1/01/2018 A Dream for the New Year
Another dream about God last night:
Darchelle and I are driving on a beach; the setting reminds me of Hobuck Beach near Neah Bay. I am
in the drivers seat. We drive up to a red sandstone cliff so that the sandstone face is right in
front of the windshield. Examining the stone I note the different sized grains and comment to
Darchelle "No doubt about it, that's sandstone." We enter a tunnel into the cliff. The road is wide
enough only for a single lane and I am concerned that we are going the wrong way but we immediately
come to a junction where our lane continues as the right lane of a two-way road, still in the
tunnel. Darchelle is driving now, I think. The left lane forks back to our left and we turn
sharply to the left to follow it back out to the beach. I was concerned that this branch of the
tunnel was for transit only but when we reach the beach I realize that it was for cars too.
I meet John M on the beach and we walk over to a spot at
the base of the cliff around the corner from the tunnel from which Darchelle and I had just emerged.
A large overhanging slab of sandstone looms above us and I asked John if he thinks we are safe under
it. Together we conclude that it won't fall unless there is an earthquake, and that an earthquake
The tunnel from which Darchelle and I had come is now much smaller, like the
entrance to a doghouse. On my hands and knees I squeeze into it pushing sand ahead of me with my
knees in order to make more room for John to come in behind me. Once back at the junction I notice
three piles of poop in the right-hand branch of the tunnel, and a woman is walking a dog in the
mainstem of the tunnel ahead of me. I am irritated that dogs are allowed in the tunnel and have
fouled it with poop, and I cover the poop with sand. John is sitting behind me on the left-hand
side of the tunnel and rainwater is dripping from the ceiling onto him. Looking out the tunnel by
which we had entered the tunnel I see that it is raining outside and we will have to wait a while
before it stops, so I encouraged John to join me on the other side of the tunnel, where I covered up
the poop, because it is not raining over there.
Now there are two dogs at the junction in the tunnel, one like a spaniel and the other a large dark
brown short-haired Dachshund with a long cylindrical body, rather like a large poop with legs. The
dogs had perhaps come down the tunnel from the house above the mainstem, but I am somewhat annoyed
that they are in the the tunnel and I tried to shoo them away. Intending to hit the Dachshund in
the head with my hand, I swing my arm at it several times but each time my hand stops just an inch
or two from the dog. I swing my arm harder but my hands still stops before hitting the dog's head.
The dog has changed from a Dachshund into a gray and white breed with a long-haired face like a
Yorkshire Terrier but it retains the elongated body of the Dachshund. Unwilling to leave, it lies
down across the tunnel with its face in a puddle of water, as if taking a drink. I consider kicking
it or perhaps pressing its head into the puddle to drown it but decide that I'm willing to tolerate
it being there because it is not doing me any harm.
Unlike in my previous dreams of dogs
this dream the dogs present no threat to me. On the other hand I can't make them away, but their
presence is tolerable and I no longer need to destroy them. The mess they make is manageable. The
presence of the dogs in combination with John M indicates
that this dream is about God. God spelled backwards is dog, and there are three dogs, and three
piles of poop, (the Trinity) originating apparently from a house above (heaven). Moreover, dogs
have represented God in a series of my dreams recently. John is a pastor and friend who likewise
has represented God in previous dreams and who more than anyone else has demonstrated to me a
workable belief in God and enabled me to claim the authority to believe as I see fit even when that
belief contradicts the doctrines endorsed by the church.
As my confidence in my own perspective of God has grown, my fear of God and anger at him have
diminished. For many years God was effectively a virtual parent for me with unquestioned authority
over my life, or at least over my ultimate fate. I was bad, God was good. I needed to be good, and
if I cooperated with him, God would make that happen. If I did not cooperate with him, he would
ultimately punish me with torture and destruction. Paradoxically, God was also kind and gracious
and forgiving, accepting me almost unconditionally and affirming my value as someone worthy of his
love. It was as if I projected both my self-hate and my self-love onto an external object which I
identified as God, and having externalized those elements of my relationship with myself, I no
longer had any power to change them. Over the past few years, I have reappropriated into myself
both the self-hate and the self-love, and concurrently claimed the authority to redefine my view of
God is first and foremost a construct of the human mind. We imagine God and we interact with God
based on what we imagine. I can't rule out the possibility there is an objective reality behind
what we imagine, and to which our imaginary construct conforms to a greater or lesser degree, but my
experience of God in all its aspects has always been in my mind. My own emotional needs and the
influences of people around me helped to define what I imagined and what I chose to believe.
Looking back on my experience, I see little evidence that a supernatural being was involved in
A nonexistent enemy poses little threat. A nonexistent friend offers little comfort. The latter I
miss, the former not so much. The dream addresses both. From a dream years ago, I associate the
cliff with the presence of God, far larger and greater than I and potentially dangerous but in fact
not likely to do me any harm. Likewise the dogs were in previous dreams threatening but in this one
only messy. The Dachshund is a reference to my ex-wife and by extension my past experience with God
in which I fell short of the standard of love which God demanded of me. The Yorkshire Terrier
recalls our recent visit with Darchelle's sister Alicia and her family, who demonstrated the
Adventist lifestyle to which I long aspired but never achieved. The family was gracious and devout,
their Yorkie affectionate and playful, but I did not feel intimidated by either their devotion or by
the dog's pestering.
In the dream I am in charge but I unable to drive away the dog, which is drinking from a puddle of
water. Water in the previous dream
represented love; maybe I miss the love of the old virtual parent. There is sadness too, symbolized
by the rain. I returned from our visit with Alicia's family feeling inspired to pray to Jesus now
and then. It's a bit messy, praying to a Jesus whom I don't believe exists, but perhaps I will be
keeping him around while I wait for the rain to pass.
ALS clinic today. It was my first visit to the Swedish hospital ALS clinic, headed up by my
original neurologist Michael Elliott. Darchelle accompanied me. We hung out in an exam room where
perhaps half a dozen groups of providers came in to meet with us over the course of the morning.
The appointment I was most concerned about was with the respiratory therapist. She reported my FVC
at 60% of predicted, a small decline from my 63% of predicted back in September. A half-hour later
when I was tested again to see if I qualified for a clinical trial of eye-gaze wheelchair navigation,
I managed to come up with 64% of predicted FVC. Unfortunately I did not record the actual capacity
number in either case. Nonetheless the results were encouraging, and it appears that I may have
another 12 to 18 months before I reach the 50% threshold where breathing assistance is needed.
Beyond that, Dr. Elliott said, BiPAP could give me another 12 to 18 months. I will probably need
to have a PEG tube installed in order to realize those extra months given that I am already
developing some difficulty swallowing. The medical folks seem to favor getting a PEG tube sooner
rather than later but of course they're not the ones getting it. I'm in no hurry.
One of the differences between the Swedish ALS clinic and the Virginia Mason clinic that I
previously attended was that Virginia Mason gave me a questionnaire to fill out before my
appointment, whereas the Swedish clinic called me for an interview. The nurse asked about my
symptoms in detail and unlike most other medical providers that I can recall, actually seemed
interested in my responses. One of the questions she asked me was "Are you happy?" I thought about
it for a moment and replied "Yes, probably happier than I have ever been before in my life". She
seemed to have heard that response before, but asked me why I was happy. Thinking about it, I did not
immediately come up with the main reason, which is that I no longer feel alone. In loving and being
loved by Darchelle, I am not alone. It helps that I am no longer in a unhappy marriage, and that
I am no longer subject to a critical and demanding God, and that I no longer think of myself as bad.
It helps too that I have recently been pretty much in denial about my situation with ALS, sometimes
even forgetting that I am disabled. I think it helps that I am no longer trying to do things that
I can no longer do, like photography and functioning independently in public, and that I have
seem to have caught up on grieving the loss of those things that I have lost.
1/13/2018 Three Dreams
I recalled three dreams, all apparently related, last night:
The Giant in the room
I am in a room with a table in the middle, like our dining room. Someone else is with me though I
can't see him very well All my attention is focused on a giant man maybe 8 feet tall in front of me.
He doesn't look threatening, dressed in pale blue or maybe pinkish clothing with longish hair and a
friendly face, but I feel very threatened by him nonetheless and I attack him with a blue rubber
ball on a string attached to the end of a stick. Over and over again I rapidly swing the ball in a
figure 8 loop in front of him then the strike the ball against his chest. It just bounces off,
doing him no harm. Swinging the ball even faster does not help. He is unmoved. Then I swing the
ball so as to wrap the string around his arms and torso and yank on it to topple him to the ground.
Fearful that he will escape if I loosen the tension on the string, I run around the table dragging
him behind me. He needs to use the bathroom though so I release him and he walks out of the room.
Fearful that he will harm me when he returns, I wake up, feeling anxious and out of breath.
Darchelle and I are on the bed in our room in my parents house in New Hampshire. We are trying to have sex
but we are both fully clothed and so are not making much progress. I'm not sure I even have an erection.
A friend walks in and we take a break to talk with her but I am a little impatient, wanting to get back
to having sex.
Now we are on a pink concrete platform at the edge of the ocean, a few feet from the water.
Darchelle is lying on her back on the concrete and I am on top of her, again trying to have
sex. We are still wearing clothing. The waves are not big but the tide is high and a little water
sloshes onto the platform and flows towards us, so we have to get up.
I am standing behind a seawall with a small crowd of people in front of me. They are looking
through a gap in the seawall and photographing birds that are circling around as if in a broad
whirlpool out in the bay. I peer over their shoulders as the birds pass close by one or two at a
time. I tried to set up my camera to photograph the birds but it is difficult to get a clear view.
Perhaps if I use a tripod I might succeed but mine is too clumsy so I borrow a monopod with a
suction cup on the base. Before I am done trying to attach the camera to the monopod the owner
wanted back again. The other photographers are beginning to leave because the birds are thinning
out. Still fiddling with the camera, I accidentally dropped it with the lens falling facedown in
the dirt. I have nothing with which to clean off the lens so I walk back to our camp to get a lens
cloth. Darchelle and her family are there but they do not have a lens cloth; it is in the car which
is parked two miles away. Feeling frustrated, I get very angry and swear "fucking camera", fucking
car", fucking two miles away". Darchelle gets angry at me for swearing and I wake up angry.
At first the dreams seemed to share a common theme of frustration; I am unable to accomplish what I
want to do and there is no one to help me. Thinking about them further, they seem describe a
developing response to an insoluble problem: ALS. Although I can temporarily mitigate its impact,
living with it is about to get a lot more difficult, affecting not only my relationship with
Darchelle but everything else that I want to achieve, and my sadness and anger about it only makes
In the first dream the gentle giant represents ALS, me with ALS. I have for the past several months
not been feeling particularly threatened by my condition despite the fact that nothing avails
against it. My only defense is denial. By distractions such as birding and walking, adaptations
such as using drawer knobs to get my pants up and down, and accommodations such as being more
willing to ask others for help, I have been able to cope well enough with my decline. But a
reckoning is coming. My neck continues to weaken. Swallowing food is becoming difficult in the evenings.
Walking upstairs temporarily leaves me short of breath. My weight is down to 124 and continues to drop.
The giant is not going away.
The second dream is about connecting with Darchelle. ALS is separating us more and more not only
physically - with crippled hands and arms I cannot hold her or caress her - but in other ways as
well, even as we remain emotionally close. We are embarked on different paths. I will die; she
will grieve, both of us alone.
The third dream reveals an anger and frustration that I have not been feeling recently. ALS seems
to be robbing me of my reason for living, which is represented by bird photography in the dream. I
live to make and collect things with my hands and mind, not so much physical things as virtual
things like images, checklists, impressions and memories. Relationships are important too, sharing
and listening and being with. If I did not have love, if I did not have Darchelle, I would no
longer choose to live, but while necessary, for me love is not sufficient without making and doing.
At some point, if I can no longer create memories but only consume the creations of others, and no
longer do but can only depend on others to do for me, life loses its appeal. ALS interferes with
love and robs me of making and doing. No wonder I am angry.
With the federal shutdown looming, Darchelle suggested last Thursday afternoon that we make a quick
trip downtown to the passport office to order my replacement passport. I told her that I did not
want to go. Somehow our tempers flared over that and we had a brief angry exchange about passports
and errands and birding and travel before calming down, but it was as if a switch had been flipped
inside me and the happiness and intimacy that I have been feeling recently were instantly displaced
by pain and isolation. There was no point in anything anymore. I didn't care about anything because
to hope for anything would just bring disappointment and to care would hurt.
1/31/2018 My 150th species
Inspired by Blair's quest
for 200 species in January
I decided sometime around mid-month to attempt to find 150 species in Washington during the month.
That would exceed my previous record of 143 and give me a short-term goal without requiring the sort
of long-term commitment to birding which is precluded by my inability to get out on my own. Armed
with that aspiration, I talked Ed and Delia into joining Darchelle and me on a trip to the Peninsula
last Sunday in which I surged from 137 to 147 species but even so prospects for 150 were looking dim
until Ed and Delia apparently took pity on me and asked if I wanted to join them on a trip up to the
Skagit today. That should have done the trick but we missed the Short-eared Owl and the Blue Jay
leaving me at 149 when Darchelle got home from work this evening. I was ready to accept my failure
but Darchelle was not so we drove over to Magnuson Park and armed with a flashlight, searched the
cedars along the low-income housing row for the Barn Owl which will nest there sometime soon.
Persisting in the search, Darchelle spotted the owl after I heard it hiss but could not find it.
With big dark eyes in its heart-shaped white face, the owl peered down at us from a stout limb 30
feet overhead. When a security guard ambled over to see what we were up to, we pointed the owl out
to her and she marveled too. So cute, so small and so alone in a dark world. Alarmed perhaps by
our sentimentality, the owl spread its wings, circled once overhead and sailed off into the night.
2/05/2018 Prayer for healing
Claire and the kids visited us this weekend. On Saturday we drove to Beacon Hill to pick up
Darchelle's car at the garage then took the light rail to the airport. It's cheap entertainment if
you have boys who like trains and planes. For less than a $20 bill we passed a rainy afternoon
riding the train, gliding up and down escalators and elevators at the terminal and watching the
planes take off into the fog. On the ride back the kids were each glued to a window watching for
oncoming trains on the opposite track while I peered over their shoulders looking for birds. Best
bird of the trip was a pair of Band-tailed Pigeons in a Tukwila cedar tree but I noticed them too
late to confirm the ID so didn't count them. We ate French fries and pizza at Whole Foods on the
way home without losing any kids into the crowd.
After the kids went to bed Claire and Darchelle prayed for me. Claire did most of the praying,
asking for me to be healed and seeking guidance on what was blocking that from happening. Recalling
an impression of darkness during our previous prayer session last fall, she perceived some sort of
desire for death or at least tacit agreement on my part to allow death to prevail. I told her I did
not think that was the case though I acknowledged some pessimism regarding my prospects. She
received a mental image of a crystal vial suspended in front of me on a string held by the hand of
God. When I tried to reach out and grasp it the vial was withdrawn out of reach. She explained
that we had been seeking healing as something God would give to me but we were mistaken. While
there was no question that God desires me to be healed, that is not how it would come about. God
had already given me healing and it was already within me. I, in essence, needed only to act on it.
She pictured holy hands raised up, pictured me raising up my holy hands in celebration of my
healing. She asked if I felt anything then, and I did notice a tingling between my shoulder blades
and told her so. "On a scale of 1 to 10..." she asked. "One" I replied but we felt a tingle of
excitement and prayed again. "Any change", hopefully. "Still a one", soberly. I stood up and
tried to raise holy hands but they stayed at my side, rotated slightly inward the way they do.
"Practice. Every morning, multiple times a day, raise holy hands. Make it real.", or something to
that effect. "I have always believed that you will be healed and I still do." I felt the warmth of
her care for me and wished with a skeptical smile that she were right.
The kids woke up this morning at seven. I was awake and heard them go downstairs but decided not to
follow them. They probably wouldn't do any harm and if they did, well, I would be dead in a year or
so, so it didn't matter much anyhow. Claire was up and the kids were finishing breakfast by the
time I got downstairs. Darchelle was still in bed so Claire made me coffee. She said it was her first
time. While she packed up the kids were at loose ends, as my mother used to say. They had taken
the dice and letters and cards from the games in the hutch and scattered them in front of the sofa
in the family room. I slid the boxes under the sofa so the kids wouldn't step on them and break
them. Jake tried to take a handful of dice out into the living room and I told him no then blocked
his way so he couldn't leave the family room until he dropped the dice. Ten minutes later Luke
tried to do the same thing and I just let him do it. Maybe it was lack of sleep, but I didn't have
energy to manage to kids anymore. Darchelle asked if I wanted anything to eat but I didn't want to
eat either. Food is life and sometimes I just don't want it.
On the way down to Tacoma Darchelle asked me what I thought of the prayer session last night. "I'm
angry about it." I said. I wasn't willing to admit to anger at Claire. She is only trying to help,
but maybe she is also trying to work it so that her God doesn't fail, or that she doesn't fail. She
had explained that it was reasonable to be angry at God for offering healing then withholding it,
but that a loving God would not do that. I agreed. To me a loving God would not make such a bad
faith offer. Claire has been pretty clear though that God does offer healing, so she can't withdraw
the offer. The explanation can only be that God has provided healing already, but if so why have my
arms not been restored to their former vigor? I don't know how Claire would put it, but how I came
to see it overnight is that God is demanding that I do something more, something I have never done
before despite years of attempting to follow and serve God, something apparently so difficult that
few if any people with ALS achieve it. To paraphrase Scripture, many are prayed for but few are
That story resonates with me - the story in which God requires me to do something which I apparently
cannot do in order to receive blessing, acceptance, love. Or healing. It is a hurtful and
destructive story which tells me that I am not adequate, not sufficient, not good enough. It has
been my story for most of my life, but no longer. But in a way, Claire is right, though perhaps not
in the way that she intended. God, and the religion which represents Him, does offer a magic vial
of healing and, for me and many others like me, withdraws it when we are suckered into reaching out
for it. Healing, as she observed, comes instead from within, as we do the often painful work of
acknowledging and then becoming who we are. But we are mortal and our power to heal, our abilities
to assuage pain and extend life - the attainments of love and faith - are mortally limited. At some
point we can only deny and rage, or accept and mourn.
2/08/2018 Happy again
Something changed in me after I wrote that last entry. The depression, the pervasive awareness of
loss and death, the feeling that I am not worth the effort of living, all unexpectedly dissipated.
Nothing has outwardly changed. I still smear snot over my crippled fingers when I try to blow my
nose. My forehead still drops into my mashed potatoes when my neck fails in the evening as I lean
over my plate to lap up my dinner. I still need help pulling up the covers in bed, putting on a
shirt in the morning, pouring a beer in the evening. But death has moved back into the closet and
life is again worth the trouble.
2/12/2018 About that book
Darchelle and I drove over to Walla Walla this past weekend to visit her family. We did a little birding
on the way over Friday afternoon, failing to find Chukars in the Yakima River Canyon and the Snowy
Owl along Britton Road southeast of Pasco. Friday evening I was still somewhat depressed and bitter
so more negative than usual about my situation when Darchelle and I visited with Ben and Sally. I
shared my vision of my future sitting helpless in a wheelchair filling diapers. On Saturday morning
we walked to church and back in the sunshine. On the way there I heard a Lesser Goldfinch, year
bird #155. In church we sat with Richard and Donna and listened to music and a short sermon.
On Sunday morning we talked a little about my book. Darchelle explained that I was planning to
write a book this year. Planning might be overstating the situation, but we discussed reasons to
write and not to write. Darchelle, and maybe a few friends, might enjoy reading it at some point.
My boys, and someday their children, might want to know more about my life after I'm gone. A book
would be autobiographical, perhaps simply a hard copy of some of my journal writings and photos. I
expect that my online journals, written in classic ASP and hosted on Go Daddy, will go off-line at
some point. A hard copy would probably be more durable. Easier to read and a more succinct than my
handwritten journals as well. If reasons like those are compelling, then everyone should write a book
before they die. But most of them don't. I probably won't either.
On the way home today we found the Snowy Owl after initially mistaking it for a piece of white
trash. There is a fair amount of white trash out in that area. I think it went for Trump in the
last election. Darchelle put the scope on the white trash anyhow, and closer inspection paid off.
The owl seemed nervous so we didn't try to approach close enough for photos.
Returning through the Yakima River Canyon this afternoon we stopped at the same
where on Friday we had discovered a trail up the hill towards Selah Butte. Darchelle
elected to take a nap in the car while I chased the setting sunlight up the hill. As I started up
another SUV pulled up behind our car so I paused to make sure they were up to no mischief. When two
women got out of the car and Darchelle began talking with them I assumed everything was okay and
continued up the hill. It turned out that they were the same two women who had been parked at that
pullout when we stopped there on Friday. They were birders and had joined Mike and Marylynn on the
Owls by Day field trip out of Walla Walla on Saturday. They had seen 24 owls altogether, although
not the Western Screech Owl which Darchelle and I had gone looking for on Saturday night. We had
played calls in the dark at Fort Walla Walla Historical Park where the habitat looks appropriate and
the air temperature was well below freezing, but without hearing any response. Afterwards we had
succeeded in hearing a pair of Great Horned Owls at Mount Hope Cemetery, hooting back and forth.
Anyhow, the two women were looking for the Golden Eagles which have previously nested across the
river from that spot. They did not see them, nor did I though I did flush a covey of Gray Partridge
about a thousand feet up the side of the canyon in grass with scattered sagebrush bushes. I had
been expecting Chukars but these were smaller, grayish brown above with short orange tails, subdued
barring on the flanks and no black and white pattern on the face. They made high-pitched calls when
they flew and though I tried to recall exactly what they sounded like later, I could not.
The sun, which I caught about 400 feet above the highway, was golden on the grass and warm brown on
the rough basalt above. Shortly after catching it I spooked a Mule Deer and curious, it
stepped carefully closer to me until I was almost alarmed before it caught my scent and snorted off
across the hillside. Its coat was long and roughly-trimmed, the dark brown hair erupting in tufts
here and there to reveal a creamy undercoat. In the old days I would've had a picture and wouldn't
have needed to try and come up with a colorful and engaging description. Leaving the trail in
pursuit of the first two grouse I flushed, I too stepped carefully across the rocky hillside,
fearing the consequences of a misstep and fall. With my hands trapped in my pockets and my head
wobbling over my shoulders, I dimly imagined temples striking rocks and scantily padded bones cracking
on impacts and refrained from devoting too much attention to the scenery as long as I was moving
through it. Darchelle was glad that I returned without mishap though she was sorry to miss the partridge.
A few miles up the canyon we stopped again, this time at the spot where
two years ago
we had heard Western Screech Owls calling. We played screech owl calls again but it wasn't dark yet
and we didn't get any response, though we did flush a Ruffed Grouse at dusk from the dense and prickly
bushes which grow under the cottonwoods there. Neither of us saw much more than a blur as it flew
but from its location and manner of flight, it couldn't be anything else. Darchelle's third grouse
for the year, my sixth.
I've been experiencing some dull pain in my shoulders and upper back recently. Although I can't pinpoint
the exact source, the discomfort seems to be exacerbated by walking which is unfortunate since that's all
I can do anymore. At my last ALS clinic visit one of the physicians prescribed a course of therapeutic
massage. As with my last massage prescription, I wasn't planning to do anything about it but Darchelle
looked online and found a practitioner specializing in neuromuscular massage. Her office is less than
a mile from our house so we walked over there this afternoon for my first appointment.
3/03/2018 Grouscapades in the Okanogan
When we go birding with Ed and Delia, Ed always seeks to come up with a catchy name for the trip
which he will then use as the title for his blog entry. Talking with Ed the day before we left, he
and I concluded that a suitable title for the trip would be "Grouscapades" since Darchelle and I
were hoping to add five grouse to her list for the year. We missed only one species but saw large
numbers of all the others so the title proved to be apt. Deterred by the prospect are driving over
the past, Ed and Delia decided not to join us. They could only stay out through Sunday and we planned
not to return until Monday afternoon.
So midday Friday we set out on a romantic birding trip together, just the two of us. The first
stop, at Soap Lake, had nothing to do with grouse. I was looking for Eared Grebes and that spot has
always proven reliable for them. Not this time though. No grebes at Lake Lenore either but we did
pick up our first two grouse. We flushed Gray Partridge along the trail up to the caves and heard
Chukars calling at dusk after we got back to the car. We spent the night at the Apple Avenue Motel
in Brewster where the desk clerk recommended the taco truck in town for dinner. Very Mexican, very
Saturday - Waterville Plateau
Moon over the Lek
Birds on Basalt Stacks
Dark-phase Rough-legged Hawk
Horned Lark on Mullein stalk
18 Rd NE approaching K Rd NE
We spent much of the second day puttering around the Waterville Plateau in search of Greater
Sage Grouse. Anticipating that they might be on the lek along Leahy Cutoff Road
we got there before sunrise, an earlier than usual arrival for us due in part to our expectation of
a two-mile walk on the snow-covered road. We drove instead, #ThankYouSubaru. Beautiful sunrise, no
Sage Grouse. Maybe they don't lek there anymore. From the lek spot we crunched another 4 miles along
the almost untracked road before reaching civilization again, picking up
on the way, including
a singing Northern shrike and a dark phase Rough-legged Hawk.
Snow and sagebrush, Sharp-tailed Grouse country
Exploring the valley
Sharp-tailed Grouse in the water birch
Giving up for a time on the Sage Grouse, we drove over to Bridgeport Hill Road to try for
Sharp-tailed. None were visible down in the valley when we parked at the top of the access road so
Darchelle decided to nap in the car while I walked around a bit. I made it less than 100 yards down
the paved road before flushing 14 grouse from the sagebrush below the road. I was able to point out
to Darchelle several of the grouse which had perched in the water birch down near the stream. She
returned to her nap while I explored the valley
before the sun grew warm enough to thaw the crusty snow. Up
on the far hillside, a Northern Harrier spotted a couple of the grouse and harassed them until they
flushed again, this time into thicker sagebrush where the Harrier could not find them. I flushed a
Great Horned Owl out of the water birch and a passing American Crow scolded it, then scolded me too.
I was surprised to see a crow there. Near the junipers a few hundred yards up the valley I found a
couple of Townsend's Solitaires, new for the year.
Northern Shrike and Great Horned Owl at Heritage Road
Scattered around the Waterville plateau are old homesteads marked by patches of dense shrubs and
perhaps a couple of weatherbeaten trees. Often only a cellar hole marks where the building stood.
We stopped at several of these spots. Each one seemed to host a Northern Shrike and an owl, usually
a Great Horned but in one case
a Long-eared. The shrike was usually singing. I was hoping to find American Tree Sparrows but did
not, though we did find Common Redpolls in a couple of our stops.
We gave up our Sage Grouse search around 2PM, but not until we had
walked 12th Rd NW
where we found them two years ago with Andy and Ellen
Returning to Bridgeport, we drove the back way to Brewster hoping to spot Bohemian Waxwings then
continued north on Highway 97 to Cameron Lakes Rd. We found more snow there than on the plateau and
only made it part way up to the highlands before turning back due to a combination of deep snow and
mud on the road. We drove on up to Omak to eat at the Breadline Café (as usual, not as good as I
remembered) and stay at the Omak Inn (as usual, as good as I remembered).
Sunday - Conconully
Looking for American Tree Sparrows
Hess Lake Valley
White-tailed Deer on the valley rim
Chukar and Gray Partridge
Chukar flock in flight
Nervous about the amount of snow we might encounter in the Okanogan Highlands around Havilla,
I decided to head up to Conconully instead, hoping for a goshawk in addition to the more likely
first-of-year Golden Eagle and Clark's Nutcracker. A year ago with Andy and Ellen
we found Golden Eagles along the road to Hess
Lake so that was our first stop
this morning. The road initially appeared more challenging than I had hoped, just two tire tracks
through about 6 inches of frozen snow. It proved doable once we pushed a fallen willow tree off the
road but not until we were on the way back down did we discover that we didn't even have to steer;
Darchelle could let go of the wheel and the car dutifully followed the frozen tracks ahead,
Once we got past the first lake, mostly frozen but with some duck soup at the upper end, we found
the valley full of grouse, more Gray Partridge then I have seen in Washington state in the past five
years put together, and ditto for Chukars. Both species were scattered over the north slope of the
canyon in large loose flocks. Both were calling too, giving me a chance to finally confirm the
common call of the Partridge, a strained "kshreeeeik". Given by birds in flight as well as
on the ground, it has a forced quality, as if being squeezed out of the bird.
Juvenile Golden Eagle (note full crop)
We found eagles, but no goshawk, where the vally opens up. They were probably gathered around a
deer carcass because there were a bunch of ravens there too, though I didn't see the physical
Scotch Creek water birch
19 Sharp-tailed Grouse and 2 Great Horned Owls
Great Horned Owls
Sharp-tailed Grouse and Great Horned Owls
Driving up along Scotch Creek we spotted two Great Horned Owls perched near the base of a water
birch but not much else. Up over Happy Hill Road we looked again for goshawks and tree sparrows,
found Rough-legged Hawks and lots of snow covering all the grass, so no sparrows. I tried walking
over to the patch of bushes where David and I found tree sparrows
three years ago
. The snow
was a couple feet deep with a dense crust, perfect footing but very difficult walking due to
incredibly flat light. Only by staring at my toes could I discern any relief on the surface. I
shuffled over to the snowbound bushes and flushed yet another singing shrike then with some
difficulty followed my tracks back to the road. I might as well have been walking blindfolded as
far as finding my footing was concerned.
Back down at the foot of Happy Hill Road we paused so I could finish entering
phone using my toes to tap out the keys. As we parked at the stop sign, a big flock of grouse flew
past the poplars on the other side of the road. They were paler brown then Gray Partridge and one
of them perched near the top of one of the poplars. Gray Partridge don't perch in trees like that.
We got on the bird and confirmed it was a Sharp-tailed Grouse. We found the rest of the flock in
and around the water birch not far downstream, the same water birch in which the owls were perched.
Darchelle took pictures, graciously ignoring my frantic instructions regarding how to focus on the
bird rather than the bushes. The initial flock was joined by another for a total of around 40
birds, more than twice as many as I've ever seen at once before.
Northern Pygmy Owl plucking Junco
Northern Pygmy Owl after eating
Maybe we would find a goshawk in Conconully, I thought. We didn't. Lots of snow, little groups of
Mule deer clustered under trees in people's yards, only their ears visible over the top of the snow
banks, no California Quail at all (unlike on my first visit
). After driving through town and up the road to the bus
turnaround, we drove out along the west shore of the lake and on the way back stopped to investigate
a scolding Red-breasted Nuthatch about 30 feet up in a pine tree. I couldn't see what it was
scolding but as I watched, I noticed a downy feather drifting out now and then from the pine
branches. After the first few feathers, it was hard not to conclude that something was getting
plucked, but it was equally hard to see what was doing the plucking. Darchelle set up the scope
and I spotted the Pygmy Owl moments before it picked up the still fuzzy body of its prey and
swallowed it whole. Before it went down I noted rather large yellowish legs and a short pinkish
bill. We felt sorry for the Junco but were relieved that it wasn't the mate of the irate nuthatch.
Looks like a Cooper's Hawk instead
Juvenile Cooper's Hawk
The day wasn't over yet. On the way back to Omak Darchelle spotted a large Accipiter on a utility
pole across from the turnoff to Riverside Cutoff Road. She quickly set up the scope and when I saw
the pale streak over the eye and the grayish color of the face, I concluded that we had found our
Northern Goshawk. Darchelle got photos to confirm the ID, but unfortunately the photos (and the
Sibley app on my phone) confirmed my growing suspicion that we were looking at a Cooper's Hawk, not
a goshawk. A juvenile Northern Goshawk would have heavier brown streaking down onto the legs, more
generally speckled scapulars, a shorter and broader (particularly at the base) tail and just a
generally heavier and bulkier appearance. Disappointing but educational.
We made it back to the Omak Inn in time to watch the Oscars, except for Jimmy Kimmel's opening
monologue. For supper we got takeout at the Koala Grill across the parking lot. The food was
mediocre, the Oscars somewhat better.
Monday - Wenatchee
We didn't actually stop in Wenatchee but we went home that way. Our final birding stop was at
Riverside Park in Cashmere where just upstream from the bridge I found my final year bird of the
trip, an American Dipper bobbing on a cobble at the water's edge. Our
first birding stop
Highway 97 about 14 miles north of Brewster where I spotted a flock of birds which looked like
starlings in an orchard. We were headed for Bridgeport State Park to look for the Bohemian Waxwings
which had been reported there almost 2 weeks earlier, but starlings, while common in the Okanogan,
don't usually gather in large flocks in orchards during the winter. Bohemian Waxwings do. We were
a half-mile beyond them by the time I processed all this so Darchelle turned around and we went back
and photographed the big flock of Bohemian Waxwings which I had been hoping to find at the State Park.
We stopped at Bridgeport State Park
anyhow, mostly to look for the terminally cute Northern Saw-whet Owls which winter there. I found
three of them within a few minutes, then Darchelle found a fourth while she was showing one of the
three to a couple who was walking their dog in the park. They may be cute but the owls are
efficient predators. Under one of the roosts I found a Cedar Waxwing and a Meadow Vole, both of
them missing their heads. Although I don't know for sure, I suspect that the little owl was
sufficiently well-fed that it was satisfied with just the head of its prey. At that location the
owls usually favor dense Blue Spruce trees, but one was perched in a rather open spot in a young
Douglas Fir. We found all four near the north end of the park, including two in one tree.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
3/18/2018 Making a Brook
After several months of deliberation, we are building a water feature in the backyard. A few weeks
ago Daniel built the back wall of the hillside down which the recirculating stream will run into the
pond using large landscaping blocks. Last weekend we framed the hillside by building a low wall of
gray landscape blocks on the left side, facing the magnolia tree, and a wall of stones on the right
side, facing the shed. Marco and Daniel dug out the pond and piled the dirt up between the two
Front garden (Artichoke in box)
Snowdrops in median strip
Darchelle's Dad and Mom visited us for a few days last week so he and I drove over to Lowes and bought
materials - a 20' x 13' sheet of 21 mil woven black plastic to underlay the pond and stream, a roll
of tarpaper to underlay the plastic, a 700 gph pump, a plastic filter box to put the pump in and a
20 foot piece of 1" corrugated hose. About $300 altogether. We picked up a few more landscape
blocks at Home Depot as well. Although the two stores are less than a mile apart and look similar
inside and out, the parking lot at Home Depot was almost full and the store was crowded with
shoppers and orange-vested salespeople. As soon as we entered one of the salespeople offered to
show us where the landscape blocks were, then loaded them onto a cart and wheeled them over to the
checkout area for us while we picked up a couple of tools. At Lowe's by contrast, the parking lot
was almost empty, a few lonely shoppers were wandering the aisles inside and when we asked a clerk about
pond materials, she gestured vaguely in front of her and said "In the garden center", not very
precise given that the garden center was about a third of the total area of the store. No big deal
really because I had preordered most of the items and just picked them up at their customer service
desk, and after some searching we managed to find the 1" hose I was looking for.
Friday afternoon Darchelle and I laid tarpaper in the bed of the pond and the stream. Yesterday
afternoon we cut a 15' x 13' rectangle of the black plastic and laid it out over the tarpaper.
Turning on the hose, we filled the pond, pressing and shaping the tarpaper down under the plastic as
the water level rose. The sun had set by the time we turned off the water. Today was sunny but
chilly, the temperature only in the low 50s, so I wore my insulated pants and parka all day but went
barefoot so that I could help move dirt around and position rocks and such with my toes. That
involve lots of balancing on one foot in awkward positions, something I can still do fairly easily.
What I can't do very easily anymore is hold my head up. The muscles in the back of my neck fatigue
and my head drops forward so that I am looking at my toes. Working on the pond, which for me means
mostly standing around watching someone else work, has been a bit of an ordeal because of that. I
would so much prefer to be doing the digging and shaping, planting and moving rocks around myself
rather than trying to explain to someone else exactly what I want done. But my disability is
contributing to this project being a collaborative effort between Darchelle and me, and that is
rewarding for both of us. Challenging too at times. I can get grumpy towards her and she can get
irritated with my micromanaging, but even when our anger flares up at each other we are able to
recover quickly. That is a new experience for me, one for which I am very grateful.
We planted a couple of Evergreen Huckleberries on the right-hand side of the stream outlet, in a
bowl formed by an extension of the plastic from the pond. My idea is that they will be watered
by seepage from the pond itself. We won't know until later this summer whether that works or not,
but at least for now they look very nice. This afternoon we laid the plastic for the stream.
We used the pond plastic to extend about 3 feet up from the outlet of the stream and ran a second
piece, 8' x 5', down from the inlet pool at the top of the hill to meet the lower section with about
a foot of overlap. Around 4:30PM we placed the pump in its filter box into the pond, positioned the
hose to run into the inlet pool and plugged in the power cord. We had a stream.
View from the deck - future water feature
Tarpaper in place
Preparing the stream
A hole for the pond
Contemplating the mess
Ready to go live
Now to make it pretty. My vision has been to emulate a little stream through the forest in the mountains
with white granite gravel, moss-covered stones, little waterfalls over stones and logs, and at least
initially, moss, ferns and forest shrubs for vegetation. The site doesn't get much sun so whatever
we use needs to be shade tolerant, and I don't have a lot of time so I want it to look presentable
pretty quickly. With those criteria in mind we have been foraging for plants and rocks along the
Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie above North Bend. It has what we need: granite bedrock, lots of moss
and ferns, relatively easy access to gravel bars and little streams and all on public land.
The Middle Fork is meaningful to us in another way; it was the site of
a (mostly) delightful race together back in the fall of 2013
which precipitated the painful chain of events which resulted in our being together now.
3/21/2018 The water feature, flawed
View from the deck - The water feature v1
Waterfall pool detail
Darchelle and I collected plants and rocks from the Middle Fork on Monday, then Marco helped me with
some planting yesterday. This morning Darchelle and I took some photos before sitting down in the
family room to eat breakfast. It is our little ritual. She sits on the sofa while I sit on the tall
chair at the kitchen counter; we drink coffee and eat breakfast and talk about our plans for the
day. That's when she discovered a fundamental flaw in the design of our stream. Virtually none of
it is visible from the family room where we generally hang out.
3/26/2018 Making the Brook, v2.0
We decided to expand the hill a couple of feet to the right and add a loop to the upper part of the
stream to the right of the existing inlet pool. Darchelle and I hauled home an additional 1000
pounds of landscaping blocks from Home Depot on Thursday evening. Friday, Marco and I extended the
back wall about 2 feet to the right then replaced the stone wall which previously faced the shed
with a new wall of gray landscape bricks, and filled it all in with dirt. Darchelle and I built the
stream together. I had a really hard time of it. Although I knew how I wanted the stream to loop
around the big granite boulder Marco and I had placed in front of the inlet pool, I couldn't see how
to make it work and I felt profoundly frustrated to not be able to experiment with it myself. I
would just have given up but Darchelle would not. She kept working on it until we devised a way
to do it. In the end it turned out much better than our original version and even better than I had
imagined the new layout would be, but it was a painful process getting there.
View from the deck - The water feature v2
Waterfall pool detail
Blair invited me to join him and a few others in pursuit of the White-tailed Kite which showed up a
few days ago in Toledo. They saw the kite, and a Tufted Duck, while I worked with Darchelle on the
pond instead. Turning Blair down felt like admitting that I can no longer pursue birding, and that
felt like a step towards giving up on living. Not a good feeling. By the end of the day today
though, I felt pretty good about what we had accomplished with the pond and stream - improving the
layout of the stream, interring most of our accumulated plants and finishing one small section of
the pond edge with rocks and native flora.