Brian's Journal - Fall 2017

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Susan, Darchelle and me
Darchelle's final Owl species (not this individual)

10/2/2017   Cascade Pass hike  
Johannesburg Mountain from trailhead
Pelton Basin from Cascade Pass
Sahale Mountain from Sahale Arm
For the quintessential Cascade Mountains hike you can't beat Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm so we knew we had to take Susan up there and fortunately the weather cooperated, clearing today after rain and snow over the weekend. The snow began to melt yesterday up there but we still ran into four or five inches with drifts over a foot deep up on Sahale Arm. In view of the conditions, I wore socks with my running shoes and even with that precaution, my toes went numb for a while. But what a day! Bright sun and deep shade, gleaming white snow and brilliant red huckleberry bushes, friendly Marmots and chatty grouse ("york york york york" and a soft "hoohoohoohoohoohoo"), industrious Pikas and both kinds of flickers. Though we didn't stop to pick, the alpine huckleberries were locally abundant and tasted like apples with a hint of banana.
Lower Sahale Arm
Sooty Grouse
View over Cascade Pass
View towards Stehekin
Sooty Grouse
Marmots
We considered driving up to Marblemount the night before but decided on an early start instead, that being 7:40AM for us. It's a long drive; we started hiking just after 11. I noticed that the Bigleaf Maples along the Cascade River Road mostly had unusually small leaves, maybe a third of normal size, apparently as a consequence of defoliation this summer. It's not easy being a tree. At switchback number 23 out of 36 (we counted them on the way down) at the overlook across the avalanche path we spotted both a Golden Eagle and an accipiter, too small for a Goshawk. Having already seen another accipiter from the parking lot I thought maybe we were in for a hawk migration day. We weren't, as it turned out, though we did see five Bald Eagles in addition to the Golden. In the field I identified the second accipiter as a Cooper's, a decision that this photo would seem to support but that this photo of the same bird does not.
Juvenile White-crowned Sparrow
Golden Eagle
Red and Yellow-shafted Flickers
Half a dozen other parties beat us to the pass. That was okay but unfortunately Susan and Darchelle arrived too late to see the Black Bear browsing on huckleberries along the trail up to the Arm. We
Pelton Basin from above Cascade Pass
ate a sandwich at the pass then decided to continue up Sahale Arm a ways even though it meant that Darchelle would not get home by seven as she had hoped. Susan and I hiked ahead until 4PM and waited for Darchelle who showed up maybe 10 minutes later. A family of Marmots, one adult with three yearlings, entertained us while we waited. They were very tame and allowed us to approach within a couple of feet. So did the Sooty Grouse, a flock of eight, that we encountered on the way back down to the pass. Darchelle got some good photos. By the way, all the photos in this journal entry were taken by either Darchelle or Susan. My hands were not sufficiently functional to hold the phone or the camera. I walked all day with my hands in my pockets, as if strolling along a sidewalk.
We made it back to the car right at seven, just after sunset, having hiked roughly 9 miles and 2700 feet up and down. Susan was very impressed with the scenery and the wildlife. I kept a bird list despite not finding any Ptarmigan.
10/3/2017   Paradise hike  
It felt like it would be a long drive but Susan was up for it and a hike at Mount Rainier would be a nice complement to the hike in the North Cascades yesterday, so we headed down to Paradise about the same time that Darchelle left for work. We considered Grand Park or Summerland, both about a half hour closer to home but Paradise offered the chance of a Ptarmigan and more spectacular views of the mountain. On the drive down, I brought up the subject of God, curious about the nature of her beliefs and her answers to some of the questions I have. I enjoyed the conversation and the drive passed quickly.
Susan at lunch spot
Above Myrtle Falls
Above the Golden Gate
Chipmunk
Marmot
Me
We hiked the loop over Panorama Point via the Golden Gate and Nisqually Vista trails, starting at 1PM after a visit to the restroom where Susan pulled down my pants, stepped outside, then came back in to pull them up again. No problem. We stopped 10 minutes up the trail to eat some lunch. The breeze was cool but the sun warm enough to compensate. Below the Golden Gate we ran into snow which was melting into slush on the trail. Above the Golden Gate I began looking for Ptarmigan tracks. A Fox had been wandering around up there, probably also looking for Ptarmigan, but the only bird tracks I found appeared to be from pipits. I did pick up a year bird though. While I was waiting for Susan at the top of the Golden Gate a Lapland Longspur flew over and down into the valley. I have been looking for them each time I have been up in the Alpine zone recently but when I entered it on my checklist, eBird flagged it as rare. I heard both of its calls, and they are diagnostic.
Not a bear
Rainier from below
Sunset on Rainier
Up around Panorama Point we had a big flighty flock of rosy finches, and more sedentary Marmots and Chipmunks enjoying the sunshine. Quite a few people too, most of them like us in running shoes despite the snow and slush. Susan still wanted to see a bear but the only large mammal we came across was a mule deer. While we were on our way home the full moon rose over Rainier at sunset.
Note: Thank you to Susan who took all the photos from our hike except the first two.
10/7/2017   Portland Marathon  
No I didn't run it this year, but Darchelle's dad did and David and I walked from the finish back to mile 22.5 to meet him and ran and walked back to the finish with him. Portland last year was my last Marathon and other than Tri-Cities three weeks after that, I haven't had anything to do with the marathon scene until this weekend.
Collecting clothing at the start
Running with Richard
At the finish
As in previous years we collected clothing at the start. I found a quilted jacket to wear for the morning which David later took home with him. We ate breakfast at Hop City in the Hilton while Donna and Darchelle chased Richard around the Marathon course.
10/13/2017   Chanterelles  
Darchelle and I finally got got out to hunt for Chanterelles. After a long summer drought extending into September, we have finally had enough rain to bring up some mushrooms, though fewer than last year. We hit the spot east of the Enumclaw where the boys and I have done well over the past several years and once again it did not disappoint us. We brought home almost five pounds plus the first cauliflower mushroom I have found in several decades.
Mushroom hunting
Our quarry
I managed to pick up a nice clump
Posing with Cauliflower Mushroom
Our haul
Worth singing about after Darchelle fries them up
It took Darchelle a little while to learn to spot them. I on the other hand couldn't do much to pick them. I tried using my toes with some success but the mushrooms were quite fresh and therefore more brittle than Chanterelles usually are. After mangling several specimens I decided to leave the picking to Darchelle and wandered off to locate more patches for her to harvest.
Back in Enumclaw we were going to eat at the Rainier Grill or Jackson's but both had at least a 20 minute wait so we visited the Mint Restaurant & Alehouse. We waited about 15 minutes there; it has become more popular than the last time I visited, and with good reason. Darchelle ordered the grilled polenta cakes, one of the best vegetarian entrées I've tasted in quite a while. My wild mushrooms and truffle gnocchi were also very good. We also ordered the chili-garlic glazed brussels sprouts and while the first few were pretty tasty, we tired of them. I drank an IPA, whatever our server recommended, and it was good.
10/15/2017   Nason Ridge  
With Ed and Delia we attempted again to see the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper that has been showing up occasionally at Hayden Slough, but without success. On my own, I would perhaps have been willing to wait an hour or two for it to appear but I didn't want to keep the others waiting so after some deliberation over where to go next (chase Pygmy Owl sightings nearby, walk Wylie Slough, head into the mountains) we decided on Nason Ridge northeast of Stevens Pass off hwy 2. Although not a bad decision, our choice to leave Hayden Slough meant that we missed the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper which showed up there an hour later.
Vine maples
Birding on Nason Ridge
Slippery trail
We found snow there, and brilliant red Vine Maples under a crisp blue sky. From the road we watched raptors over the ridge for a few minutes, including a couple of Golden Eagles, then decided to hike up the trail to the PCT in hopes of Three-toed Woodpeckers and Pygmy Owls. The trail was slippery in places with mud, slush and packed snow for which Ed's smooth-soled shoes were ill adapted, but we managed. Birds were few and our targets evaded us again, but we were grateful for the outing nonetheless.
10/27/2017   New Hampshire  (photos by Darchelle)
The 27th was Mom and John's 50th wedding anniversary. My Uncle Nathan married them in Boston then we all followed them to the Parker House for a reception. We kids had fun drinking champagne. Fifty years later Mom and John are still living independently in Jackson. Eric died three months ago. Mom and John are likely to outlive me as well, although it does not appear that they will live long enough to have great-grandchildren.
Measuring the cemetery plot
Digging the grave
Interring Eric
Darchelle and I flew into Boston on a rainy Thursday morning, rented a car and drove to Jackson. Mom and John and Sarah and Roger greeted us at the house. After lunch John drove us all down to the cemetery where we measured the family plot to determine where to put Eric's remains. He was cremated soon after he died but we decided to defer his burial for a few months. Sugar maples were shedding yellow leaves and a cold rain tested our raingear as we measured the plot and marked a one-foot square near the center with orange fiberglass stakes. The undertaker would dig the actual hole in time for our burial service the following morning. Regarding the raingear test, my coat failed; I was wet around the shoulders and quite cold by the time we were done.
Daniel's recommendation
Anniversary dinner table
Anniversary dinner
Friday was a beautiful fall day. We had scheduled the burial service for 11AM even though it was Mom and John's anniversary because they did not want the prospect of the burial overshadowing the festivities, and Darchelle and I would be leaving Sunday afternoon. Eric's urn was a stainless steel box with a bas-relief of a golfer on one side. Seeing it sitting on the dining room table with the rest of us gathered around, I was angry. Sad I suppose too, but angry that Eric should be in that box instead of standing around the table with us. I hadn't felt much sadness back in July when we were planning his memorial service but I felt it at his burial and afterwards. The service was simple, just the six of us plus Rowan. Someone read a poem I think, and Sarah said a few words. I couldn't think of anything to add. Sarah lowered the box into the grave, which the undertaker had to dig while we waited because he had the location wrong on his first attempt.
Pumpkin people
Nathan's cabin
Anniversary party food
The dinner Friday evening was just for family, including Rob who flew up from Florida for the occasion. Marty Sweeney from the Shovel Handle brought over turkey and all the trimmings about 4 o'clock in the afternoon so we didn't have to spend much time cooking. Instead we ate nuts and cheese and crackers and toasted Mom and John with the Gruet sparkling white wine Daniel selected and Darchelle and I picked up at the South Street & Vine wine store in Portsmouth. Dinner was good though the creamed pearl onions tasted a little too strongly of wine and the squash just tasted odd to me though others liked it. I ate too much, kicking off a month of weight gain which would temporarily reverse my trend of losing a pound a month for the past year.
The party was planned for Saturday evening. Darchelle and I drove down to North Conway before lunch, did a little shopping and got coffee and a snack at the Frontside Grind. The woman at the counter at the five and ten cent store across the street thought I looked familiar. I explained that my dad had been the dentist in North Conway sixty years ago and she remembered him. She said, "We used to call him The Butcher." She would have been a kid a few years older than I was back then; people who were adults at the time generally seem to recall Dad's dentistry more favorably.
Party preparations were underway by the time we arrived back at the house. I wasn't able to help out much so I went for a walk instead, along the road past Overlook and Burgess's Pond then through the woods on the ski trail back to the upper end of our lower field. In the section of hairpin turns I came across a startling snake in a wet spot in the trail. Although it was little more than a foot long, it coiled up like a rattlesnake and lunged at my feet, pink mouth agape. It was colored a bit like a rattlesnake too, the lines of keeled scales on its back forming a pattern of dark diamonds on a light background. Its body and head were dorsally flattened, the diamond-shaped head slightly reminiscent of a cobra. Clearly not your ordinary Garter Snake. It kept striking out at me so I backed up and it even followed me a bit so I backed up further so as not to wear it out. My hands were in my pockets and I couldn't get them out to take out my phone to photograph the snake. At our lower field I found a flock of sparrows in the weedy patch of broken down cornstalks. Without optics and in the dim light I couldn't conclusively identify them all but they seemed to be mostly Song and Lincoln's sparrows. Though I regretted not being able to take photographs, my short outing was a highlight of our visit.
I think Mom and John really enjoyed the party. The food, including quiches and little lamb chops provided by Wentworth Hall, was really good and most of the guests were close friends of theirs. Darchelle socialized for a while then retreated to our bedroom. Roger and I had purchased a nice selection of interesting beers at Glen Beverage Company thanks to Dale's recommendations, but though I drank diligently I wasn't able to try them all.
Sarah, Mom and I
Mom and John receiving toasts
Lingering in the PT Room
We hung out on Sunday, checked out the work that Rick and Christine are doing on Eric's place and Jed's progress on Nathan's cabin. Big jobs both.
10/31/2017   Halloween  
Darchelle got off early from work so we hit a couple of consignment stores in Ballard looking for lamps and such and stopped by Goodwill to pick up costumes before returning home to greet the trick-or-treaters. We had some candy in a cupboard left over from when Clari was visiting so we handed that out to our 15 or 20 small and not-so-small costumed visitors. Afterwards we went to bed before 9PM, being still on Eastern time or at least trying to be. What we are really trying to do is to change our long-standing habit of getting up late and going to bed even later.
Pumpkin carving
Love pumpkin
Greeting trick-or-treaters
On balance it has been a difficult month. I have been more frequently depressed than usual, feeling physically tired and lacking mental energy to write or do much of anything else. Everything feels difficult, and many things actually are difficult. Breathing often requires some conscious effort, as does swallowing. It often takes a couple of tries to get saliva or food to go down - no big deal and I rarely choke, but one is not supposed to have to think about swallowing. Or breathing for that matter. I can't take a deep breath anymore and that is fundamentally frustrating. Talking is sometimes a strain as well. I find myself talking in a slightly higher pitch so as to use less air, and even then I sometimes run out before I finish my sentence. Even thinking is affected by not being able to use my hands and arms. It seems that a good deal of thinking is triggered by doing, or by planning to do, so when I am unable to do I am less able to think. I just sit without much thought - great for meditating with Muse but not so good for maintaining engagement with daily life.
Then there are the daily irritations. Going to bed with crud on my teeth because my hands are too weak to hold the toothbrush. Waking up at night because my arms are in an uncomfortable position and I can't move them. Not being able to put my hands in my pockets when I go for a walk. Not being able to get my hands back out of my pockets if by chance I'm able to get them in. Having to rub my face on a tree trunk in order to scratch an itch or brush away a spiderweb. Not that I get out for a walk every day, though I try. I can't turn the handle on our front door anymore except by getting down on my knees, taking the entire knob in my mouth, gripping it with my teeth and rotating my head. Fuck that. I usually just go out the back door, which I can operate with my foot. Or I don't go out at all.
Snow has fallen in the mountains so hiking season up there is over. There may not be another. Birding is about over too. Sure I can still go out, but I can't take photos and I can't identify small birds unless I can get within 10 or 15 feet of them, which is often not possible. Leaving birds unidentified on my checklists is profoundly dissatisfying. I will continue through the end of the year, hoping for six more species to make 333 in the state, or at least three more to get to 330. And we still need three owls for Darchelle, two of which will be new for the year for me. But I am letting go of the pursuit of new life birds or state birds, rationalizing that those lists will be meaningless when I am not around to enjoy them. The real reason is that it is too painful to acknowledge that I simply won't be able to get out to chase a bird if one shows up.
This month feels like a turning point. Up until now I have generally been able to find something else I enjoy to replace the activities that I have lost. I have been able to figure out workarounds to enable me to continue doing what I love. Hiking without socks when I could no longer pull them on. Using a lighter camera when I could no longer hold the larger one. Buying a bidet when I could no longer wipe. Supporting my toothbrush on a pillow. I am running out of workarounds. My breathing is shutting down. Realistically the end is not imminent. BiPAP will probably get me through 2018. PEG is an option. But as far as I can tell from this vantage point, the coming year holds the promise of unmitigated losses with no way to make things better for either me or Darchelle. Hence the more frequent depression, a state which will probably continue until I adapt to our new reality. Which I will.
Happy Halloween!
11/03/2017   Snow - yes, Snowy Owl - no  
The Snowy Owl recently reported at Sandy Point just west of the Lummi Indian reservation near Bellingham might be a harbinger of an irruption to come, or it might be the only one to show up in the state between now and the end of the year. If the latter case is true, we better get up there ASAP to see it because it is likely the most difficult to find of Darchelle's remaining three owls and it would be a year bird for me too. So we headed north this morning despite the snow in the air as close to home as Shoreline. Mount Vernon was snow free but 5 miles north in Burlington it was snowing hard. The flurry apparently came down from the north because this side of Bellingham we drove through a wonderland of snow-covered trees with snow tracing every little twig and blade of grass along the highway. A few miles to the north in Bellingham the trees were completely bare despite several inches of new snow on the ground. The cold wind blasting out of the Frazer Valley was responsible for the difference.
Snow south of Bellingham
Rough-legged Hawk
Sunset at Hayden Reserve
The weather was more interesting than the birding out at Sandy Point. It was miserable out there and if the owl was present, it was hunkered down out of sight in driftwood on the inaccessible gravel bar on the far side of the marina channel. Darchelle graciously tracked the scope out but it was too cold to use it for long. On the way home we stopped at Hayden Reserve where we found lots of shorebirds but not the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper which hung out there for a month or so but which I never managed to find. Darchelle photographed the Rough-leg through the scope and we had a nice view of a Merlin as well.
11/04/2017   Neah Bay or bust  
Darchelle has not been enthusiastic about yet another extended birding trip so I have put off trying to get out to Neah Bay this fall, but time is running out. Mazie and Sarah and Roger are visiting over the next two weekends, then it is Thanksgiving, then we're going back to Michigan or maybe to Salem and then Neah Bay season is over. So this weekend is it, and the weather is even forecast to be somewhat cooperative, at least after today.
Ellen booked us two nights in a cabin at Hobuck Beach Resort and planned most of the meals as well. We were grateful for that. We met them in Sequim and left our car on a side street near Safeway. From that point on Andy did most of the driving. Darchelle was grateful for that too.
I had hopes of seeing up to half a dozen year birds. In the likely category, White-winged Crossbills, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Northern Pygmy Owl and a Black-legged Kittiwake seemed reasonable. We might be able to pick up a Glaucous Gull, a Tropical Kingbird or a Tufted Duck or perhaps even a Northern Goshawk. In the long shot department, both a Blue Grosbeak and a Eurasian Skylark have been reported within two weeks. And of course, this time of year Neah Bay could still produce something really rare. I was not optimistic but Andy and Ellen were holding out for at least one mega-rarity.
We had scarcely finished talking about it when Ellen spotted our first good bird, a Northern Pygmy Owl bending the leader of a young Western Hemlock along the road near the Pysht River Conservation Area. It is a standard birding game to scan roadside conifer tops in search of a pygmy owl. I spotted one once that way, at least fifteen years ago near the High Point exit along I-90, and have been expecting another ever since. Only Ellen spotted this one but Andy quickly turned the car around and we all got to see the owl, looking a lot like a tennis ball with a stiff short tail, before it flew off.
Steller's Jay
Steller's Jay
Steller's Jay
Raccoon at Butler's
Red-winged Blackbird
Crossbills - Red and White-winged
Arriving at Neah Bay, we stopped at Butler's where the resident Steller's Jays were looking gorgeous and a raccoon was fastidiously feeding on birdseed. It had begun to rain and the temperature was 39F. That did not stop us from studying crossbills on the way over to our cabin on Hobuck Beach. Sure enough, a few White-wings were mixed in among the Red Crossbills feasting on a heavy crop of Sitka Spruce cones. That made two target birds before we even reached our cabin, an auspicious beginning. We were so inspired that we walked the length of Hobuck Beach despite the cold rain and steady southeast breeze. Suboptimal conditions for finding small birds (like a Skylark) in the dune grass, but we nonetheless had a moment of excitement when we flushed a lark, which unfortunately was a Meadowlark.
Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting
On Sunday morning the sun was shining and the hills were white just a few hundred feet above us. We would have walked the beach again first thing but someone had reported a Brown Booby out at Cape Flattery so we hustled over there instead. Lots of birds but no booby. No Tufted Duck at the sewage ponds either but in town as we pulled over near Butler's to dig some lunch out of the back of a car, we spotted a Turkey Vulture wobbling overhead. Or at least it looked like a turkey vulture, though something didn't seem quite right. But it was clearly too small for Golden Eagle (which can sometimes fly with wings in a "V") and clearly not flying anything like a Red-tail (though plumage was not unlike a dark phase Harlan's). We made haste to get a few photos though unfortunately not before the bird had drifted some distance away. Before it sailed off though I thought I had a clear view of a pink head so I made peace with ID'ing it as a Turkey Vulture.
Wa'atch River Valley
Zone-tailed Hawk
Mew Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, California Gull
We walked Hobuck Beach again Sunday afternoon and again missed the Skylark (which would be seen five days later) but did flush a Short-eared Owl out of the dune grass. It was a much more pleasant walk in the sunshine, and made even more pleasant by four rather tame Snow Buntings. Monday morning we visited town again and saw the Zone-tail again, recognizing it this time thanks to the same Oregon birders who had spotted the Brown Booby. We had run into them in town on Sunday afternoon and when they asked us had we seen the Zone-tailed Hawk we had immediately realized why our "Turkey Vulture" hadn't looked right.
We left Neah Bay around midday after searching unsuccessfully for a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in the alders and thickets along the road down to our cabin. It had been seen there before and would be seen there again but not by us. We did pick up a fourth target bird, a Black-legged Kittiwake, at the gull bathing spot in town. Ellen found that one as well. So we did okay in the end. It was great to be out there for three days, and and relieving to know afterwards that though we did miss a few rarities, no one else saw them either during the time that we were in Neah Bay.
11/09/2017   Snowy Owl - yes, Snow - no  
Sandy Point with Mazie
Snowy Owl
Me with Mazie
Mazie arrived from Deer Lake yesterday afternoon and we stayed up last night until after midnight talking and tasting wine with Daniel. By the time she went to bed, she had been up for more than 24 hours. That did not deter me from proposing that we do the two-hour drive north to Bellingham this morning because the Snowy Owl has reappeared at Sandy Point. Mazie is not a birder and has never seen a Snowy Owl, so what better way to celebrate her arrival than to show her one. Darchelle canceled her morning appointments and we took off shortly after breakfast.
Nineteen Black Turnstones
Six Black Turnstones
River Otter
The owl was present and we spotted it almost immediately, thanks to several other birders out by the point peering through their scopes. A rather tame flock of turnstones was foraging on the cobbles of the beach and a River Otter slipped by just beyond the rocks, stopping now and then to inspect us. This time Darchelle carried the scope so we had comfortable views of the owl, with a moderate breeze and the temperature around 50F. There were still a few snowdrifts in the ditches along Slater Road though.
11/20/2017   Killing God  
I killed God in a dream a few nights ago:
I am birding in the woods with Ed Newbold when I noticed something scuffling under the leaves at our feet. A pig's snout emerges from the leaves. I find myself sitting with my legs outstretched and the animal, which now appears more like a white Pit bull dog, is propelling me backwards by pushing against the soles of my feet with its head. I give up trying to fend off the animal with my feet and it immediately rushes around to my side. I find myself on my back and the dog is poised over my exposed belly with its jaws open, about to tear into me. I was terrified to be so vulnerable so I skipped ahead to the next scene in the dream.
Now the dog is on its back with its neck exposed me and I am using a pocket knife with a broken tip to attempt to kill it by stabbing it in the jugular vein. I must kill it or it will destroy me. I cannot hit the vein so I cut the muscles of its neck so that it cannot bite me. When I still cannot cut its jugular vein I stand on its head wearing my black marathon running shoes. The dog's head dissolves under my shoes into clear cold spring water, like a pool on a trail in the mountains. As the dog's head shrinks the water rises up over the toes of my shoes but my feet do not get wet. Then I worry that the dead dog will pollute the water but I realize that it does not, and that the water is pure and safe to drink.
When I awoke from the dream during the night I considered what it might mean but could not come up with much. I was surprised by my violence in the dream, and the intensity of my struggle against the dog. Then this morning as I was lying in bed the meaning of the dream suddenly became clear.
As in earlier dream of dogs, the white Pit bull in this dream represents God, but I also associate the pig/dog pushing on my feet with my ex-wife Susan, and with a game I used to play at home with our cat which I called "Propel-a-Puss", in which I rolled the cat over onto her back and slid her across the hardwood floor of the living room. It was a rather a vulnerable position for the cat but she trusted me and didn't seem to mind, because each time I did it she would return to me again. At least for the first few times. In the dream though, it was an intolerably vulnerable position for me.
The segment of the dream in which I killed the dog contains several symbols which refer to different times in my life when I have intensely desired something and have attained it. The pocket knife was like my Buck knife which I lost while I was working on the Peregrine Falcon recovery project in Colorado after college. When I had learned about the Peregrine project during my junior year I was determined to work on it, and I did, learning the birds of Colorado in order to do so. The black running shoes are a pair that I wore during several Boston marathons; qualifying to run Boston became a deeply held dream even before I reached the starting line of my first marathon at Big Sur, though not until seven years later did I finally succeed. That power to work on my own behalf to obtain what I want, that sense of my own agency, is something that I relinquished at some point after I turned my life over to God and married Susan. Yielding my agency did not happen immediately, but over time I came to the conclusion that I could not act on my own behalf, that I did not have either the power or the authority to fix what was broken.
Then in September of 2013 Darchelle and I did a trail run together along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. During the run I told Darchelle how I felt that I was trapped in a box and powerless to escape and she replied that I had the power to do whatever I wanted to do. At that moment I recalled my experience with the Peregrine project and realized that she was right. I also realized at that moment that I wanted Darchelle with the same intensity, and that if that were true I would eventually have her, no matter how unlikely that prospect seemed at the time.
Darchelle recalled another association with my black running shoes. When I told the dream to her she remembered my telling her that they reminded me of running with her during the summer of 2013, and the love that I developed for her during that time. Likewise the water in the dream, like a clear pool on a mountain trail, is another reference to love. It refers back to a dream I had several years ago in which water welling up out of cracks in the ground represented Darchelle's (and at the time I thought God's) love for me, love which empowered me to love myself enough to strive again for what I wanted.
In my previous dream of dogs, it was my agency and not my anger which vanquished God. In this dream, it appears to be love rather than agency that does the job. The broken tip of the knife and my inability to pierce the dog's jugular with it, represent the inadequacy of that agency. Despite achievements in the pursuit of my passions (eg. birding and running), my agency was not sufficient to overcome my enemy. Only love could do it. How ironic though, that it took an experience of love to save me from God. Or maybe just to save me from myself.
Back in September 2013 there was a moment when I recognized that my unhappiness was not primarily due to being trapped in an unhappy marriage or being subject to a demanding God but rather was due to my angry and critical self, an internal parent who condemned me without mercy or compassion. In the game with the cat, she trusted me because I respected her. I only continued to Propel-a-Puss as long as Puss returned to me and freely allowed me to tip her over onto her back. In my self-condemnation and the self-criticism, I granted myself no such respect. In that moment of understanding back in 2013, I cried. I cried again this afternoon when as I was telling Darchelle about the dream, she observed that Susan had appropriated or usurped my view of God and I suddenly felt an intense sadness. At the time I couldn't explain it but now I recognize it as the same sadness I felt when I considered that hostile self and how I had treated myself for so many years. It was not Susan but that hostile self which usurped my view of God, replacing mercy with condemnation and love with cruelty. The dream reveals that I have killed that self (which in reality might eventually have killed me) but I destroyed it not by my power but by my love. Darchelle's love introjected, internalized, became my own and with love I finally ended the rule of my hostile self.
It all begs the question, where was God in all this? I married Susan on God's command but who was really talking there? I left Susan to escape a perceived threat but who was really doing the threatening? In both cases it would seem to be that hostile self at work. Looks like I might need to rewrite some old stories to fully own my own actions. And who's to say what might have been, if I had killed God forty years ago? Maybe there is no knowing about that, just as there is no knowing where, or whether, God was either.
La Conner Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting
Painted Bunting attitude
In the bird-chasing department, Darchelle and I found my year bird #334 this afternoon. Sitting at a feeder at La Conner, it was not difficult to spot. How it got there though, is more difficult to explain. It is an adult male Painted Bunting and should have known better than to fly 1500 miles northwest from Texas instead of going south for the winter. (photos by Darchelle).
11/24/2017   Chasing Birds  
Tacoma Glaucous Gull
Kennewick Blue Jay
Darchelle's final owl
Last weekend, while Darchelle went shopping with Sarah and Roger, I went birding down to Tacoma with Ed and we found the Glaucous Gull which has been hanging out on the Puyallup River near the 11th Street bridge for the past week or two. Among the other gulls it was stunning, entirely creamy white with traces of pale brown on the wings and tail. With it I obtained my goal of 333 species in the state this year.
I would have been reasonably content to end at 333 but the Painted Bunting showed up the next day and I couldn't pass that up. Then today on the way to Walla Walla we stopped by the Blue Jay spot in Kennewick. It is at Denny's sister's house but although we didn't meet her, we did meet the jay. I was for walking around the residential neighborhood and listening for distinctive Blue Jay calls but Darchelle wanted to play recordings and call it in. Her method worked; mine did not.
Our final birding moment of the day featured Darchelle's final owl of the year. Although I had seen one while I was out running in Magnuson Park one evening last February, Darchelle was still missing a Long-eared Owl. From Tri-Cities we drove east towards Prescott on Highway 124 with the sun approaching the horizon behind us. Paul Bearny had described the location where Long-eared Owls roost in the winter but when I reached the spot, it didn't appear the way I had imagined it. So we continued on up the road a mile or so. When the habitat didn't seem to be improving any, we stopped to turn around in a farmer's driveway and the farmer happened to notice us so we waited until he came over. We explained that we were looking for owls and he offered "Down by the corner there's a whole bunch of them." Knowing that Long-eared Owls like to roost in groups I replied, "Thanks, that's what were looking for" and with high hopes we took off back down the road.
The spot was a dense ticket of Russian Olive. No owls were visible from the road so we ventured into the grove but encountered no activity except for a couple of juncos until suddenly a whole flock of owls erupted about 30 feet behind Darchelle and scattered like giant moths into the tangle of trees around us. One or two only flew a few feet and despite the dim light Darchelle was able to get a photo. Fifteen owls occur in Washington state and Darchelle has now seen or heard all of them since January 1. She is not nearly as passionate about birding as I am but she has enjoyed her owl quest this year, and that she was successful was due almost as much to her persistence in looking as it was to my knowledge of where to find them. Andy and Ellen were a big help too; they had at least some part in our finding five of the fifteen, and three of those we probably wouldn't have seen without them.
11/26/2017   Two more year birds  
Acorn Woodpeckers
Acorn Woodpeckers
Acorn Woodpecker
Only one of them is illustrated here because we didn't see the second one, a Snowy Egret just west of Vancouver, until it was too dark to get a decent photo. Heading west through the Columbia Gorge from Walla Walla this morning, the rain we encountered shortly after entering Oregon dampened my hopes of finding the Acorn Woodpeckers out and about near Lyle, but a sunbreak materialized shortly before we reached the spot near Balch Lake where the woodpeckers were last reported. Among the many birds emerging from the bushes to enjoy the break in the weather were four Acorn Woodpeckers.
We drove through another hour of heavy rain on the way to Vancouver but again it stopped just before we reached our target bird at the end of Lower River Road. Two Snowy Egret were foraging with two Great Egrets in a marshy pond visible from where we parked. The Great Egrets are fairly common in Washington; the Snowies are not. I felt very fortunate that we were able to find all four of the birds we were seeking on this trip.
11/27/2017   In the courts of heaven  
Years ago I had another dream about God, or more specifically, Jesus. It was early in my marriage to Susan when we were living at Gibson Hall and I was earnestly striving to be a good husband and father and Christian.
Jesus was sitting cross-legged in the center of our living room. He had long hair and a long face and his skin was scarred as if with acne. His appearance reminded me of the verse in Isaiah, "...like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." He did not speak to me but in his presence I had an intense feeling that he loved me. I felt no obligation to respond but I was profoundly grateful that he loved me as I was with no reservations and no conditions. After that we walked down a deserted street together at dusk. I do not recall any conversation, only the sense of being loved.
I told Claire about that dream this evening during dinner and she regarded it as a visitation from God, which was pretty much how I saw it at the time. After dinner she wanted to pray for me again so we went out to her studio. Seven year old Judah came with us; he had missed his mother earlier in the afternoon and wanted time with her. We sat on the sofa in the dimly lit room and Claire invited me to recall my dream of visitation and join her in the courts of heaven to seek healing. She explained that she would share her impressions as we prayed and invited me to do likewise.
She recalled her earlier impression that my heart had fled and asked if I had a sense of it having returned. I told her that for the most part I did. She then had an impression of reindeer in the woods at the edge of a meadow, reluctant to come out but at home in the woods where there was food and shelter for them. She explained that God had healing in store for me, and I think asked me if I was willing to receive it. I told her I have no reservations about that, but that my vision of Jesus was more about him taking my sickness and sin upon himself than it was about him giving me anything in return. She prayed for me that I would be healed and asked for a manifestation of that, then asked me if I felt anything different. I did not and told her so despite not wanting to disappoint her. Judah was restless and talking to himself next to me so Claire suggested that he returned to the house and after a bit, he did. We continued to talk and pray.
Claire said that she felt that I had something else I needed to give to Jesus and asked me if I had any sense of what it might be. It occurred to me that perhaps I needed to relinquish my sense of responsibility for Susan's well-being, or perhaps more accurately, for her pain. Claire was familiar with my story and agreed that I should give that to Jesus, in my own words, so I did. With potential obstructions apparently removed, she asked for heaven's verdict in my case. I was again uncomfortable with her asking for an immediate result like that, again afraid to disappoint her (or perhaps myself), so I explained that I thought it more likely that just as my ALS had developed gradually, so also it would be healed gradually. She agreed with that and asked if I had any impressions or new vision of God's presence. I explained that I saw only darkness and felt that I was blind to heavenly reality, unable to see it at all. I refrained from thinking that the reason I couldn't see it was that it didn't exist. We wrapped up by praying that my sight would restored so that I could see the things of God again. I honestly felt that I was open to that, open to the possibility of the existence of God, if for no other reason than being healed of ALS requires that the chance of God existing be greater than zero. I just don't believe that there is any healing from ALS short of a miracle.
12/09/2017   How to Miss a Gyrfalcon  
Snohomish County Western Bluebird
West 90 American Kestrel
Bay View Sharp-shinned Hawk
Ed and Delia and I missed a Gyrfalcon today because I did a little too much research in advance. As we were heading up to the Samish Flats I gave Blair a call knowing that he had been looking for the recently reported and sparingly publicized Gyrfalcon. He had indeed been looking, for three hours on each of the previous two days without success. Based on his report I concluded that the Gyr was gone and that we should therefore check out a recent Goshawk sighting near Stanwood instead of heading directly to Samish Flats. As expected the Goshawk was gone but we did spot four Western Bluebirds, which turned out to be the first sighting of that species in Snohomish County this year. Ed got a few photos. That was nice but while we were photographing bluebirds, Tom Mansfield was photographing the Gyrfalcon on Bow-Edison Road, which is exactly where we would have been too had we not made the Goshawk stop. We met Tom by chance at the Blue Jay location in Bow 20 minutes later. As far as I know the Gyrfalcon was not seen again by us or anyone else today.
We also missed the Prairie Falcon out on the flats but Delia photographed a Kestrel and a Sharpie for me. Though the Sharp-shinned Hawk appeared large at times while we studied it, the coarse streaks which become bars on the flanks, the squared tail and the uniformly dark head help rule out a Cooper's Hawk.

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