Posted by: pilgrm34 | November 8, 2011

dusk at 4:30pm

The Columbia Slough’s silty, mud flats are no more. The current is flowing subtly upstream sprinkled with gold, yellow, and brown leaves. Mallards and Canadian geese dominate the darkening landscape and appear less startled by the sound of deafening shotgun blasts every other minute than myself. Do we really need this stress? A Great Blue Heron perched on island brush is attempting to be invisible. I still can’t be sure if it really was one, so it worked.

main channel Columbia Slough looking west

to the east

the island with a heron

the island as I move north

lesser channel looking east

traveling the Slough Trail westit is darkening as Mallards and Canadian geese fly over

Posted by: pilgrm34 | November 8, 2011

night sky

November 4, 5, and 6. It is getting dark early and the temperature is dropping close to freezing at night. Daytime it’s been cool yet strangely balmy—there is no wind and it is humid. At the thankful end of Friday, I looked up and was stunned by the sight of an almost full moon and rapidly passing clouds almost directly overhead. Midnight blues dramatically framed a ring of light engulfing the still, silent orb. The edges of the light circle were tinted with warm orange. Everything was in motion. It was breath taking.

The thought came to me as I strolled slowly around the block: no amount of money can buy the gift of this moment. It was a stunning and sudden liberation from complacency. How it must rule my usual perceptions! How cut off from this all-encompassing beauty are we, holed up in our individual houses every evening.

Posted by: pilgrm34 | October 25, 2011

land is our medicine

The air is sharp with chill and heavy with mist even as gold leaves glow with sunlight over my head. It is early morning at Smith-Bybee Lakes. I inhale the cottonwood-scented air deeply several times remembering words spoken by a native American woman leader, “land is our medicine” from the book In the Absence of the Sacred by Jerry Mander. A great book.

Interestingly, JudeoChristianity in its earliest form also associates healing with nature if you examine wisdom tradition and the wilderness theme in Scripture. The Book of Job from chapter 38 on is all about that. Job finds peace and regains hope after learning to find awe in God’s creation (Job 38-42). In speaking to Job, God sarcastically comments on the wonders of His wild animals in sharp contrast to humans’ domesticated ones. Psalm 148, like Job, extols His creation. Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness is the starting point and basis for his healing ministry. We started with a land-based spirituality…what happened? How have we forgotten it?

Towering cottonwood over the path

a river of grass flowing in the morning sun

Bybee Lake covered with herons, ducks and shorebirds

wetlands in the morning sun

sun rays on leaves near Smith Lake wetlands

Posted by: pilgrm34 | October 25, 2011

mallards flying to roost

I am riding along the Columbia Slough toward St. Johns. It’s dusk. Mallards in pairs, triples and singles emit high pitched cries as their vigorous flapping carries them rapidly over my head in an unending parade straight north. They burst over the treetops opposite me out of nowhere and know exactly where they are heading: to roost. I am witnessing their nightly ritual.

Barely visible in photo: Mallards flying to roost

Posted by: pilgrm34 | October 13, 2011

egret congregation

The Columbia Slough is exhaling: the current ebbing westward toward rivers and ocean. Three double-crested cormorants have commandeered an upturned tree trunk near the bridge. One is resting pleasantly with wings splayed to catch the mid day sun, warming itself. The other two exit and swim in the opposite direction looking back at me in unison first with their head turned right and then left and repeat. I wonder if they have eyes that work separately, able to scan each side like my hens. The cormorant still on the tree trunk closes his wings and watches, seemingly unwilling to leave his sunny post. As I move my bike, he flaps noisily over the water, slapping the surface.

I continue bicycling and learn from a kiosk at Smith-Bybee Wetland that a group of herons is known as a congregation. It sounds much better than gaggle, though bringing to mind hymnals, ladies hats and gloves. White herons, or great egrets, gather in congregations to hunt in the Fall. As Bybee Lake comes into view I see their white shapes hunkered together resting on the far shore—more than twenty. Their startling alabaster contrasts with the dark landscape and mudflat the waning lake has left behind. It is comforting somehow to follow their rhythms and cycle of being—it makes me feel grounded. Is that because the human world is so contrived?

Posted by: pilgrm34 | October 10, 2011

great egrets

It is overcast and rainy at Smith-Bybee Wetland—a good time for wildlife viewing. Shrinking Bybee Lake is now partly mudflats. Through trees, large, startlingly white herons become visible, their sleek, ivory outline sharply contrasting with the murky dimness causes by dark clouds. At least twenty motionless great egrets, and one great blue dot the lake surface and muddy expanse. Soon one of the hunters subtly shifts position, takes a slow motion step or flaps colossal wings, disturbing the frozen scene. I stop to chat with birdwatchers who say they observed one catch an eel, while another snagged a swift mired on the mudflat. Once prey comes within range, it rarely escapes.

each white dot is great egret

great egret from

On the way back I stop at the viewpoint overlooking the lake’s slough-like backwater. A brown, furry, head swims toward me but abruptly disappears, replaced by the butt and a thin black tail before the animal completely vanishes beneath the surface. The head emerges again fifteen feet to my right and dives again. By the size and tail, I can tell it’s a muskrat. Water rings give away his location as he surfaces to gobble tiny algae-like plants twenty feet off shore. A larger plump twin traverses two logs on shore across the brackish water. It toddles clumsily to the shoreline, enters the water and instantly morphs into a swift moving, barely visible submarine, able to move forward or backward, on the surface or beneath it with equal ease.


path to Bybee Lake viewpoint

near the lake

Posted by: pilgrm34 | October 3, 2011

north side of Hayden Island

Evening primrose

Under a rapidly advancing black cloud, Ineke and I decide to scout the north beach of West Hayden Island. Lewis and Clark called it Canoe Island because its eastern point widens toward the middle and narrows again to a western point. It sits between two large metropolitan cities in the center of the Columbia and covers only four and a half square miles. We stick to the sandy trail above the first accessible beach to preserve the privacy of a 6-tent homeless encampment and agree it’s an ideal site with a lagoon-like bay, wide expanse and sheltering cottonwoods. The trail soon ascends a 15 ft high bank, a plateau of sand dredge smothering the landscape for as much as a square mile—likely contaminated by pollution. It reaches well into the interior. From the summit it’s possible to see the tall cottonwood forest to the south. To the north the shoreline of the Columbia River and Port of Vancouver are visible.

Port of Vancouver

Ahead, the trail edges along tall grass the color of straw growing out of sand, while overhead darkened clouds dynamically advance northward. We see multitudes of deer tracks in the sand. A large set next to a small one, a mother and fawn, exit onto a barely discernable path through the tall grass.Though we have not yet seen them, we know deer are the true possessors of the island.

Ineke on the trail

meadow near beach

cottonwood on beach

Evening primrose growing in sand

Posted by: pilgrm34 | September 28, 2011

river otter tracks

September 24, 2011

My friend, Laura Feldman, joins me on pilgrimage to the untamed half of Hayden Island. The beach, a different one, exhibits yachter’s artifacts: a rusted lawn chair listing to one side, a cardboard box filled with firewood, remnants of a tent, and a mattress. The debris of civilization even here. The morning mist burns off leaving the nearby Columbia River aglitter with reflected sun rays

The sand reveals fresh deer tracks—small and large. They hop over fallen cottonwoods and disappear up embankments. A new track appears alongside them, with a hand-like outline, larger than raccoon and longer digits. After walking a half mile, we spot a clear set on the dry sand with a wide squiggly pattern in between. They cross from bank to the water line. While contemplating the pattern, I am astonished to realize it is that of a river otter! The squiggle is the trace of its belly. I reflect on the novelty of it. It is rare to see one, or even trace of one, but this beach is more remote than the others.

photo from Washington Dept. Fish and Wildlife

River otter have disappeared or are rare through most of their range. They are three to four feet long and weigh 11 to 30 pounds and can live about 8 or 9 years in the wild. Even today, they are hunted for their fur. Otters search for food at night. Fish are a favorite, but they also eat amphibians, turtles, and crayfish (

Posted by: pilgrm34 | September 23, 2011

gulls on a thermal

The current is moving unhurriedly and the water level so low, parts of the Columbia Slough are mere pools with trickling streams to connect them. It’s a vulnerable situation for water creatures but a boon for predators. The exposed silt creates its own particular rich ecosystem. Plover adults and fledglings are combing in search of insects, small crustaceans and other miniscule animal life. Interestingly, they hunt by sight, using short rapid bursts of speed, pausing and running to spot and snatch up prey.

Seagulls circle in a large formation a few hundred feet in the air, distant enough that only their outline with a glint of white and black against a dark sky is visible. While gliding around an invisible center point they shift gradually southward. A few flaps propels each bird effortlessly all the way around, until another flap is necessary. They blithely bank en masse lifted by a thermal. They remind me of the nearby motorcycle racers banking around the raceway curves, just much quieter. Is the seagulls’ flight for any reason other than pure joy? I don’t know, but observing them lifts my spirits.

Posted by: pilgrm34 | September 20, 2011

the meadow

Willamette River and St. Johns Bridge

The slant of the late afternoon sun illuminates glittering ripples on the Willamette River, but it is nearly dusk by the time I arrive at my destination: Baltimore Woods’ meadow—or rather, future meadow. Right now it is an abandoned asphalt parking lot and adjacent grassy slope totaling several acres that will house one-third mile of the future npGreenway Trail. I pedal down a steep hill toward the river leading to the pavement-meadow-to-be. Impatient grasses already bisect the blacktop. In spite of the urban setting, rabbit, coyote, a fox, and deer tracks have been sighted in the vicinity in the last few months. I stand in the center of the lot and envision its destiny—grassland with scattered oak and a few stands of trees—the long-hoped for dream of Friends of Baltimore Woods.

future meadow

adjacent grassy slope

looking back toward St. Johns Bridge past the 2 acre lot

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