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Drama of the Day

According to my Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds, given in his customary staccato language, the Bald eagle: “….with its white head and white tail is all field mark. Bill of adult yellow. Immature has dusky head and tail, dark bill. It shows whitish in the wing-linings and often on the breast….” (emphasis in text) He adds that the “voice is a harsh, creaking cackle, kleek-kik-ik-ik-ik-ik or a lower kak-kak-kak.” That at least is very descriptive: harsh and creaking!

We—the small cluster of neighborhood walkers all masked and distanced—were certainly halted with our gaze pulled skyward by that call which shattered the peace of the afternoon. There, not too high for viewing but ducking in and out of view behind some tall Douglas firs, were two eagles circling and calling and gliding in this and then that direction, but always crisscrossing and making a huge racket. Were they courting? Were they male and female or two males challenging each other? Did the females have the same field marks, the white head, especially? We were tentative in our speculations.

Peterson’s system, which revolutionized field identification of birds when he first published in 1934, focuses on identifying “marks” you can see at a glance, to distinguish one species from another closely related one.

Once back home I could peruse my handy field guide. Peterson doesn’t come out and say in so many words, but in his case the absence of comment indicates that the mature males and females share the same markings. Peterson gave me the basics but I still had questions. I then turned to the website of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as an additional trusted source. I learned that females can weigh as much as two to four pounds more than the males and have a wingspan half a foot longer, but that would have been difficult to measure from where we had stood transfixed. More locally, the website of Seattle Audubon indicated that yes, now would be courting season as the time for egg-laying is generally late winter to early spring. So it seemed likely that these were a male and female pair of eagles.

The female lays two eggs in her nest of sticks high up in a conifer tree, but slightly sheltered by the trunk and some branches, not at the top where it would be vulnerable to crows and other dangers. Unless separated by mishap, eagles mate for life when they are four-to-six years old. As they can live as much as forty years, that’s a long relationship!

The mated pair care for their young together, taking turns in the nest until hatching, which happens about 36 days after laying. One parent stays with the young while the other hunts, again taking turns. It takes a long time for such large birds to mature. It is ten to twelve weeks before the chicks can fly and two to three months before they can defend themselves and venture out from the watchful scrutiny of their parents’ sharp yellow eyes!

We will keep a lookout for the pair on our weekly walks. Seeing eagles adds a buzz of excitement and a welcome distraction to our Covid-limited world. Outside our daily human-centered preoccupations it’s a tremendous lift to remember there are eagles, great seven-foot wings scribing trails through the sky, waking us up to lives lived in quite other realms.

The snow from our recent storm is melting and plants like these daffodils are emerging to assert–again–that spring really is coming. The eagles announced it, too, in their own way. Ready for what comes next!

Here are links to the sites I mention:

http://birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/bald_eagle

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bald_Eagle/lifehistory

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A Release from Gloom into Light

We are now a month into the new year; yesterday was the Celtic celebration of Spring, Imbolc, a feast of burgeoning light, new growth and healing. Hold that thought as cold and snow pounds swathes of the country and here in the Northwest the sky was dark and brooding all day yesterday as rain poured out of the clouds as if it meant to cover the entire earth. Today, however, at least this morning, we are having a reprieve from the incessant rain. I was able to take a walk without having to huddle under an umbrella….easier to see and count new wonders!

Puddles that aspire to be lakes

With Ireland in mind, my first impression was how very green the world was! This is the season to celebrate moss. As the rain saturates this plant it swells and stretches and grows; now is its chance to flourish and show off all its intricacies and complexities of growth. Having just read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s awe-inspiring book, Gathering Moss, I notice moss everywhere, bright brilliant green and shimmering with rain droplets. I will write more on moss later but for today it was the tapestry underlying and nearly overwhelming all I saw.

An even shaggier variety of moss mixed with lichen blanketing a maple tree branch

Poking up through last year’s fallen leaves, small bulbs were thrusting into light. The daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops are heralding springtime. And the hellebores are beginning to open in the race of early flowers to welcome the season. Forsythia throws its bright yellow spray to the sky with joyous abandon and soon the daphnia bushes will overwhelm passersby with their bracing scent. My honeysuckle vine is greening bud by opening bud.

Daffodils soon to open!
Crocus flowers looking for sunlight
Shy snowdrops amidst the new growth pushing up everywhere
Hellebores are some of my earliest bloomers, a gorgeous shot of color
My neighbor’s glorious forsythia!
A little more sunshine and this Daphnia will scent the air for yards around. I enjoy it every year.

Crows are everywhere—but remarkably camera-averse—investigating the new growth. My local squirrels are taking advantage of the momentary dry spell to taste the various buds on street trees.  I could hear our neighborhood eagle screaming its presence but could not locate which tree where it might be sheltering. Everyone was busy engaging with the moment of respite. Rain makes the Northwest but that blue sky after the downpour makes my heart sing!

Honeysuckle buds

P.S. Now that it’s February and I haven’t seen a pine siskin in weeks I put my feeders back up. However, if siskins do show up, I’ll take them down again. I hope my chickadees return. There was a lone Bushtit checking out the empty space the other day; maybe it will get the word out now, if it should return.

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Winter-in-Waiting

I had to look them up to be sure, but yes, these smallish, streaky-brown birds with flashes of bright yellow on tail and wing feathers that were flocking into my garden were Pine Siskins. I had not had them at my feeder for quite a while. They are lively!  While confirming their identity, I learned that they are a type of finch, albeit smaller with a finer pointed beak. They adore thistle seed or small seeds like millet and acrobatically hung off my clumps of untrimmed flower stalks gleaning seeds, saved for just such a purpose. They appeared voracious.

A little hard to see among the tangles but several are feeding greedily on seeds or perhaps small insects

Siskins are noted for their flocking behavior and for mobbing feeders. Some writers called them gregarious, while others shaded more to “aggressive” or “domineering.” Other feeder birds might agree. When Siskins move in, your chickadees and nuthatches are sidelined. But it seemed only momentary at my house. Siskins breezed in, partied, and left for new places; maybe I didn’t have their preferred foods. They can’t handle sunflower seeds still in the shell and are peckish about suet, my main offerings. I tried to capture them in photos but they swished around too rapidly to have more than blurry images.

They began, though, to show up on neighborhood postings and in anxious emails and message boards. All that close flocking and eating and general congregating—just like we humans used to do in pre-Covid times and now should not—can lead to tragedy. First there was excitement and wonder at the arrival of this northern bird from the conifer forests and mixed boreal woodlands of Canada, identified as an irruption from their normal migration pattern due to food shortages in their winter range. But it soon turned to dismay when more and more sick and dying birds were discovered at feeders and in gardens. The close flocking and feeding behavior that draws our attention facilitates the spread of salmonella bacteria that can contaminate feeders, birdbaths, and water dishes and be passed bird to bird. (Humans and pets can be impacted too. Wear gloves, wash your hands thoroughly and clean areas frequented by birds.)

Sick birds are said to be lethargic and appear tame—or at least indifferent to human approach. They have fluffed up feathers, perhaps swollen eyes and an unnatural stillness. Besides being careful about your own exposure, seeing birds in this condition signals that you need to take down your own feeders and dishes and clean everything with a mix of hot soapy water rinsed with bleach water. See here for  exact instructions: https://wdfw.wa.gov/news/help-protect-wild-birds-deadly-salmonellosis   And then retire your feeders for a week or more. Some advice recommends not putting out feeders again until sometime next month to be sure the Siskins have moved on and the danger has abated.

Normally, my seed feeder and suet feeder hand off this contraption tied to a pulley but now it just dangles, empty

It was a melancholy sight to see a line of Bushtits clinging to the dangling empty string from my feeder. Where were the goods? It’s been very quiet for days now. I rejoiced to see a few juncos scrambling around under the ferns and in drifts of old leaves the other day. And the hummingbirds are as territorial as ever; their feeder is entirely their own and not endangered. How I miss “my” birds! But I have to remember it’s not about me, but their health and lives. And take the long view.

A lone junco in a rain-drenched garden

To learn more about Pine Siskins in general and about the meaning of irruptions, see here: https://www.audubon.org/news/-pine-siskin-finch-irruption-fall-2020

And here, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for more species information and a great map showing Siskin territory and what is impacting their normal range of habitation: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pine_Siskin/media-browser-overview/67276581

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A Fresh Start

The official New Year was days ago, I know, but it didn’t really feel like I had turned the page until this morning. Monday morning: a new list for the week, facing forward after the weekend, time to take stock. First, look out the window and notice that it has stopped raining! We’re in the middle of one of those weather “rivers” that pours water out of the sky and feels like a permanent geographical fixture; you can’t imagine how it will ever stop. But somehow the sky is less pulled down on the treetops and roofs and there is a visible smudge of light in the sky that must be the sun. No time to hesitate! Go outside!

Looking up, the first thing I see is an eagle slowly passing over the neighborhood, barely tipping its wings and intent on surveying the possibilities. And in the same frame of vision, I see a vivid-pink flash of a hummingbird. The definition of “bird” stretches almost to breaking point to encompass these two! Besides the cessation of rain, I am counting this twin sighting as my #1 Wonder of the Day.

And instantly know that instead of New Year’s resolutions—you know, lose those extra pounds, be more organized, and clean out a few drawers—I’m going to collect Wonders; make that a minimum of three a day. It’s a wake-up call from winter hibernation or Covid-induced fog. I feel better already.

There are several ways to discover Wonders. Some present themselves like the eagle and hummingbird. For my next Wonder I only had to follow my nose. We have a bush in our side yard that blooms in winter; if anyone can identify it, please do. It has the freshest sweet-but-not-too-sweet scent from tiny white flowers that just gladdens my heart on these dark days. I stand in front of it and breathe in the scent and feel that spring cannot be lost no matter what the date. I have Wonder #2.

You can almost smell the flowers by looking at them…..
The mystery bush that signals spring

And I have a theme: What other signs of early spring can I find? Soggy brown leaves litter the ground and bits of fallen branches from the windstorm nearly hide my next find. There is a tiny, slightly battered, but bravely pushing upward primrose whose pink catches me eye. It’s very modest but not at all prosaic. I’m counting it as #3 for the lift it gives my mood.

Easy to miss

I see green shoots pushing up here and there, probably the bluebells that will take over my garden later, but perhaps because they are so prolific they don’t quite feel like a bona fide Wonder to me today. Ah, but what’s this? Again a pink color draws me to peer more carefully in the clutter of last-year’s leaves. This seems incredibly early, but some of my strawberry plants are in flower! Very pink, indeed. Spring is more than a wish; it feels like a promise kept. Strawberry plants blooming in January is a Wonder, a bonus, #4. Everything is going to be okay.

The pink among the scattered leaves of fall.

Winter Colors

Sometimes when I go out for a stroll I walk for several blocks without noticing a thing. It’s a rather gray day today, quiet with barely a breeze; no one is about but a few squirrels that melt away as I approach along the sidewalk. My thoughts chase each other with more vigor than they exhibit….which may be why I am missing out on what is happening all around me. But there is drama!

The sky had its own drama of dark and light, all moody and heavy. I was not able to capture the eagles on camera but I have them firmly in my mind!

I happen to look up at the sky and there above me are two eagles wheeling and gyrating, tracing large patterns across the canvas of the sky. They circle and soar, together, each on an invisible path of air that looks aimless and lazy, yet no bird takes a chance to test their seeming indifference. The eagles’ outspread wings and stiff wedge of tail, the thrust of their beaks cutting through the afternoon sky, their presence wakes me up. I turn and turn trying to follow their flight. I wait to see if one or the other will suddenly plummet to the ground, great claws forward to scoop up some unlucky snack. Finally, they drift away, but the day has changed.

Though they left no lines in the sky, not so much as a puff of breath, I now see everything in a clearer light. Why, there is so much to note! Winter is having its way, whittling down the world to its core, stripping away the painterly lushness of summer and leaving us with charcoal etchings. Trees show off their bark, darkened by yesterday’s rain, and the strong upward lines of branches. Each one has its own habit of growth, each one a statement against the sky.

The discarded leaves litter the ground and collect where wind and chance have scattered them. Remnant bits of color against dark cement or the opaqueness of water make abstract Jackson Pollock-ish splatters. A few red or stark-white berries clinging to bushes are like splashes from a paintbrush, pure jolts in a brown-gray landscape.

The deep puddle held both this scatter of oak leaves and the light from the sky.
The flecks of yellow against gray cement with splotches of purple-brown made an arresting pattern.
The artistry of chance made lovely patterns of brown leaves against the green of lawn.

Best of all is the luminous moss! Plump with rain, vibrant and refreshed, this is its season. I touch its springy surface, make a wish, and go home in a better frame of mind.

Different kinds of moss springing up between rock sidewalks, decorated with tiny maple wings.
Moss fairly calling out to be petted!

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

I see frost on my neighbor’s roof and a skim of ice in the birdbath. We are hovering on the edge of winter.  My local birds are hoovering up suet as quickly as I refill the feeder, fueling up to withstand the cold. I keep an eye on the hummingbird feeder too as the liquid in it disappears in a wink.

Signs of the season: soon this glorious golden Ginkgo tree will be bare.

Will the hummers stay for winter? Who stays and who heads out for warmer climes?  I ask myself this question every year at this time so I’ve turned to my bookshelf for some guidance. I’ve been reading a thick and every-page fascinating book on migration by Scott Weidensaul, Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. The book opens with him staring out to sea—the Bering Sea—from a piece of shore he describes as: “this tendril of land is a global crossroads…a port of entry between Asia and America.” It is a place of arrival and leave-taking for thousands of migrating birds, a seasonal high drama that stars some of the most spectacular travelers of the bird world. He describes some of the birds that fly almost pole to pole, but Weidensaul also notes that some birds hardly bother. Even birds of the same species, take Dunlins for example, don’t all undertake similar journeys. He tells us that there are three different populations of Dunlins, each with a different strategy for coping with winter. It turns out, migration is not a simple all-up-and-out movement but involves a lot of back and forth and odd variations and choices.

Before I follow Weidensaul along all the possible lines of his map, I will just give you this point that he says underlies all the patterns birds follow: “Migration is, fundamentally, about food, not temperature; those birds that can continue to find enough to eat during the winter rarely migrate—why bother?—while those whose food supplies are seasonal must flee.” So, no pressure! Keep those feeders topped up!

A robin pausing to get a quick drink of water. All that calling makes a bird thirsty!

Part of my interest in this question of migration centers on one of our most common birds, the American robin. As a child growing up in Alberta where winter is a long and serious affair, seeing the first robin every spring was an annual quest and a triumph of hope over dreariness. But here in the Pacific Northwest, do robins migrate? Is theirs a case of “Why bother?” On a walk the other day, the air was full of robins, whizzing back and forth, calling, landing and taking off, clattering and nervous-seeming. They gathered, as if readying for a journey, but just as quickly dispersed as if on private business separate from their flock. What was going on?

It was impossible to catch a robin on the wing with my camera. I settled for just watching them zip around. But every once in a while they would congregate and land for a moment. Here are some outlined against the sky.

Robins, in my experience, don’t eat from feeders. My interest that day was from long affection for these handsome birds with their storybook bright red bellies and contrasting gray-black over-coats. And there was no ignoring their frantic movements and their piping voices. But the next day on my walk I didn’t see a single robin. Where had they gone? Did they finally make a group decision and fly away? Back home, I turned to my trusted source for all bird questions, the Cornell Lab for Ornithology website for answers to my query about robin migration behavior. They had this to say:

“One reason why they seem to disappear every winter is that their behavior changes. In winter robins form nomadic flocks, which can consist of hundreds to thousands of birds. Usually these flocks appear where there are plentiful fruits on trees and shrubs, such as crabapples, hawthorns, holly, juniper, and others.

When spring rolls around, these flocks split up. Suddenly we start seeing American Robins yanking worms out of our yards again, and it’s easy to assume they’ve “returned” from migration. But what we’re seeing is the switch from being nonterritorial in the winter time to aggressively defending a territory in advance of courting and raising chicks.”

The clue to the robins’ behavior was right in front of me: my neighbor’s venerable holly tree. Covered with delicious—I suppose—red berries. They had crowded along its branches, gorging and perhaps getting a little tipsy if any of the berries were fermenting as sometimes happens. It was a grand party! No worries about social distancing. Maybe they were off to find another smorgasbord somewhere else in the neighborhood the next day, but there are still berries for the taking so I imagine they will be back. Still a cheerful sight!

Bright Sights

I admit to being fatigued; I’m even tired of being tired. The family cat doesn’t want to hear about it. She has her own remedies so I am reminded to turn to my own sure-fire ways of finding a little balance and respite in “these times.” I look out my kitchen window.

Ways of dealing with the daily barrage of Covid news, anxiety-inducing headlines and cold weather…

The local sparrows (Will I ever figure out which sparrows are which? It doesn’t matter today.) and glossy-headed juncos are taking turns pecking at the seeds I’ve scattered for them. Chickadees are swooping on the hanging feeder and choosing just the right sunflower seed before dashing away again. A buzz of bush tits erupts out of the bushes, congregate on the suet feeder and just as quickly head for cover. A brilliant red-eyed towhee with its smart black and rusty red outfit shows up for a snack. There is a lot going on outside!

These are my beloved “regulars.” Not quite as often, nuthatches show up for a meal, and there is always a commotion when a flicker arrives. For such a large bird it is shy and easily scatters at the slightest movement my side of the window, so if I want to watch it I need to freeze in place or slowly step back a bit to be less visible. It’s comical watching it contort itself to cling onto the small feeder. I haven’t seen much of the downy woodpecker lately; I hope it comes back soon. And of course, jays show up and starlings, always with a big clatter of wings and whistles.

But sometimes I am lucky and see something unusual. I have a secretive Bewick’s wren that slips in and out of the heavy cover of the Camilla bush to poke around and occasionally sample the suet in the feeder. The white blaze over its eye and perky tail draw my attention but it doesn’t stay for long. And one recent day there was…hey, what is that? An almost-pink raspberry colored bird showed up, pecked and looked about and stayed long enough for me to find my bird guide and confirm that it was a purple finch. A new bird for me! We used to get the red house finches all the time, although they have disappeared from our area for unknown reasons, but I had never had one of these. (I don’t know why they are called “purple” but they are clearly not red.) So far, that was my one sighting. Maybe it was only passing through the neighborhood. But it made my day!

Hard to spot but always a thrill, a Bewick’s wren
A real stand-out: a purple finch!

Another bright light has stayed now for a couple of weeks, and my birding friend who knows this sort of thing assures me it may well stay for the season: a Townsend’s warbler. You can’t miss that flash of lemon yellow and black. It’s a tiny bird with a dainty sharp beak and bright eyes but when you see that color, you have to stop and search for it in the leaves. It’s in and out, flashing like a light bulb, hiding and then daring to try the feeder. I stand as still as possible for my reward of a glimpse. And I keep the feeder topped up! It may be the beginning of winter, but all color has not drained from the world. Hang on, be well. Look out the window.

Like sunshine on a cloudy day, a Townsend’s warbler

The When, Where and How of Hummingbirds

My friend and I were visiting on my porch—socially distanced, it needs to be said—enjoying a quiet conversation, but every once in a while she couldn’t help but scrunch up her shoulders in an involuntary response. It wasn’t our conversation but the loud whirring buzz of a hummingbird zooming in to take a sip from the feeder hanging inches behind her head. Like a mini attack helicopter! Sometimes he (flashing his iridescent male plumage) didn’t stop for a drink but just wanted to be certain no one else was getting any of his feeder-food. Honestly, we weren’t even thinking of imbibing anything!

But there was contention, hence the drama. At least two other hummers made attempts to approach the feeder. The “owner” would swoop in and in a burst of bravado would chase the others away. That’s just my interpretation of the action; at least one other bird–a rival–looked exactly like the proprietor. But one was a bit smaller. Was it a youngster who didn’t know the rules? Could it have been the offspring of the male in charge? Hummingbirds are very territorial, so do they actively chase away their own young?

In the mid 1940s Margaret wrote and had distributed a collection of pamphlets she called “Washington Nature Notes,” one of which featured the Rufous Hummingbird. In it she describes the love life of this fiery species, noting that, …once the loved one has succumbed [to the ardent display tactics used to woo a mate] and the honeymoon is over, our gay Lothario is off and away with a troop of other carefree males. All summer long they flit from flower to flower without a thought of domestic duties.

In other words, the male bird wouldn’t know his own offspring at all, so it is strictly a territorial battle and has nothing to do with careful parents getting young to find their own territories, except by happenstance.

That was one muse I had that evaporated upon a little reading but I had other questions to explore. I was glad to learn that hummers don’t rely only on nectar from flowers and the sweetened liquid our feeders supply, but also get a lot of nourishment from eating tiny insects. And a couple of times I’ve witnessed a hummer take a nip from my suet feeder. It seemed to do that out of curiosity having witnessed, perhaps, so many other birds flocking to the feeder. A taste was all it wanted; it didn’t come back for seconds, although watching it give it a try was a surprise.  Has anyone else seen this?

In Margaret’s pamphlet she states that, “in March or April, when the Indian currant hangs out its rosy blossoms, the Rufous Hummingbird arrives from the south…the male…is the first scout to reach here. Like a winged coal of fire, he whizzes around the bushes of Indian current and flowering quince, then mounts up and up and zips from blossom to blossom of the plums and cherries.”  She wrote those words almost eighty years ago, when it was the case that hummingbirds reliably migrated to Mexico every fall and were a harbinger of spring when the first flowers bloomed. How the world has changed!

A flowering currant bush in my garden, from last spring. The bright pink blossoms attract hummingbirds and insects, fairly shouting that spring is here!

Now, it is not uncommon to see hummingbirds stick around our feeders and gardens through the winter. It causes anxiety and wonder among those who normally would bring in their feeders during the cold months but who now feel responsible for the life and death of these birds who seem to have shrugged off the long journey and look to us to sustain them. There is all manner of advice about bringing feeders in overnight and returning them unfrozen in the morning, of warming feeders in microwaves or pans of steeping hot water, of owning multiple feeders so frozen ones can be easily swapped for fresh ones. And then there are gizmos you can purchase that keep the liquid warm outdoors without all the in-and-out. It all still feels fraught.

It brings home the ravages of climate change and our responsibility to do everything in our power to address it and deal with it now. Climate change is here now: it is changing ocean currents, wind patterns, our seasons—and our seasonal harbingers, like migrating birds. Are the Indian plum trees also blooming earlier to keep pace? If not, then feeders need to Mind the Gap in a new application of that cautionary plea.

Margaret didn’t have that extra burden. She saw her mission as getting more people, especially children, to delight in hummingbirds—and all that Nature presents—so that they would become enthusiastic conservationists out of love and their own experience of the wonders of the world. We still have that welling of love and wonder, now over layered with anxiety and even dread, but putting the love of nature first might strengthen us to deal with the latter. One bird at a time, one feeder kept fresh at a time. It’s getting cold outside, and late in the day.

A lucky photo taken last year in wintertime, capturing the moment when a hummingbird came to my feeder
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A Mind-Journey: Renewal

This morning as the sky lightened, there was no brightness, no evident sun, not even a fiery red one like the day before. Instead, there is an opaque featureless gray of fog, possibly—probably—laden with smoke and particulates from fires still consuming the west like hungry monsters. So I was charmed…distracted…pulled into reverie when I  opened an email inviting me to revisit Newagen Seaside Inn, near Boothbay, Maine. We had once stayed there in late July, 2018. A lifetime ago!

The come-hither photo of perfect pumpkin-orange and golden Fall leaves, mostly still clinging to trees lining both sides of a path you’d give anything to be exploring, but just enough decorously scattered on the ground to add some crunch, drew me into the scene. I could almost smell the trees and catch a salty breeze coming off the nearby bay. This is a very special place!

I loved the wind-tossed trees that clung to the rocky outcroppings. No postcard prettiness but rugged beauty that spoke to me of strength and survival.

The Inn and its surroundings are, of course, Maine-perfect and a dream vacation destination but the reason we had made a stop there was for me a pilgrimage to pay my respect for someone I have long studied and held in awe: Rachel Carson. She used to stay at the Inn when she was working on her Sea books, examining the tidal pools, finding the threads of life that linked every minute form to the cosmos of the whole biotic community. She loved the area so much she eventually settled in a small cottage just a few minutes away from these rocky beaches.

Some of the relics saved from her stays at the Inn proudly displayed for guests to ponder.

The hotel is proud of its association with the life and work of Rachel Carson and eager to relate stories of her time there.  Even more powerfully, you can follow a sign-posted path to a favorite beach on hotel property where her ashes were scattered at her request when she died in 1964. As the small waves washed in and out and pooled between the granite rocks, endlessly obeying the waxing and waning of the moon, I gazed at the crevices, the bits of shaggy seaweed, the flecks among the gravel and tiny shell pieces, as if to see her essence still there, mingled with all the ongoing life she loved and wrote about. Her words floated in my mind, now carved on a marker, captured in bronze from the page where they first appeared…

Rachel Carson, Writer, Ecologist, Champion of the Natural World, 1907-1964,
“But most of all I shall remember the Monarchs”
Here at last returned to the sea–“to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end”

I had read her excellent biography by Linda Lear and all her Sea books before our journey there, so my mind was super-charged with her story and with her own evocative descriptions of shore and tidal life, on out to the very depths of the oceans just then being explored in its darkest reaches for the first time. But all these words spun in the breeze and floated like so much flotsam, efflorescent, out to sea. What remained was her solid love of place, her will to share it with us all, and her granite resolve to save it for its own sake. The air coming off the water was so fresh and tangy. I left with a new resolve to dig into my own place, to put down roots, and find my own words. But I’ll always remember finding Rachel at Newagen.

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September 22nd

The sun sends out its welcome beams of light and warmth, warmer than I expected, as I set out for a morning walk. It is very quiet, no dog walkers, the traffic light, everything holding stillness for this while. Except for the birds who are hidden in leafy surrounds, chirping, making plans, exchanging observations on the day and the new season. Do they know it is the first day of Autumn?

The days are perceptively shorter. We rise in the dark now and dark descends too soon after dinner, it seems. But today, after the early morning clouds melted away, a golden light makes the sky appear an even brighter blue, a huge blue bowl that does not hover and limit sight, but stretches to infinity and makes all things feel possible. What a relief after days and days of heavy smoke-choked sky and lowering clouds with no silver lining.

Birds are gathering on the tops of trees, fluttering and circling, settling, then calling and unsettling again. They are restless, testing their wings, and uncertain. Is it time? Not yet, not quite. How will they know the moment when their flying will take on purpose and the migration begin?

I keep walking, scanning the ground for colored leaves, acorns still clinging to their caps, and if I look in the right places, chestnut conkers, gorgeous deep-brown, shiny orbs shaped perfectly to hold in my hand and rub with my palms. I plan to fill small bowls with them to create my Autumn tableau of treasures. But I am too early; they are not ready for collecting, not yet ripe and freed from their spiky cases. Only a few trees have begun to turn from green to gold and red and brown. Still, I do glean some leaves, a beginning. It’s just the first day, I must be patient though I long for a change. The turning of the season, a closing and an opening.

Ah, but some creatures are well aware of the passage of time. The garden spiders are busy, their webs more elaborate and visible. They are now fully grown and mature, ready to mate and produce eggs that they will bundle into a silken sac that will protect the tiny spiderlings until next spring’s warmth. Then the cycle will begin anew with the tiny spiders growing, shedding their exoskeletons for new roomer ones, busy with life, until we again see them as mature beings, urgent with the need to keep the generations coming. Be kind to their webs, let them fulfill their destiny.

Let Autumn come and be welcome.