Brian's Journal - 2020

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01/01/2020   An Omen  
Dead Junco on our front step
It feels good to be home again, where I am able to get up without assistance from most of our chairs and where I can use my remote-controlled bidet to clean up on my own after pooping. Neither Darchelle nor I are looking forward to the coming year though. We'll take it a day at a time but I doubt I'll be walking without assistance 12 months from now, and I expect to be on the ventilator during the day as well as at night. My breathing continues to decline; this morning I found it difficult to stand out on the deck for more than a minute or two without feeling short of breath. Oddly enough I breathe more easily when walking than when standing still. Darchelle, Susan and I walked around Green Lake this evening and I made it okay even in flip-flops though I wasn't able to talk much and they had to wait a bit for me now and then.
Susan found the dead Junco lying on the bottom step in front of the house this morning. I think maybe it struck the window and was able to flutter as far as the steps before it died. I do not believe that it is really an omen indicating that I will die before the year is done, or even that my birding days are over, but it is an interesting coincidence that the new year begins with a dead bird at our front door. Sometimes it feels to me that I could die just as suddenly. Complications of respiratory insufficiency, a fall, an abrupt deterioration in my ability to swallow, a case of pneumonia triggered by an aspiration incident - the risks are present but their likelihood is difficult to assess, so I continue to assume that I will still be around a year from now.
02/02/2020   Murrelets and a Dream  
First of all, notice that today's date is a palindrome; it reads the same from right to left as it does from left to right. It is the first date palindrome in about 700 years (since 12/31/1321) if you use the American MM/DD/YYYY format, or about 830 years (since 29/11/1192) if you use the more universal DD/MM/YYYY format. BTW, I didn't notice this myself; an article in the news pointed it out to me.
Varied Thrush at Fort Flagler
After 30 days of rain in January, today was mostly sunny. We took advantage of the weather to go out birding with Ed and Delia at Fort Flagler State Park over towards Port Townsend. We considered Skagit Flats but I had read a forecast of river flooding and possible snow showers. Fort Flagler offers a grassy point with an extensive gravelly beach and good scope views of the channel south and east of Port Townsend. Three days ago it had both Murrelets. Marbled Murrelets, despite their rarity, are relatively easy to find around the Sound but Ancient Murrelets are not a bird I manage to see every year. They are typically well offshore and moving fast low over the water. Today was no exception but both Ed and I were reasonably confident that at least one of the Murrelets we spotted in the scope was Ancient, based on the darker overall appearance of the bird on the water compared to Marbled Murrelets at similar range. Although the breeze was cold the light was good and we found about 50 species for the day, putting me at 105 for the year.

On another subject, since the beginning of the year a new way for me to die has become available - the Wuhan coronavirus. It is currently offered primarily to patients in China but experts are saying that it should soon be more widely accessible here in the US. Just in the past week some have begun calling it a pandemic. For most people the fatality rate is low, currently estimated at about 1%, but among men older than 60 with compromised respiration it promises to be quite effective. Given that the regular flu has killed about 10,000 people so far in the US in the past year while the Wuhan virus is not killed anyone in the US yet, it may be premature to get concerned, but while I did get a flu shot last fall there is no vaccine for the coronavirus.
Related to the subject of dying, I had a dream the night before last.
Daniel, Darchelle and I are in a car on a snowy road following a storm. Daniel is driving. When we suddenly come to a fork in the road I recognize where we are and I want him to bear left up a hill despite a small snowbank partly obstructing the way but he instead turns right. Blocking the road immediately ahead of us a horizontal tank, cylindrical in shape with rounded ends, is sitting on a low platform with a couple of plastic hoses attached to it. I immediately realize that someone has set it up in response to the storm as a temporary water supply for the multistory old wooden house just downslope below the road. I also realize that this road that Daniel has chosen is a dead end but he does not stop. Instead he simply crashes through the obstacle, shattering the tank.
Angry that Daniel did not stop and I am now left to deal with the homeowner, I don't for the moment care what might have happened to him. I am standing in the road above the house. A woman from the house has come up to the road and is standing in front of me. She is wearing a faded blue and white house dress and she is quite obese but the most striking aspect of her appearance is the beer bottle protruding from her left eye. It is just the top 2 inches or so of a brown beer bottle with the cap attached, and unlike her right eye it is angled downward as if looking at the ground in front of her. I wonder if the top had been broken off and jammed into her eye, but if so, it was long ago because the wound appears fully healed.
I expect that the woman will be angry but she seems calm, though she does mention something about "law enforcement". She then draws my attention to Daniel who is lying on his back on the road some distance beyond us. Sympathetic now, I can hear him whimpering in a small high-pitched voice. Leaning over him I see that his pants leg is torn at the knee, exposing a hinged knee brace made of gray plastic. The brace does not look damaged but the skin underneath it is scraped in several places and seems to be wet.
The recent snowstorm places the dream in the context of my dying, that is to say since I was diagnosed with ALS and separated from Susan. Beyond that, despite the striking symbols of the woman with the beer bottle in her eye, the jury-rigged water supply tank and the knee brace on Daniel's leg, along with my sudden and uncharacteristic (in my dreams anyhow) anger, I couldn't imagine what the dream might be about. Daniel's actions did seem to be in character but to what they referred, I couldn't say.
Regardless of the meaning of the specific symbols in the dream, I think it may be an attempt to work out issues of anger and accountability for causing harm in the context of family relationships.
Note: another dream three weeks later seems to explore some of the same ideas.
02/13/2020   Okanogan trip - Soap Lake to Brewster  
A winter weekend in and around the Okanogan Valley in north-central Washington is one of the highlights of a year of birding in the state. After rain in the forecast canceled their intended visit to the Skagit Valley this weekend, Andy and Ellen called to invite us to join them in the Okanogan instead. They would be coming up tomorrow but we left this morning instead, in part to get over the pass before it started snowing. That we did, and after breakfast at Pioneer Coffee Roasters in Cle Elum (where the coffee never fails to mildly disappoint) we pulled into the park in Soap Lake around 2:30 PM. The lake was full of Ruddy Ducks, including a handful in breeding plumage - our first year bird of the trip. After 10 minutes of scoping I found a couple of Eared Grebes too. The lake was completely free of ice - good for ducks but not promising for those winter visitors such as Redpolls and Crossbills which don't make it south to Washington in mild winters.
Atkins Lake
Snowy Owl at Atkins Lake
American Tree Sparrow at Heritage Road
Aiming to reach Atkins Lake and its reported Snowy Owls before sunset, we stopped in the coulee only at the Lenore Caves for Chukars (tick) and the Dry Falls overlook for Canyon Wrens (nope). The ground was bare at Atkins Lake and the Snowy Owls stood out like big white rocks. Some of them actually were big white rocks but with the scope Darchelle picked out three real owls while I tried to track down a sparrow in the lakeshore weeds. Seeking closer views of the owls we drove 1 Road NE across the north end of the lake, flushing Horned Larks and something small and brown that wasn't a Horned Lark which although we pursued it across a stubble field, we were unable to identify. Possibly an American Tree Sparrow. Our last scheduled stop was at the old homestead along Heritage Road at 13 Road NE where the expected American Tree Sparrows popped up and sang when we played recordings for them. The sun was setting and despite the low light Darchelle was able to get at least one good photo.
On the way into Mansfield after dusk we spotted a buff-colored owl with long wings and stiff flight off to the side of the road. We went back and played recordings of a Short-eared Owl and heard the same call echoed back at us so we counted it.
We stayed at the Apple Avenue Motel in Brewster (better than I remembered) because The Inn at Gamble Sands was full, presumably for Valentine's Day. We ate at Camperos because we didn't know better.
02/14/2020   Okanogan trip - Waterville plateau  
Harlan's Hawk
Along I Road NE
Golden Eagle
Friday dawned bright and frosty. Heading back up to the Waterville plateau, we drove the back way through Bridgeport searching for a coffee shop. We didn't find any but we did get photos of a very dark Harlan's Hawk, a color morph I have only identified once or twice before, and actually didn't identify this morning either until I studied the photos on the computer. It is currently a subspecies of Red-tailed Hawk distinguished by its dusky tail, chocolate (not rufous) brown color with white speckles. Someday it may be its own species again.
We scanned Bridgeport Hill Road for Sharp-tailed Grouse and drove I Road NE both north and south of 9 Road NE in search of Greater Sage Grouse, but found neither. When there is snow on the ground the Sharp-tailed Grouse hang out in the Water Birch along Foster Creek but there was no snow on the ground. We did flush a Golden Eagle along I road very close to the car, and very large.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Great Horned Owl
666 American Coots
We met Andy and Ellen, and Joy and Kerry with them, at the Heritage Road tree sparrow spot then continued on to Bridgeport State Park where I found a Saw-whet Owl in the very first tree I checked. I don't recall who found the Great Horned Owl. I continued to search for other Saw-whet Owls but without success. At Andy's Lake Pateros overlook the American Coots were all bunched up because of the Bald Eagles circling overhead. I estimated 640 birds in an elongated group below us, counting by hundreds, then came up with 666 (plus or minus 50 or so) counting by fives in the photo. We whiled away the afternoon until suppertime studying ducks on the Okanogan River.
02/15/2020   Okanogan trip - Okanogan highlands  
Bald Eagle and Horse
Rough-legged Hawk kiting
Birding at Beaver Lake
We spent Saturday in the highlands from Tonasket to Wauconda via Fancher Flats, Havillah and Hungry Hollow, Nealy and Mary Ann Creek roads, then through Chesaw to Beaver Lake and Toroda Creek. We saw lots of Rough-legged Hawks but no finches other than a flock of Snow Buntings around the town of Havillah. We Spotted a swift Prairie falcon on Fancher Flats and found all three nuthatches along Havillah Road then walked almost a mile on the Mary Ann Creek Road and saw only chickadees.
River Otter
Northern Pygmy-owl - front view
Northern Pygmy-owl - rear view
The highlight of the day was a stop at Beaver Lake where we found a pair of River Otters and a couple of singing American Dippers along with a photogenic Pygmy-owl which Andy summoned while trying to rile up some little birds with Pygmy-owl calls. We had less success trying to find a Great Gray Owl at dusk along Highway 20 near Wauconda, though we did spot a Canada (formerly Gray) Jay along Toroda Creek Road.
02/16/2020   Okanogan trip - Conconully to home  
Sunday morning we tried for Sharp-tailed Grouse along Scotch Creek on the way up to Conconully but there was no snow and therefore no grouse. There was a bit of old snow in town. Driving around we found a half-dozen Wild Turkeys hanging out with some Mule Deer. A few years ago we found lots of California Quail in Conconully but today there were none. We met up with a WOS field trip led by Shep Thorp in town and I suggested to Shep that they try Hess Lake for Gray Partridge. We met up with them again when we ourselves stopped at Hess Lake. They had not found Partridge so we didn't even try, but Shep pointed out a flock of Rosy-finches that we had missed. That was nice. We should have been a little more diligent with the Partridge; they were reported at Hess Lake after we all had left.
The day being yet young we drove Cameron Lakes Road, called for White-headed Woodpeckers and scoped for Gyrfalcons, but without success. We didn't find Bohemian Waxwings at the junction of Hwys 97 & 17 either. Then it was time for us to head home, albeit with one last stop at Lenore Lake where Andy had seen Redheads on Friday. They were still there, along with our first Meadowlarks of the season.
Our fair weather forsook us outside of Cle Elum and we had heavy snow, though fortunately not much accumulation on the highway, the rest of the way to North Bend for an extra hour of white-knuckled driving.
02/20/2020   Lawn birds  
Snow Goose
Eurasian Wigeon #1
Eurasian Wigeon #2
I extended my birding streak through the week. Monday Darchelle and I checked out a report of a rare Ross's Goose at Lake Ballinger. We found a white goose on the golf course but its large size and the large bill sloping down from its forehead made it a Snow Goose, not so rare after all. Continuing out to the Edmonds waterfront we found the Black Scoter I missed a couple of weeks ago. Tuesday, Ed, Delia and I drove up to Arlington to look for a Swamp Sparrow at Portage Creek. We didn't find it. Perhaps it was the unidentifiable sparrow fleeing for its life a foot ahead of a pursuing Northern Shrike. On Wednesday Andy and Ellen came over to the west side early for an evening meeting and took me up to the Skagit for the day. Despite searching most of the morning we could not find either of the two Gyrfalcons reported on Fir Island and near La Conner. We did see lots of Bald Eagles; Ed D, whom we ran into at Hayden Slough, told us that a recent count had recorded 725 eagles on the flats of Skagit County. Ed studies Cooper's Hawks in Seattle, where a year ago there were 40 known nests with 145 fledglings.
Today Darchelle and I walked around Matthews Beach Park where she photographed these two Eurasian Wigeon grazing with a tight flock of about 60 American Wigeon. While I was watching the wigeon a crow waded into the middle of the foraging flock which parted around him (you could tell he was a guy by his swagger) like the Red Sea around Moses. The flock closed behind the crow to form a ring of still vigorously grazing ducks. After surveying his enclosure for a moment, the crow darted over to one of the ducks and grabbed it by the tail. The startled duck flew up but landed again a foot or two away and resumed grazing. Having opened a gap in the ring, the crow turned around, returned to the center then casually strolled out through the other side of the ring as the ducks parted to let him pass.
02/21/2020   Peninsula Pilgrimage  
Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull with Olympic Gulls
Glaucous Gull
While we were in the Okanogan, someone spotted a Glaucous Gull on Ediz Hook in Port Angeles. They are hard to come by in the course of a year in Washington so today we drove out there with Ed and Delia. It was standing in the parking lot with the usual gull flock when we drove up. It isn't always that easy. But we were lucky twice today. A rare Pacific Golden Plover recently showed up at Dungeness Landing so we drove over there and almost as soon as Ed had set the scope up for me I spotted the bird a third of a mile away foraging with Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin.
We had tried first for the plover at Three Crabs and while I was inspecting ducks I discovered one I had never seen before.
American Wigeon x Green-winged Teal (hybrid)
Trumpeter Swans
Mussel Beach at sunset
The above photo of a hybrid American Wigeon x Green-winged Teal at Three Crabs was taken by Bruce Domazlicki, a friendly birder from Sequim who happened to be nearby with his wife when I first spotted the unfamiliar duck. I tried calling out to Ed and Delia but they were down the beach a little ways and my voice was too weak to reach them. After a while they came over and although I still had the bird in sight, Ed was not able to get a picture that was any improvement over the photo Bruce took. I would have had Darchelle take a photo but she was napping in the car and I was afraid that if I took the time to go get her I would lose track of the duck, so with his permission, I am using Bruce's photo here.
02/24/2020   Causing harm  
Sometime last week I had a couple of dreams about causing pain to others. The first dream was more confusing than some - the sequence of events was not completely clear and some of the symbols seemed to change during the dream.
I am doing something in a big house, perhaps working for the man of the house. I take three sticks and stand them up in a big pot of sand. Three strangers, perhaps homeless people, show up at the door and I let them inside. One of them is wearing a red and gray flannel shirt. The strangers need shelter so they stand with the sticks, or perhaps they are the sticks, and I drape a sheet over the top of the sticks like a tent. I touch a lit match to the base of one of the sticks. Fire runs up the stick and becomes a small patch of blue flame flickering over the sheet so I try to beat it out with my hands. While the strangers are in the tent I work on cleaning up, trying to shake the sand out of an old wool blanket but the blanket is too heavy for me to handle all at once. Eventually I get it folded up.
I suddenly realize with alarm that the strangers were in the burning tent and that they may have suffered from the smoke. Checking on them, I see that their faces are completely black so I lift them out and lay them side-by-side on the floor. They are straight and rigid and thin, like sticks, or maybe like puppets because they are fully dressed. Their clothes do not seem to be harmed by the smoke but I am afraid that the three strangers are dead. They had taken off their shoes before getting into the tent so I look in the shoes to see if they left their wallets or other identification, but the shoes contain only a few pieces of candy or bubble gum. One of the pairs of shoes looks like women's slippers.
Worried that I might have killed the strangers, I find the man of the house and tell him about them. I wonder if I should call the police and confess because if I don't they might accuse me of murder, but if I do talk to the police they will ask me who the strangers are, and I don't know how to find that out. The man comes back with me and pokes at one of the blackened heads, actually one of two spare heads next to the bodies. The head crumbles into charcoal and the man says "Yup, they're dead all right!"
A man in a white sweatshirt is outside the house and wants to come in. Darchelle is ready to let him in but the man of the house sees him and adamantly refuses. Darchelle wants me to go try to persuade him to let the man in the sweatshirt in. I'm reluctant to talk to him because I'm convinced that he won't change his mind but I'm also concerned that Darchelle will be upset with me if I don't try.
I awoke feeling anxious about the whole thing. Free associating while still half asleep, I identified the three strangers as me (in the flannel shirt) and Sarah and Eric, but as children, not adults. The young man in the white sweatshirt I identified as Eric as an adult. The blanket with sand in it reminds me of the old wool blanket I slept under when I lived on my own in Seattle prior to marrying Susan.
Intending to help the strangers (who may in fact be my own family), I inadvertently caused them grievous harm while trying to get my own life in order. My father was of no help to me as I tried to deal with the consequences, but instead caused further harm by rejecting my younger brother. The primary theme of the dream might be that like my father before me, I hurt those whom I love. A secondary and less obvious theme might be that in believing the idea that I cause them harm, I am overstating my power and understating their agency in our relationships.
This dream appears to be exploring some of the same themes as my dream three weeks ago. The following night I remembered a brief but powerful fragment of another and apparently related dream.
I was with David N and feeling very sad because my girlfriend Ali had broken up with me. That's all.
I awoke feeling the sting of rejection and pain of loss as vividly as I did when it actually happened more than 50 years ago. That breakup and others back in high school made a profound impression on me, influencing how I perceive the impact of my own actions on those whom I love. But we are adults now, and they can recover, just as I eventually did back then. Right?
03/06/2020   Coronavirus Consciousness  
What a difference a week can make! A week ago this (Friday) afternoon we drove over to Walla Walla to celebrate Sally's birthday and to give her kids' rooms a surprise makeover. Some guy in Snohomish County was reported to have the coronavirus but he was doing okay. We stopped at Selah Nature Preserve to look for a Canyon Wren and found a flock of early Violet-green Swallows instead. We reached Walla Walla in time for dinner with Richard and Donna. Saturday morning Darchelle got up early to meet Sally at Weight Watchers and share coffee at the Whitman coffee shop. We took baths while Darchelle's folks went to church, then we all drove up to the Alpine Outpost Inn at 5000 feet in the Oregon Blue Mountains for dinner. Their parking lot was hedged in by six-foot snowbanks and by the time we finished dinner it was snowing hard. A Kirkland woman became the first person in the United States to die of the coronavirus. Four others, it was reported, were infected.
Sunday, while Ben and Sally and the kids stayed up at the Alpine outpost, Darchelle and Claire and their parents along with Ben's father worked all day on the kids' rooms. The result was beyond charming. Sally was delighted and the kids were thrilled. Back at Richard and Donna's that evening, we learned that 11 people in Kirkland now had the coronavirus, the most of any place in the country. Monday, 2 March we drove back to Seattle after a lingering visit with Sally and the kids. Alarmed by reports of people already stockpiling food in Seattle, we stopped at the Costco in Yakima and did likewise, though unfortunately we forgot to pick up Purel hand sanitizer. By the time we remembered, a day or two later, no place had it in stock; even Amazon was out. We also stopped at Roza Recreation Area in the canyon to try for a Screech Owl. Not only did we hear two of them calling, but we also heard calling Long-eared, Saw-whet and Great Horned Owls. By the time we arrived home, 18 cases had been diagnosed in the greater Seattle area, almost all of them associated with a nursing home in Kirkland, and six people had died.
By Tuesday morning Darchelle and I had decided that she should not see her patients in person after this week until the threat of the coronavirus diminished. That seemed a little extreme until the next day when one of her patients informed her that they had been to a ballgame a few days earlier with the husband of a woman who might have been sick with the coronavirus. That meant that Darchelle could herself possibly already be infected. Then King County sent out an advisory that people over 60 years old or with compromised respiratory function should stay indoors at all times. We celebrated my new (and still optional) reverse quarantine status by walking part way around Green Lake to look for the recently and regularly reported Sora. Thanks to a young birder on a bicycle who pointed it out to me, we found it, by which time the number of local cases of coronavirus had risen to 39, with nine dead.
That works out to about 1 out of every 100,000 people in the greater Seattle area. It is not likely that either Darchelle or I would run into any of them as we go about our daily activities even in public. Except that the number of cases is much more reflective of the limited number of test kits available to diagnose the infection than it is of the actual spread of the virus. Apparently the US government and public health agencies have been woefully remiss in preparing for the coronavirus. Although the CDC has stopped publishing the number of tests performed due to political embarrassment, that number is probably less than 2000 (per The Atlantic) across the entire country. For comparison, South Korea has been testing upwards of 10,000 a day. The political calculation here seems to be that if no one gets tested, then there won't be any confirmed cases so there won't be any problem, right?. The stock market apparently is not buying that argument; the S&P500 dropped 12% last week. FWIW a not unreasonable estimate of the actual number of contagious individuals in the greater Seattle area might be in the neighborhood of 500.
At the ALS clinic last week (was it really just last week!) Dr. Elliott implicitly confirmed that if I catch the coronavirus it will kill me. My FVC is at 21% (0.98L), supine 22% (1.08L), MIP -25, FRS 25/48. Breathing capacity is adequate for sitting but barely sufficient for standing and level walking. Supplemental oxygen would cause harmful carbon dioxide buildup so the only effective therapeutic intervention for COVID-19 is not an option for me. Neither is wearing a mask; it impedes my breathing too much.
Transmission data from Wuhan indicate that family members generally catch it from each other. But how easy is it to catch out in public? Is it safe for me to go out to eat at a restaurant? To go birding with Ed and Delia? Can Darchelle catch it by opening a door that someone with the virus opened before her? If she then uses her phone before washing her hands can she get reinfected by touching her phone afterwards? Is it possible to keep it out of our house? We feel besieged by an invisible enemy. We have already decided that we will no longer travel by air, or use Uber. Should we leave town? If so, when? And is it okay to stay in a motel or will we need to try to camp? And the restaurant question again...
I expect to die of the coronavirus before the end of the year. But it is rather late in the evening right now; after a good night's sleep I will not be so pessimistic.
Meanwhile, a disturbing dream last night:
I am in a full-sized blue van with Mom and Daniel and a very active little girl in a red dress. The van is not moving and has only one row of two seats behind the driver's and passenger seats. The cargo area behind the back seats is empty. Mom is standing behind the driver's seat, facing the back seat and I am sitting in the other back seat. Daniel is standing between the two back seats. The little girl jumps in the driver's seat then races back to the cargo area. Mom wants her to settle down so she grabs her as she runs by, picks her up and throws her down into the back seat. I am shocked by Mom's anger and I shout at her, "Don't do that to her! You are angry!" or something to that effect. It occurs to me that Mom might have treated me that way when I was little and I burst into tears, overwhelmed by sadness.
The little girl in the red dress seems to represent joy, or perhaps feelings in general, freely expressed and unconstrained by fear or thought. Mom represents a more analytical approach to life together with an aversion to the messiness and risk of unrestrained emotions. I have lived in tension between the two, always drawn to people who seem to feel freely but always fearful of pain and anger whether in myself or others. This dream appears to explore a source of that fear, though I cannot recall any incident even remotely similar to what it depicts.
FWIW the blue van places the dream in the same general time frame as the wool blanket in my dream on 2/24, the period after college when I was trying to become an adult. I traveled to fairs and sold Quick 'n Brite cleaner out of a blue Econovan. The little girl is inspired by my niece Katie. Daniel again represents me.
As of today the Times seems to have stopped tallying the total number of local cases, though somewhere I inferred that the number is at least 90, with 15 dead.
03/11/2020   The Bull is Dead  
When the Dow closed at 23,553.22 this afternoon the 11 year old bull market officially died; today was the first time in 11 years that the Dow closed 20% below a previous high. That said, the market is still about 15% higher than it was when we bought our house three years ago, and it would have to drop another 22% from today's close to get back to where it was when Trump was elected. I don't think it will go down that much, but I could imagine it dropping another 10% to 21,000 or so.
NOTE: Drop 10% it did, to 21,200.62, the very next day!
Meanwhile the coronavirus numbers in Western Washington are headed the other direction, up to 258 cases and 23 deaths as of yesterday. It is all a bit surreal. Darchelle is trying to wash her hands whenever she comes inside after being out in public. We are trying to minimize our trips to stores and avoid going to restaurants or coffee shops or the movies or the bank or the post office or the barber. We are even trying to minimize in person contacts with friends. So far we are not completely successful at any of this. Life still seems to be normal out there. Traffic is lighter than usual but there are people on the streets and in restaurants and walking around Green Lake. Daniel reports that business at John Howie Steak is about half of normal. Planes are flying overhead but my nephew Silas, who visited this past weekend from Denver, said there were only 30 people on his flight. But that is secondhand info. It is hard to radically change our behavior with nothing around us seems any different, except for the news. Perhaps reading the news is the behavior which I really ought to be changing. Hard to do though when the news is so exciting! And how can I be a credible prophet of doom if I don't have the latest news to back up my scenarios?
03/22/2020   Westport  
Anticipating that by next week we might be required to stay at home, Darchelle and I drove out to Westport yesterday and spent last night at the Glenacres Inn. At the time we did not realize that the Westport city council had just issued an emergency declaration closing all motels and hotels in town in an attempt to control a sudden influx of tourists. We asked for, and Steve gave us, a room which had been unoccupied for more than a week. We paid online and neither entered the main inn nor had any contact with anyone all weekend. Except for the guy who coughed (into his arm) as he passed me on the boardwalk at Nisqually during our brief stop there on the way home... I held my breath as long as I could after I passed him.
We drove directly out to the beach, arriving about two hours before sunset. There were more cars and trucks than I expected, perhaps as many as a dozen in the first mile south of the Grayland Beach State Park entrance with a few vehicles and a handful of people and dogs within the Snowy Plover reserve area, which is open to public access this time of year. Most parties did seem to be practicing Social Distancing; I noticed only one instance of three vehicles parked together and only one or two groups of more than two adults. Once I saw all the human activity I did not expect to find any plovers but I needed steps so we found a gap between other vehicles about a mile south of the entrance and pulled up into the soft sand above the last high tide line.
Snowy Plover 1
Snowy Plover 2
Least Sandpiper
Walking back into the older sand-drifted wrack line, I found a whole bunch of little bird tracks. They could only be Snowy Plover tracks. Following them farther back into the expense of dry sand, it didn't take long to find the birds, three of them. Darchelle joined me and got photos of the plovers and of three Least Sandpipers along the edge of a nearby freshwater pond. She also
Snowy Plover tracks
Mystery tracks
My tracks with Frog tracks?
photographed a few other mysterious tracks in the sand.
We did a checklist while we waited for the sun to set, hoping to see a green flash. As usual, a bank of clouds right at the horizon thwarted us.
Sunset minus 4:08
Sunset minus 0:09
Sunset minus 0:05
The Mexican restaurant had cars out front when we drove by but we ate in our room. In the morning I remembered a long narrative dream, though I couldn't recall how it began.
I am in a large room with other people including two attractive young women. I don't recall what the young women looked like or exactly what they were wearing (running clothes perhaps?) but I am pleased by their interest in me. They and I go into a smaller room to wait for a train, but I briefly return to the large room to make sure I didn't leave my phone behind. On a bedside table I see a brass padlock and another item, but not my phone. I don't know exactly when the train is scheduled to depart and I am not too worried about it but the women go out to check then return to tell me that it is leaving. I am glad they checked and I go out with them.
We board not a train but rather a large gray vehicle like a Hummer with several rows of seats. A slender dark-haired woman helps me get up into the vehicle and take the one remaining open seat which was saved for me. She tells me that she is glad I made it because they are about to leave. I turned to the two young women who are now seated behind me and say to them "I am grateful to you girls for getting me here on time." I feel a bit embarrassed, or maybe disappointed, that I called them "girls", because it demonstrates that I am not of their generation so there is no possibility of romance between us. A rather slender man somewhat younger than I am with curly hair and wearing blue-gray pants and shirt gets out of the vehicle. He approaches the closed window on my side and motions for me to kiss him goodbye through the glass so I lean over the middle-aged woman sitting next to me and press my lips against the glass as he does likewise. He walks away and I feel happy that I kissed him because the young women will think I am cool for doing that.
Darchelle is with me in the vehicle though I cannot see her. She asks me about the dream and the two women and I tell her what has happened so far though I can't remember the first part of the dream. We talk about the women too, the way we often talk about people and relationships.
We are on a tour up into the hill country with small farms like we saw in northern Portugal. I spot a pair of large yellowish birds with stout beaks and long tails and I immediately realize I've never seen them before. I tell Sarah, in the vehicle with us, that I wish I had my European bird book so I could look them up but then I remember that we are not in Europe, and anyhow I have the Birds of Europe on my phone. Maybe we are in Hong Kong because I have hiking maps on my lap for trails in the mountains of Hong Kong, but I am not sure if that is where we are either.
We get dropped off at another waiting room, from which we follow the two young women (I think) into a second room which has four different ways to exit - a doorway to the left, a stairway descending to a lower level, a blue emergency exit door and an elevator. We don't know which exit the tour group took. Suddenly Ali enters the room. She is wearing a blue plaid flannel shirt and seems larger and brighter than any of the rest of us in the room. Just then Roger barges in through the emergency exit door and announces "It's a floodpuddle out there" before leaving by the door from which we all had come in. Roger had been with the tour group so we now know which way to go. Ali immediately goes out the emergency exit door, and after hesitating briefly, we follow her. A paved path extends ahead of us across a broad lawn like on a college campus. It is nearly dark and raining hard and large puddles extend across the path. Ali is already more than halfway across the lawn but we will get soaked if we venture after her.
How did I get here? What happened? Where are we going? This dream explores these questions on multiple levels. It is structured as a play with three acts. The central act consists of two scenes in the safari vehicle while the first and third acts transpire in empty rooms with different casts of characters. The movement from one room to another within these two acts identifies them as periods of transition while the actions and symbols in the central act present my personal transformation through those transitions.
References to running, birding and travel place the time context of the dream in the past decade or so when I fully engaged in those activities. The two women recall the several younger women with whom I ran from time to time during my marathons. The brass padlock reminds me of the locks on the gates we opened on the Tunnel Marathon course. The lock was sitting on a bedside table with a lamp like those in a motel room. The waiting room suggests a train station; the Hummer, a safari vehicle (and also the boat on which I have been taking guided seabird-viewing trips out of Westport since 2013). The yellow birds appeared to be a cross between two species Darchelle and I saw in Zimbabwe - Crested Barbet and Gray Go-away-bird - during our trip to Southern Africa. Darchelle grew up in Africa. She joins me in the dream after I get into the safari vehicle and is with me in the dream from that point on. Sarah, Roger and Ali appear in the dream after that and indirectly indicate where to go next.
The characters in the safari vehicle offer clues to the meaning encoded in the dream. The dark-haired woman who welcomes me feels European and familiar but at first I couldn't place her, then I recognized in her our hostess at the Abbey/Château de Camon where Darchelle and I spent a magical two days during our trip to France. Everything just came together perfectly as if pre-arranged specifically as a gift to us, and in some ways our relationship has been like that too. The man in blue whom I kissed through the window represents myself but resembles Pastor McLarty, and thus symbolizes my belief in God. The woman across whom I lean to kiss him looks like a church member whom we call "the church lady", but I associate her with Susan. I don't see Darchelle in the safari vehicle but she is present with me, almost like a part of myself, and we talk because that is what we do. Sarah symbolizes the choices I made with Darchelle, having divorced her husband and married Roger a few years before Darchelle and I met. We also visited them in Sweden before our trip to France.
To continue with the analogy of the dream as a play in three acts, in Act 1 I am alone and running marathons, and finding a substitute for emotional intimacy in the companionship of other (particularly female) runners. I am not looking to change my situation, not seeking to actually engage in any new intimate relationship, but running leads to Act 2. I begin running with Darchelle and realize that I am looking for intimacy and that I cannot find it in my running relationships. I instead inadvertently find the connection I am looking for with Darchelle through our extended conversations while running together. I also recognize (thanks in part to therapy) that the demanding and condemning God to whom I subjected myself for 30 years was my own creation, a virtual parent onto which I projected my own self-criticism. With that recognition I am empowered to acknowledge Him as part of myself and choose to let that part go. Some might see that as kissing God goodbye but I think of it as taking responsibility for my feelings about myself. Concurrently (more or less) I embrace my passion for birdwatching, which is another manifestation of accepting myself for who I am rather than believing that I must change in order to be okay. But things change, and as my ALS continues to progress my health continues to decline. In Act 3 Darchelle and I face a future in which the only certainty is that I will soon die. Roger almost died once, and when he recovered, determined to pursue love with Sarah, as I have done with Darchelle. Ali encouraged me in that choice but also talked more freely with me about dying than anyone else, urging me to accept my growing dependence on others and to give those who love me an opportunity to share with me as I progressed towards my death. We actually have done that, in part through our wedding celebrations a few years ago, but I have kept on living since then. At this point the way ahead remains dark but we are still together and the play still continues.
Glaucous Gull with Western Gulls
Semipalmated Plover
Beached Bald Eagle
We lingered over breakfast in our room, talking over the dream. Sometime before lunch we drove down to Tokeland and found the Willets then hit the beach again on our way back north. We found an unexpected Glaucous Gull in the first little flock of Western Gulls that we came across. Rare, but for once not a new year bird. We did find three of those - Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover and Turkey Vulture - before turning in at the Bonge access road. That was a bit dicey because the sand was deep and soft. At the marina in Westport we found 20 Marbled Godwits but no Kittiwake. At
Surfbirds with Black Turnstone (ur) and Rock Sandpiper (lr)
the groins at the north edge of town I found a big flock of rockpipers but concluded that they were all Black Turnstones, not new for the year. Fortunately Darchelle got some photos which revealed that my turnstones were mostly Surfbirds with a generous handful of hard-to-find Rock Sandpipers, perhaps our best sighting of an excellent trip.
And now for the news...
The DJIA closed at 19,153 Friday, the S&P500 at 2,305.
Greater Seattle coronavirus stats are 1627 cases and about 90 deaths, with about 30,000 tests performed statewide. The number of cases for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties combined continues to grow by about 250% per week. Governor Inslee closed all restaurants bars and coffee shops a week ago. City parks are packed on sunny days, and at least half the people out there appear to be maintaining the recommended 6 feet of distance from each other, not including family members.
04/10/2020   Staying Home  
Flowering currant in front of the house
First the news...
The DJIA closed at 23,719 yesterday, the S&P500 at 2,790. Both are up more than 20% from their lows on 3/22.
Greater Seattle coronavirus stats are 6621 cases and about 355 deaths, with about 110,000 people tested statewide. The number of cases for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties combined is currently growing by about 35% per week. Governor Inslee issued a statewide stay-at-home order on 3/24, two and half weeks ago. Apparently it is working as evidenced by the slowing growth in the number of cases. It is unfortunately not working as fast as anyone would like. The stay-at-home order has been extended to the beginning of May but no one expects it to be lifted until June. Given that we in Washington are ahead of most of the rest of the country in the progression of the epidemic, that bodes ill for the economy despite the optimism of the stock market.
Trail to Promontory Point
Orange-crowned Warbler
Anna's Hummingbird on nest
Except for a couple of visits to Magnuson Park to look for the White-throated Sparrow on Promontory Point and for a few walks around the neighborhood or in nearby Ravenna Park, we have been staying home. We have ordered take-out from local restaurants a few times but we still have not been to the grocery store since the beginning of March. Today for the first time we bought bread at Grand Central and every two weeks we received a CSA box of fruit and vegetables so that helps. We have not seen the sparrow yet and are running out of time because it will head north any day now. Instead we found an Orange-crowned Warbler in a maple tree and a hummingbird building her nest in a little Douglas Fir.
Anxiety about dying of the coronavirus has been largely displaced by anxiety about how Trump may use the crisis to block the November election and install himself as president for life with the craven support of the Republican Party. I woke up last night worrying about the Republican Supreme Court. Reminding myself that I am dying and so need not be worried about these things didn't help. It also doesn't help to recognize how privileged we are to have the luxury of worrying about politics instead of how to get enough money to pay for the rent this month or for food this week.
04/13/2020   Happy Birthday Daniel  
Tortilla instead of cake
Appropriate distancing
Conception discussion
I invited Daniel over for a beer on his birthday. I thought we might have some hors d'oeuvres too but in talking with Darchelle we decided to make a little more substantial - Spanish tortilla, soup and a delicious salad. Daniel went kayaking on the Sky (forgot his PFD and ran Boulder Drop anyway but that's another story) so arrived a little later than we planned. On the way over he mentioned his destination to Susan. I was on the phone with David so didn't get her message that she was coming too. To say we were surprised would be to understate it a bit. It went well though, with the possible exception of when Susan asked me if I recalled when Daniel was conceived.
04/15/2020   Social distancing  
Several days ago I walked over to Cowan Park via the 20th Ave bridge and the trail along the south edge of Ravenna Park. I did not encounter too many people through the neighborhood or along the trail but 13th Ave NE along Cowan Park was a real obstacle course with people getting in and out of their cars on one side of the street and walking in both directions on the sidewalk on the other side. One young woman caused a pedestrian traffic jam while she photographed crab apple blossoms along the sidewalk. One by one we detoured out into the street to get around her. I was concerned not only about oncoming people but also about people overtaking me from behind because I walk slowly now and had to stop every few minutes to replenish my oxygen supply by breath stacking.
Then two days ago we finally went to the grocery store. We got up at 7 AM, uncharacteristically early for us, to take advantage of seniors-only hour at the View Ridge PCC. Driving east on 65th blinded by the just-risen sun helped us to wake up. The store was not crowded though it was nonetheless impossible to avoid coming within arms length of other people. Such intimacy was alarming after being so careful for the past month to avoid it. We completely filled a grocery cart. Tired of struggling to get enough air and to avoid other shoppers, I retreated to the car while Darchelle checked out to the tune of $485. Now we have to wait two weeks to find out if our outing will prove fatal or not. Darchelle was quite nervous about it last night because she had a bit of a sore throat when we went to bed.
Social distancing even cropped up in a dream I had this morning.
I am walking on a waterfront promenade paved with large stones (like some city streets in Spain) when I began chasing, or get chased by, four children who are I think dressed entirely in brown, like little monks. I follow them into a house and continue to play a sort of tag or hide and seek with them. The house is a long rambler and the main hallway running the length of the house is partly obstructed with dead and dying potted trees, as if someone stopped watering them quite a long time ago.
I sit down on an old sofa in one of the rooms. A black woman is casually sprawled on the floor in front of me. Her face is open and round, her hair rather short and curly and I notice that she has a short white goatee on her chin, like Colonel Sanders. Perhaps it is because of the goatee that someone else in the room is saying to her "I didn't know that you became gay", but I am thinking that they meant to say "trans" instead of "gay". I need to leave but I'm not sure how to say that to the others in the room so I just get up and walk away. As I reach the front door at the end of the hallway I realize I left my backpack behind and I'm somewhat embarrassed as I return to the room to retrieve it but no one seems to notice. I forget something else and have to return again and again no one seems to care. I suddenly realize that when I followed the children into the house and sat in the room with other people I had completely forgotten about social distancing. As I am opening the door to exit, Ben comes up and I exclaim to him "Man, it's really hard to remember about this social distancing stuff" and he says something sympathetic in return, then shuts the door behind me because I have a little trouble getting it to close.
I'm surprised to discover almost a foot of fresh snow on the ground when I step outside. It seems to be nighttime though I can see okay. One lane of the street has been plowed so I start to walk in the cleared area but have to jump out of the way when a young man guns his car backwards towards me. Maybe he yells at me, I'm not sure, then he continues to race his car backwards down the street, stopping at a house some distance away. I follow the car into his driveway and wade into the snow as if to detour below the house then, realizing that the road veers up and to the right, cross through a flower bed onto his driveway. As I do so a rose cane breaks off and sticks to my coat, then a larger trunk of a small tree does likewise. The mother of the young man looks out of the house, sees me and yells at her son "Did you do that to him?" referring to the debris sticking to me. I assure her that I am okay then continue trudging through the snow along a fence which runs along the road. Discovering that I cannot get through the fence to the road, I backtrack until I find an opening to get back into the plowed road again.
I had thought that I was in Jackson but I do not recognize my surroundings. Ahead of me I see a group of runners approaching. Much like my surroundings they appear to be colorless, a sort of grayish flesh color, but when they get closer I see two Marathon Maniacs among them dressed in bright scarlet and yellow gear. One is a Main Maniac but I don't recognize him so I don't say anything to him. The other is being supported by two other runners, one on either side, as he stumbles along like a soldier wounded in battle. I look for someone familiar and recognize Fran Cunningham so I ask her what road we are on, and whether it joins up with Route 16 or some other road I would know. She doesn't seem to want to talk but she does tell me that the name of the road is Laurelhurst and that it does meet up with 16. As it approaches the intersection, our road descends a hill covered with rough brown ice and both Fran and I skid down it on our feet but we don't fall. Across the intersection there is a bus stop so I wait there with a couple of other people.
Lots of references to death, I think, in this dream, but I don't have a clear sense of a story it might be trying to tell. The house resembles the ranch house in New Mexico which belonged to Delia's parents, now deceased. The black woman seems to be a composite of Darchelle (short hair, African background) and Susan (the Colonel Sanders goatee). The person talking to the black woman seemed to be a church acquaintance from Auburn when the boys were young. The four children might be Ben's quadruplets. Disregarding social distancing could prove fatal. The angry young man driving his car backward would presumably be me; perhaps it is because of him that I twice detour off the cleared way into the snow. Both snow and nighttime have referred to end-of-life in other dreams. Fran Cunningham died (was murdered?) within a few years of graduating from high school. The wounded Maniac is most likely me. through the encounter with the runners, including Maniacs, that I figure out where I am and presumably, how to get where I want to go.
My best guess is that the dream is about how to die, and learning to live with dying. Leaving the house probably represents leaving my first marriage through divorce, with echoes of leaving my second through death. The sudden appearance of snow probably marks my diagnosis of ALS, the backward driving young man my initial impulse to suicide in response, and returning to the road after detouring through the snow my re-engaging with life despite losing my future. Although the setting remains bleak and I remain alone (and no longer able to run), Fran reassures me that I am not far from home and that I can get there.
Our caboose
Bathroom looking out at the trail
Inspired by reports from Eastern Washington by a few other birders, we decided to distance ourselves from the social life of the city and escape to the east side. Darchelle booked us a couple of nights at the Iron Horse Inn Bed and Breakfast, where they assured us that no one had occupied our prospective caboose for at least three days prior to our arrival. I felt a little guilty that we were not staying at home, but not so guilty that I didn't appreciate our first year bird of the trip, a Caspian Tern flying over the I-90 floating bridge. We stopped at Hyak and found a Rufous Hummingbird sitting on a willow protruding from a four-foot snowbank. Bullfrog Pond was pretty quiet but we spotted an Osprey and heard a Cassin's Finch before heading over to the B&B.
04/16/2020   Pine forest  
Lanceleaf Springbeauty (Claytonia lanceolata)
Northern Pygmy-owl with nuthatch
Grass Widows (Sisyrinchium inflatum)
Eric's birthday today. With the excitement of being out and birding with Andy and Ellen, I forgot. He would have been 63. He voted for Trump; I wonder if he would still favor him now.
In separate cars and with separate scopes we birded up Highway 12 as far as Bethel Ridge Road. We did well until our late start caught up to us at Bethel Ridge and we were unable to rouse our target Black-backed and White-headed Woodpeckers, or a Red-naped Sapsucker either. Instead we woke up a fierce little Northern Pygmy Owl and some irritated nuthatches. Lacking birds, Darchelle photographed some unassuming pine forest flowers instead. It was delightful to be out with Andy and Ellen again.
04/17/2020   Sagebrush steppe birds  
Sage Thrasher
Mountain Bluebird
Black-necked Stilt and American Avocets
It is the season for birds of the Sagebrush steppe. They arrive early and breed early then go silent in the summer heat. Between Old Durr Road and the Quilomene Wildlife Area we found five new species, everything we hoped for except a Sagebrush Sparrow. County Line Ponds produced four more year birds but we could not find Blair's Tricolored Blackbirds at Para Ponds nor have any Burrowing Owls been reported around Othello this spring.
04/18/2020   Sabbath birds  
Long-billed Curlew
Ferruginous Hawk approaching nest
Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler
We glamped in a spacious wall tent next door to Mount Hope Cemetery in College Place and were charmed by a pair of Screech Owls tooting together during the night. I lay in bed and compiled a bird list beginning at dawn which included our first Evening Grosbeaks of the year. Church is now online and can be viewed any time of the day so Richard and Donna joined us on an outing to Wallula where we showed them Long-billed Curlews at Lambdin Road, the Ferrginous Hawks at 9 mile Canyon and Clark's Grebes out on the river. At Millet Pondks we ran into Mike and Marylynn Denny who directed us to warblers and a Dusky Flycatcher in the flowering willows. They had also seen a Black-crowned Night Heron but we did not. Perhaps the woman who strolled out there ahead of us with her cat in her arms scared it off.
Mike Denny reported that the Great Gray owl is nesting along Jasper Road again this year so we drove up there shortly before sunset. It was there.
04/19/2020   Sparrows  
CRP grassland
Horned Lark
Sagebrush Sparrow
Looking for Grasshopper Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrows
Savannah Sparrow
We set up chairs on Richard and Donna's front lawn and sat in the sun with them for a couple of hours this morning. We devoted the afternoon to chasing two sparrows, driving north from just east of Prosser until we reached sagebrush and Sagebrush Sparrows, then driving south and east from Prosser up into the Horse Heaven Hills where we did not find a Grasshopper Sparrow in the CRP grassland. We may have been a little early for them. As with Durr Road two days ago, the sagebrush was full of White-crowned Sparrows.
On the way home we drove up above Liberty and played for owls but heard none. We did not get home until 1AM and the last few miles were tough.
04/24/2020   Hosting visitors  
Wistful rodent
Northern Flicker bathing
First yard visit by White-crowned Sparrow
We find ourselves hosting more than birds at our birdfeeders. In recent weeks first one, then two, and now three cute little rats have been visiting our backyard feeders. We are not pleased. After exhausting the supply of seeds spilled onto the ground under the feeders by the birds, the rats learned to climb the poles to access the mother lode. We installed baffles. They began to scramble around in the bushes surrounding the feeders, breaking off branches and twigs in the process of trying to access them. No problem we thought, until we spotted a rat on top of the suet feeder. I chased it away then a couple of hours later, discovered how it got there. I watched as it climbed up to the flexible leader of a ten-foot tall willow which stands some six feet from the feeder. As it continued up the leader, the willow gradually bent down until the tip of the leader just happened to come to rest on top of the feeder. The rat inched its way across the precarious bridge until it gained its objective and its reward. Darchelle tied the willow to the fence and the rats are grounded again, so far. Nonetheless it frustrates me to no end that I can't get out there and exterminate the buggers. So far. Darchelle ordered a rat trap from Amazon today.
Meanwhile I hosted Mike Adair in a dream this morning.
Darchelle and I are lying in a big bed in the room in the house in Jackson which used to be my parents' room when I was young. She is reading but I lean over to her and begin kissing her lower back right above the hem of her flowery underwear. We would make love but suddenly Mike Adair appears in the doorway. He is wearing a brown suit. I had forgotten that he was coming but I get up to show him to his room. He seems unsure of himself and I am surprised to realize that I have as much or more self-confidence than he does. We walk into a new addition to the house in place of Mom and John's current bedroom, office and greenhouse. It is a large room painted entirely in white with a bathroom and shower, also white, in one corner. The room has a shiny appearance everywhere as if it is made of white porcelain.
Mike Adair seemed to be perhaps the most self-confident person I had ever met when I worked with him at Microsoft and Expedia but he died in 2016 after suffering for several years with complications from a severe stroke. In this dream I think he represents death, and illustrates how death equalizes the living. No matter what we are in life, in death we are all dead. The ceramic quality of the room for Mike suggests the permanence of death and perhaps also our loss of agency with regard to dying. We can't choose not to die. The bed Darchelle and I are lying in is my parents' bed. Just as my father left my mother when I was a child, so I will leave Darchelle through death, symbolized by Mike Adair interrupting our potential lovemaking. But I am still living, and still with Darchelle whom I love.
04/26/2020   News  
At the risk of some redundancy with prior entries I include this excerpt from an email I wrote to Ali today.
Unlike so many people in this country and around the world, our lives really haven't changed all that much as a result of the pandemic. I hang out in my office and read the news or create entries in my online journal. Darchelle works from home two days a week. She putters in the garden rather than in secondhand stores. She cooks tasty food and feeds it to me. We sit around and talk. We stay up too late binge watching series on Netflix and Prime. Our latest indulgence is "Anne with an E", and update of Anne of Green Gables. We like those historical and romantical dramas and are enjoying this one very much. My only real objection is that although the background bird songs are correct for Prince Edward Island, they really shouldn't have Robins and White-throated Sparrows and Wilson's Warblers singing in the dead of winter, nor should they play the Downy Woodpecker call quite so indiscriminately. Prior to "Anne" we watched "The Crown" and they did a very nice job with the background birdsong in that one. I enjoyed refreshing my memory of the birds of the English countryside.
We've taken one break from staying home. Last weekend we drove east of the mountains, spent a couple nights in a caboose in the Cle Ellum and a couple of nights in a tent in Walla Walla. Both places were AirB&Bs which maintained a three-day gap between guests as well as thorough cleaning and disinfecting, so we were encouraged by that but we won't know for sure if we escaped infection or not for another week. That's our new reality - uncertainty. Can I get infected by someone bicycling or running past me in the park? Is our takeout dinner safe? Is it okay to drop into the grocery store for a dozen eggs or should we keep eating beans and oatmeal for breakfast for another three weeks instead? Life has always been risky and in reality it probably isn't much more risky now than before. It just feels that way. We are driving much less than we used to before Covid. Perhaps that compensates for the increased risk from the disease, which according to my neurologist will kill me if I catch it.
In Walla Walla we sat out on the lawn in the sunshine with Darchelle's folks and her sister's family and mostly stayed 6 feet apart while we visited. The air was fairly warm and there wasn't much of a breeze. It was pretty much like hanging out in their living room except we got a bit of a sunburn. We also did quite a bit of birding. The urge to get out and see the new arrivals finally overcame my reluctance to violate the stay-at-home order. Most, but not all, of the state's most active birdwatchers are staying pretty close to home, and occasionally expressing at least mild disapproval of those who are not. I call them the moralists, and the scofflaws, the hedonists. My friend Ed tried to convince me that given my limited future, I was more justified than most in joining the hedonists. I'm not sure I agree with him but on the other hand I would be more concerned about the hit to my reputation if I knew that my future as a member of the local birding community were measured in years rather than months.
I keep putting off writing instructions for my executor. Each morning that I wake up with a runny nose (a known side effect of using a ventilator) afraid that I have the coronavirus, I swear I am going to work on that document, then when my runny nose tries up after a few hours I lose motivation...
Daniel is practicing his sommelier skills on his housemates while his restaurant is closed. He is studying for his Advanced Sommelier exam in October but takes a break now and then to go hiking or kayaking or even backcountry snowboarding. Mostly alone I think; he is quite careful about social distancing but has always enjoyed spicing life up with a little more risk than I am comfortable with. Hopefully we'll get through this pandemic before that catches up to him.
Hopefully we'll get through this pandemic before it catches up to us. I fear that things will never get back to normal though.
For David in Taiwan, things have pretty much remained normal. He and his girlfriend KC are both working as much as ever, which in David's case is about half time. They eat out from time to time and usually go for a hike on the weekends, and/or hang out with friends.
John and Mom are happily settled in Jackson and feeling quite safe. That feeling probably doesn't fully account for their frailty, their risk of falling, John's multiplying health problems and of course the possibility of accidental exposure to the coronavirus. There are no reported cases in Jackson as far as I know but Sarah told us that the young man who is renting a room in their house down in the field during their absence believes that he has Covid-19. John has fluid accumulation around his lungs and in his legs for which he recently began to receive treatment at the hospital in North Conway. He also has a serious laceration on each leg due to a fall and a collision with a piano bench. One of them is infected, but that too is being treated. They have two close neighbors each checking in on them at least daily, so that is somewhat reassuring. They are where they want to be, and where they want to remain. We talked to them weekly and Sarah Skype's with them from Sweden every few days.
I continue to gradually lose leg strength, core strength and breathing capacity. Nothing dramatic but even gentle uphill walking is very difficult, so hiking is pretty much out of the question. My current walking goal is 25,000 steps a week and I haven't missed it since the beginning of the year. The brace which we reengineered during your visit last fall makes that possible.
Darchelle and I are delighted to have to hang out together all the time. Things could be worse.
Also, a dream. I've been remembering them more often in the past few weeks since I've been working my dream catalog.
I am standing in a meadow at the edge of woods. The trees are very tall with fresh spring foliage glowing in the sunlight. One of the tallest trees is an elm. I try to take photos but even zoomed all the way out I can't quite capture their beauty. I hike up a broad green hillside, mostly open pasture with scattered groves of aspen trees. I try to take photos of the aspen groves but cannot find a good composition. A dog appears, a tall and slender breed which is all white with somewhat curly hair giving it a rumpled appearance like a well-loved stuffed animal. Contributing to the stuffed animal impression, it moves stiffly around me even as it playfully runs towards me and then bounds away from me again. I give chase and we move down the hillside because I need to go in.
At the base of the hillside is a structure which is like a drive-through fast food place or an mobile amusement park ride, the kind that folds up onto a trailer so it can be towed from one fair to another. With the dog, I climb over the platform and through some crossbars, trying to take care not to get grease from the skids on my clothing, and end up in a narrow hallway which gets smaller and becomes a lighted tunnel ahead of me barely large enough to crawl through. An employee of the fast food place comes in and retrieves the dog, but I remain trapped in the tunnel and wake up feeling a bit panicked.
My best guess is that this dream is a brief and highly selective synopsis of my life with God. It opens with me seeking to capture the beauty of nature through photography, as I did in high school when a few American Elms still survived in the wild. Aspen groves on the hillside suggest a subsequent context of college in Colorado. There follows a dalliance with a dog, which has generally represented my belief in God in other dreams. The dog appears alive but resembles a stuffed animal, a child's comforting toy. When I find myself facing a difficult situation, trapped in a tunnel which in another dream represented death, the dog is withdrawn. For no particular reason other than perhaps the context, the fast food place/carnival ride, which are both alien environments to me, may represent the church. If so, then the employee taking the dog away may represent my acceptance of the continuing ownership by the church of the idea of God. Another way to put that is that in the situation in which I now find myself, I have been unable to come up with a believable concept of God now that I have rejected the God promulgated by the church.
05/01/2020   May day  
Socially distancing aka. Solitary Sandpiper
Engaged in essential activity
Purple Martin colony
We've been talking about chasing the Mountain Quail for a month now. I only know one place to go for them, a regenerating clear-cut on the north side of the quarry behind the Port Orchard airport. I never got down there last year so thought we should give it a shot this year but couldn't be bothered until I realized that we could stop in Fife and probably pick up a Solitary Sandpiper (or two) along Frank Albert Road. We did not get an early start, but did not for that reason miss the Mountain Quail. We missed them, I think, because the quarry expanded and bulldozed away all the Scotch Broom in which the quail formerly lived. Darchelle took a cute selfie of us in the former clear-cut. At least we got the Sandpiper, and the Purple Martins along Ruston Way in old town Tacoma, and even the Green Heron in the park at the Cedar River mouth. No photo, it was almost dark.
Rufous Hummingbird
Mourning Dove
Yellow-rumped (Myrtle) Warbler
The Myrtle Warbler stopped by the backyard and bathed in the stream a day or two ago.
05/11/2020   Where we are at  
First the news...
The DJIA closed at 24,270 today, the S&P500 at 2,930. Both are slightly higher than a month ago. The Dow is off about 18% and the S&P500 about 13% from their highs in February but on the other hand the Dow is up 31% and the S&P 500 27% from their lows in March. Despite some volatility neither index has changed much in the past month. Financial commentators do not agree on whether we are enjoying the early stages of the next bull market or merely indulging in a dead cat bounce.
I lean toward the latter hypothesis, perhaps because I don't see my personal economic activity returning to normal as long as the coronavirus is on the prowl. The economy won't substantially recover until I and most other Americans feel safe to get out and start spending, and I don't think that the market can recover until then either. With at most 5% of the population immune to the virus, and without infrastructure in place to track clusters of infections as they arise, I don't see how we can avoid additional waves of illness and consequent economic slowdowns.
The silver lining in this ominous cloud is that economic slowdowns tend to be disastrous for incumbent politicians up for reelection. Not only the Trump regime but Republican control of the Senate are at risk. It could prove to be the salvation of the Republic, though at a cost of 80,000 deaths to date in the US, a number which I believe will reach a quarter million by election day. Hopefully I will not be one of them.
Greater Seattle coronavirus stats are 11441 cases and 693 deaths with about 256,000 people tested statewide. All three of those numbers are approximately double what they were a month ago. The number of cases for King, Snohomish and Pierce counties combined is currently growing by about 10% per week. If the current decline in our daily new cases continues, they will be down to their levels of early March within about two weeks. The statewide stay-at-home order prohibiting non-essential travel is currently scheduled to expire at the end of this month, although state parks officially opened a couple of days ago, begging the question of whether a visit to a state park can be considered essential.
Trail to Bottle Beach
Red Knots, Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitcher and Western Sandpiper
Red Knots and Dunlin
Shorebirds are staging at Bottle Beach State Park outside Westport for the next few weeks as they migrate north. There are five species out there that I have not yet seen this year so in my opinion a visit was indeed essential. Ed and Delia agreed so we drove out there in our separate cars on Friday. Darchelle and I had considered spending the night so as to get an early start but the tide schedule meant that we did not have to be there untill around noon, which we could manage. When we arrived we found the parking lot still cordoned off but a car had parked along highway across from the old entrance so we did likewise. Out at the beach we found a half a dozen other birders and photographers. I have no idea where they had all parked.
Bottle Beach is always a surprise. Today the surprise was hundreds of Red Knots instead of the more typical handful. The birds were clustered as usual on the mudflat at the leading edge of the incoming tide. Along with the Red Knots were smaller numbers of Dunlin, Short-billed Dowitchers, Western Sandpipers and Black-bellied Plovers. Two, the Dowitcher and Knot, were year birds. We just missed a third target species, Ruddy Turnstone, which was too bad because Bottle Beach was our best chance for them. Fortunately Ed spotted one on one of the floats at the Tokeland Marina. a few minutes earlier, scoping Graveyard Spit, he had found a flock of Whimbrels. That made four out of five.
Wandering Tattler
Around Westport the fifth shorebird I was looking for, a Wandering Tattler, frequents the intertidal zone on jetties and breakwaters but when you go to look for one, it often seems to be somewhere else. That is where the bird I spotted was headed as I walked up the ramp to the observation deck on the Westport breakwater. I had the briefest of glimpses before it disappeared around the point of the nearest groin. Ed and I set off to look for it but clambering around on the angular boulders of the breakwater is a risky operation for me at this point. With a little help from Darchelle I made it up in one place but we could not find the bird so we returned to the observation deck. While we were watching a Gray Whale blowing just off the rocks, two more Tattlers flew in and landed right below us. Darchelle texted Ed and Delia, 100 yards down the breakwater, about the "toddlers" and they came running back in time to get a good view. Both Darchelle and Ed got photos. Those toddlers gave me a total of 237 species for the year in Washington state so far.
The last couple of outings have been pretty challenging because my breathing is so limited. After walking out to Bottle Beach I was so winded that I couldn't use the scope until I sat on a log and rested for a minute or two. It was quite warm, 87F by midafternoon in Tokeland, which may have been a factor contributing to my breathlessness, but I was continually panting anytime I was not sitting quietly in the car. Fortunately I can recover by resting, but for how much longer, I wonder. Difficulty breathing is already becoming a deterrent to walking, and by extension, birding. Contemplating that left me pretty depressed all weekend.

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