. She ran strongly up the hill but near the top she stumbled and stopped. When I approached her she was bent over but it didn't look to me as though she'd actually fallen. She told me she'd hurt herself on a sharp point of mica protruding like a little peak from the top of a small gray boulder. I didn't see any mark on her leg and though mica is a soft mineral that typically occurs in thin transparent sheets which wouldn't cause injury, this outcrop did look rather sharp. I continued up the trail and never saw the woman again. The trail began to run up a stream bed of granite cobbles and boulders with translucent brown water running over them, reminding me of the Ammonusuc River near Crawford Notch where we hiked last summer and Mom fell and cut her forehead. The rocks were slippery but I stepped carefully on them and didn't fall. Crossing the stream, the trail traversed up a steep wet clay bank covered with green moss and ferns, perhaps like places along the Green River near home. Part of the bank was beginning to pull away from the hillside exposing a deep crack several inches wide. Water was welling up out of the crack, clear and cold and a beautiful azure blue in its depths. Shortly after that the trail crossed above a steep cliff on a short boardwalk with railings. It occurred to me that if I slipped I would probably die, and sure enough I did start to fall but stopped myself by clinging to the posts of the railings. The posts were made of split wood, reminding me of splitting firewood at Liz's cabin in Colorado. They were solid, and by holding onto them I pulled myself back up onto the boardwalk, feeling strong. Continuing up the trail with a couple of other runners, I met a short and rather fat boy dressed in black. He began to harass me. We faced off in front of a tall chain link fence such as those around tennis courts, or around the electrical substation at mile 14 on the Tunnel Marathon course. He came at me holding the brushy top of a small bare tree, perhaps a birch, that he'd broken off and was holding by the base, pointing the tip at me like a sword. It was regularly branched and as I watched, it turned silver and began to glow as if lit by an internal light. It was quite beautiful and reminded me somehow of my life but the fat boy began to wield it like a sword, fencing with me. I held a table knife in each hand and used them to parry his thrusts. Successfully fending him off, I got by him and continued on the trail along the chain link fence. Once past it, the fat boy was ahead of me again so I poked him in the buttocks several times with my knives, to pester him. We entered a long abandoned house, all dusty and dark inside, and raced up the stairs. I was almost to the third floor when I realized that I didn't know where the trail was anymore and that the fat boy had turned off the stairs onto the second floor. I thought he might be on the trail but it was dark and I couldn't see him, so being lost, I woke up.
Monte and I drove over to Bremerton together, with a detour because the onramp from I-5 onto hwy 16 was blocked by patrol cars with flashing lights, and by an oil tank truck parked crosswise blocking both lanes. On the Union Ave bridge I realized why as our car began to drift over into the oncoming, fortunately vacant, lanes. Black ice. Fortunately we encountered no more of it. The race began at 8AM. I felt tired and bloated from breakfast for the first several miles, running near the back of the pack with Karen and George, Barb, Monte and a group of four local runners. The first eight miles included a couple of climbs over summits of Green Mountain with sunny views of the Cascades and Olympics over a low cloud deck below us. I began to feel stronger despite some fatigue in my quads, so after the 8-mile aid station I picked up the pace and ran the next 8 miles to the Doppler tower on Gold Mountain with a runner named Justin. He asked me about training so I told him what had worked for me - lactate threshold runs and lots of marathons - but that now I was nearing the end of my running life thanks to ALS. I also told Monte in the car on the way over but we didn't speak of it again all day. I ran alone for the last 15 miles or so. After sitting on top of Green Mountain in the sun for 10 minutes my quads, especially on the left side, tightened up and I had to walk most of the last six miles due to soreness in the IT band area. The view was worth it though - all five volcanoes and the skyscrapers of Seattle gleaming in the sunlight across the Sound. We joined Karen, Barb and George, and race directors John and Debbie, for dinner at the Bremerton Bar and Grill, sharing beer and salmon burgers and running stories together then stumbling out on stiff legs for the drive home.
Susan was in high spirits when I got home. She'd had a wonderful day and was very happy.
12/1/2013   Quadzilla  
Ran four marathons in four days which makes six since being diagnosed with ALS 24 days ago. Seattle (today) was the fastest at 4:56:09 but speed wasn't the point. The objective was rather to run with friends and share my sad news with them, and to finish at least the first three. The fourth was a bonus and I might not, except for peer pressure, have signed up for it. Glad I did though, despite a rather painful last 10 miles. I ran the middle 8 at a hard pace trying to catch up to Monte after as slow first 8, only to discover that he'd been behind me all the time. Susan tried to meet me at several points along the course but I was ahead of her every time. We finally met postrace and joined the main Maniacs and others at Zeeks for delicious pizza and beer.
At the Ghost yesterday I mostly caught up with old running companions. I finished in about 5:44 with slightly positive splits and felt reasonably good the whole time. Unlike yesterday I didn't put in any really fast miles though I did do about an extra mile walking back to the Leschi turnaround with Ray S. I told him and Tracy M about my ALS, commiserated with Leslie M and ran at a brisk pace for a total of maybe four miles, first with Rikki B and then with Sabrina S, both of whom had done the regular start and finished in just over four hours. The weather was dry and cool. Susan didn't volunteer but hung out in the timing tent with Matt and Betsy.
Bill Barmore held the Wishbone Run on Friday on the Green River trail running south from Tukwila because the private forestland where he's traditionally run it recently got clearcut. Susan volunteered for him, setting up all the food prep area and doing most of the serving, though she had someone else flipping pancakes with her. She boiled the potatoes just right and served them with salted parsely, and the huckleberry pancakes with real Maple syrup with delicious both during and after the run. I ran the first half with Monte, Betsy, Leslie and Jill. I walked some in the second half then ran a few miles fast and caught Monte before the finish. The weather was sunny and dry, a nice day for running, but I ran a rather slow race, 5:48 I think, thanks to serious fatigue for the first 10 miles from eating too little for breakfast and that only an hour before the race.
Matt and Betsy's Wattle Waddle was cold, foggy and dark at the 7AM early start. Susan drove me in and stayed to help out at the start/finish area. I ran out to the first turnaround at a comfortable pace, much of it with a woman I didn't know. Rikki B caught up to me on the way back and we ran maybe 8 miles together. I told her about my ALS diagnosis and we talked about that some, and about her life some too. I felt close to her and was grateful for her company.
12/6/2013   David's dream  
David N called me this morning to tell me a dream he remembered from last night. He was in a cabin in the mountains with a group of friends including me. The cabin reminded him of the first time he stayed alone in a cabin in Switzerland when he was young, and where he'd had a profound revelation of peace and acceptance with his life past, present and future. A young man in the group was undergoing a transformation, becoming a powerful elf, a wise(?) leader or guide for others. His genitals were transformed too, as if he were both male and female. The atmosphere in the cabin, in the group, was one of tranformation and growth and love. David and I used a rifle with a scope to shoot and kill a big-headed dwarf far away down the hill. We killed a second dwarf the same way, I standing behind him to help him hold the rifle steady. We didn't have much feeling about it; it was just a task that had to be done. A door with an electronic sensor on the top, like the amplifier and wires in the arm of a record-player turntable, was open. When someone inadvertently or ignorantly closed the door, the sensor was broken but we sent it to a repair man partway down the hill who repaired it for free. The second time someone closed the door and broke the sensor, David and I successfully repaired it together, like we used to do together with our Volkswagons after college. Keeping the door open was important for maintaining the atmosphere or community of love in the cabin. Outside the cabin I was chopping and splitting wood, stacking pieces of different sizes in a beautiful pattern. I was splitting the Pinon pine into chips but David came out and asked me to keep some of the Pinon pine in larger pieces and I agreed to do that for him.
12/12/2013   Going home  
This morning Mom and I followed the tire tracks down my sister Sarah's snow-covered road to their big post and beam house. The snow squeaked underfoot and wind bit our cheeks as we came out of the woods into their field. At the front door we stamped our feet and shed our shoes, stepping into their warm kitchen where Roger had coffee ready. and served it with steamed milk as we sat around the table, the big stone stove radiating heat and the sunlight streaming across the worn pine floor. Even Mom took a half cup of coffee, her first in almost 50 years. I began talking about my sadness and apprehension about the trip home. Grief for Susan welled up in me and when I couldn't hold back tears in front of them, Sarah came around the table and held me. I'm on my way home.
12/19/2013   Plein Air Painting  
Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls, oil on canvas, 9x12
For the past year or so I've been thinking I wanted to get back into painting, and all the more so since I've known that I'm running out of time. I bought canvasboards and brushes and paints, turpentine and media. I've started thinking about scenes I'd like to paint. I made plans to paint a small painting for everyone in the family for Christmas. I've done everything except actually paint. For whatever reason that last and most important step has been difficult to actually do.
Yesterday I broke the ice. Susan and I drove down to Westport, to Grayland Beach to look for Snowy Plovers. Had we seen one, it would have been species #350 for the year. We drove the high tide line in first gear examining every near and distant white spot. We found no birds other than an occasional gull out over the surf and small groups of dunlin slicing by along the waterline. Somewhere south of the Midway Beach access path we parked for lunch where the gull flock hangs out. Today the flock consisted of about 100 Glaucous-winged and 70 Western gulls, along with one 2nd cycle California Gull, distinguished by the attenuated silhouette and a pinkish bill with black tip. While Susan ate (and served me) I painted a 5x7 canvas scene of the beach. The sky was silvery-overcast when I started and clear watery blue when I finished, so rather than paint what I saw, I had to paint what I guessed was there at some point, gray clouds receding to expose bright sky, a few gulls on the wet strand. My hands were too shaky to do the gulls on the spot so I had to finish them up this morning instead.
Gulls
Wind-blown sand
Sunset
Later, searching on foot for our tiny target species, we flushed a flock of about 40 Least Sandpipers from lumpy sand along the edge of shallow ponds draining out from among the dunes near Midway. While we walked, wind stripped pale skeins of sand from the damp beach and swept them diagonally inland to accumulate in miniature longitudinal dunes underfoot. Masses of golden cloud materialized above the western horizon and blocked the sunbreaks I'd hoped would illuminate my photos. Eventually pink yielded to gray in the eastern sky and a few brilliant gaps out to the southwest marked the demise of the sun as we returned to the Subaru at the high tide line. It was nice to get out of the wind.
Extending my streak of days with painting to two, David and I drove out to Snoqualmie Falls this afternoon. It was a beautiful day, sunny and clear - until we pulled up at the falls overlook. Fog drifting upriver obscured the falls and rose up out of the canyon downstream in a cloud overhead. Fir trees dripped cold water on us as we got out of the car. After dithering at the overlook for 15 minutes or so we decided we'd better get started. I sketched the scene onto a 9x12 canvasboard from a photograph and set up my palette - Ultramarine blue, Thalo Blue, Sap Green, Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, Quinacridone Sienna, Hansa Yellow Medium and White - then carried my folding table and supplies back out to the overlook. David followed me with watercolor pad and paints. I roughed in the sky - yellow and orange near the sun yielding to pale thalo blue across the high horizon - and the dark cliffs obscured by fog - mostly ultramarine with burnt umber or the quinacridone sienna - and the pool below the falls - ultramarine with sap green and yellow ochre. When I went to fill in details I found that mist had coated the canvasboard with tiny droplets of water so the oil paint would no longer stick, but just slide around leaving a muddy smear behind the brush. That was enough for me; I had the idea, the composition, the basic colors down, and I could do the rest from photos. David managed to pull off a rather nice black and white watercolor highlighting the detail of the falls amidst the fog and mist.
12/28/2013   Christmas  
We flew back on Sunday night the 22nd, giving me a day to recover from the Pigtails Marathon, which I didn't end up running because I had too much to do to prepare for going to NH. The flight was easy; I slept almost the whole time and Susan slept quite a bit too, unusual for her. We ate breakfast at the Miss Wakefield diner on our way north and arrived in Jackson before lunch. Except for the six inches of snow on the ground, the weather was rather like Seattle, 33F and misty, with quite a bit of ice on the trees in Wakefield, less in Jackson.
Ice on the trees
Christmas morning
12/29/2013   Yukon Do It Marathon  
On a good day this is a scenic and relaxing run, an out-and-back along the water and through mostly wooded rural areas near Manchester State Park near Port Orchard. Today was a good day, quiet and dry though I still got cold when I walked; it's hard to avoid that when running in Washington in December. I walked a couple of long sections, first around the halfway point and again for the last 5 miles on the phone with David Nichol. Susan met me at the finish; she set up and served all the food for the race. After helping pack up, we reported to the Moon Dog Too for beer and lunch. Tony and Bill joined us. The Seahawks were playing their final game of the season so we lingered after lunch with a small crowd of fans to cheer them on. They won the game and the division title and we had fun.

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