Sunset on the Pond

The chaos and drama of sunrise at the Tualatin River Refuge a couple of weeks ago (Celebrating the Dawn) inspired me to wonder if sunset would provide equally dramatic moments amidst the masses of water birds wintering there.

It was 3:00 PM when I parked near the highway and hiked up the hill to the visitor center.

From the observation deck overlooking the pond, I watched hundreds of ducks and geese moving about on the water.

I was fascinated by one small duck swimming into the middle of a group of geese, staying there for a few minutes, then moving on to another party of geese, seemingly introducing himself again and again, as though he was making the rounds at a cocktail party

Birds came and went from the pond in bands of four or six and sometimes in groups as large as fifty.

The prehistoric croak of a Great Blue Heron announced his short flight from an overcrowded area of the pond to a quieter spot.  It’s not the first time I’ve observed that the Blue Heron seems irritated with the masses of birds wintering in his home.

I shivered as I watched birds noisily jostling for position  water or gliding quietly on the surface. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many birds as I had seen rise together at dawn only a few weeks ago.

Like the frog in boiling water, I had barely noticed how quickly the temperature was dropping until my cheeks began to sting and my bare hands to ache. I’d left my gloves in the car.

To avoid the cold wind, I backed up under the overhang of the building, held my hood tightly in place, and continued to watch.

I had been so sure there would be some dramatic end to the day for these creatures, something to match their wild dawn awakening of a few weeks ago. The sun gradually dropped behind the hills, the temperature continued to drop, the cold wind grew wilder, and the birds grew quieter. My curiosity and resolve waned.

Shivering and miserable, lacking the fortitude to last five more minutes until sunset, I quit that cold, windblown place.

I was still shivering as I reached the highway, started the car, and waited for circulation to return to my fingers.  On the other side of the highway I saw that many hundreds of birds were gathered on wetlands, more birds than I’d been watching at the pond. As I watched, the sun slipped away and the birds across the highway rose suddenly, and noisily, together. They spread across the sky and flew over my head to the ponds at the refuge. Many of them appeared to be landing at the pond where I had been keeping watch.

This was the main event I’d been waiting for, and I was catching it because I’d given up! There must be a lesson there.

From the warm car, I watched until every last bird appeared to have flown to the refuge. If there were birds left across the highway, it was too dark to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the Dawn

I was at the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge to greet the dawn this Saturday morning. There was no rain, but the air was cold and the dampness from the rains we’d been having seemed to penetrate my warmest jacket and gloves. Trees held plenty of water from the rain and one or two icy drips managed to run down my neck until I wrapped my scarf tighter.

There are not many leaves left on the trees, but there is still a colorful carpet of leaves in some areas, and they serve to soften the sound of the gravel path.

I startled a small flock of juncos and sparrows rooting around on the gravel path. They flew into a bush, waited for me to pass, then immediately went back to sorting gravel.

According to the weather service, dawn would be at 7:18. At exactly 7:20, with the sun burning softly through the fog, a roar rose from the refuge ponds. It was the sound of many geese and water birds rising together in response to the dawn. Perhaps there were thousands of them. I can only say there were so many that they didn’t sound like geese. For just few moments, sounded instead like the roar of the crowd in a huge football stadium during Superbowl. I’ve seen huge flocks of geese before, but I’ve never heard anything like the roar they made as they first roused themselves.

The geese seemed to rise in waves, some appearing to fly away from the refuge but many staying overhead, low in the sky, circling, stretching their wings, milling around and around, not minding the fog. There were so many geese overhead I worried about what might drop on my head. In the end, luck was with me.  A noticed a heron who seemed to resent the noisy early morning ritual as he fled for more peaceful territory. After thirty minutes most of the geese had settled back down and quieted. The ceremony of celebrating dawn was over.

The spectacular wakening was the gift I had come for, so was the small herd of deer I nearly stumbled into, and the juncos and the sparrows. I seldom anticipate what I will see when I walk in the refuge. Instead, I wait for the gift I will be given. I am never disappointed.

Labor of Love

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David and Lenda Black worked side-by-side on their Woodburn home for thirteen years. As they worked, they turned a modest 1970’s home and lot into a one-of-a-kind garden showplace. They have artfully blended the tidy look of a formal garden with the relaxed warmth of home and garden; a place where one might wander and lose track of time for hours.

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David & Lenda Black

Tall fir trees surround parts of David and Lenda’s back yard, making a lovely backdrop for flower beds and providing home to a pair of large hawks (possibly Northern Harriers). While Lenda and I savored lunch on the patio, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and tree squirrels, enjoyed sunflower seeds at their nearby feeding station.

 

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Partial view of back garden as seen from the screened patio (to see the back yard before the project began 13 years ago, go to the end of this article)

Although there is plenty of plant variety in David and Lenda’s yard, it’s not hard to guess that Hydrangeas are Lenda’s favorite.

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“Buttons & Bows” Hydrangea

 

“If I could have only one flower in my garden, it would be Hydrangeas,” Lenda said.

 

 

 

 

Hydrangeas bloomed in many colors that day, some varieties with flowers so unusual Lenda had to tell me they were Hydrangeas.

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“Annabell” Hydrangea (Lenda sometimes calls them “Mopheads”

 

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Hydrangea with Lace Cap Flowers

Like most gardeners, Lenda admits that she sometimes sees only the weeds that appear overnight and forgets to appreciate what she and David have created.

Every corner of David and Lenda’s garden is well-loved. The side yards are tended and cultivated as lovingly as the back and front yards. Every bed is home to many happy plants, and flower beds have pleasing shapes and soft edges. The beds seem balanced, with each plant seeming to belong exactly where it is, though Lenda says they didn’t plan the garden in advance.

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Lenda calls this spectacular Hydrangea “Pink Spirit”

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As Lenda and I walked, I realized what a generous source of life a well-loved garden can be. Everywhere I looked there was movement; hummingbirds, bees and other insects, tiny white butterflies moving from bush to bush, and huge yellow and black Swallowtail Butterflies. The garden was teeming with creatures dancing quickly from plant to plant, and flower to flower, while colorful Goldfinches took turns at the feeders.

 

 

 

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One of many lush spots in David & Lenda’s gardens

As we walked through the yard, I couldn’t help but imagine the balance of heavy labor and tenderness that created Lenda’s garden.

 

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A portion of the side yard. Just beyond the daisies is the vegetable garden.

“I look to the garden for peaceful reflection and to keep the body in motion,” Lenda said. “David considers himself a Jack of all trades, master of none; yet he constantly amazes me with his ability to learn new skills.He has done all of the remodeling of our home and has built all of the garden structures.”

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One of David’s creations built to support the huge Wisteria. On the other side of this structure is a play area for grandchildren and a strawberry patch for the children (and the birds!).

David created the door that leads from the house to the covered patio and the back garden. It is simple and lovely, made of straight grain fir, which I will admit means absolutely nothing to me. I only know that I find the door very beautiful.

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From Inside Looking out to the patio and garden.

The first time I saw that door it seemed to speak me, “Welcome, I am an invitation, a promise that you will be delighted when you walk through to the garden beyond”

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Looking in from the patio you can see the lovely doors and the cedar ceiling David installed over the patio.

David recently created a beautiful clear cedar tongue and groove ceiling for the covered patio. He also screened in the patio, which in no way inhibits the view of the garden, but did enable a delicious, yellow-jacket free, fresh air lunch the day I was there.

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The garden structure from the screened patio

Lenda and David are modest about the beautiful home they have remodeled and the amazing garden they have built from scratch, though they confess it was, “an awful lot of work.”

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Another view from the patio
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She was kind enough to pose for a minute

A few minutes before I left their home, David, Lenda, and I were admiring a large blooming white Hydrangea in the back yard. Only a few feet away from where we stood, a bunny was busy collecting grass in her mouth. She didn’t seem to mind us as we watched her carry the grass under a large bush where she settled down comfortably on her nest. She was just another example of the richness of David and Lenda’s garden, and she was a delightful end to a lovely afternoon!

 

 

The back yard before David and Lenda began their gardens:

 

 

An Invitation

In this post I explain why I choose experiencing a great moment over taking a great photo. Please see my invitation at the end of this post and seriously consider sharing your story. I look forward to hearing from you!

Last year my family and I had the incredible good fortune to be on a whale-watching tour in Kuai. It was a dream-come-true. Eight of us perched on a yellow rubber boat that seemed too flimsy for hanging around humpback whales, but it worked fine.

Our guide gave us a great piece of advice, “Don’t bother with your cameras. Don’t try to take pictures. You’ll ruin it for yourselves. Just enjoy!”

We watched mama humpbacks with their babies. Because they are in the ocean, we were seeing a lot of exciting flukes and backs.

After two hours, our guide began to turn us back toward shore when a sudden explosion of water erupted directly in front of us. One whale had burst out of the water and seemed to stand on his tail before dropping back into the churning sea. It was breathtaking, a stunning end to our tour, and it lasted less than ten seconds.

I have the picture in my mind, and it will live there as long as I live.

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Still, I sometimes regret the photos I never got, the pictures I’ll never be able to share. After years of wandering the neighborhood and wildlife refuges, I have plenty of mental snapshots:

*A morning at Oaks Bottom when I watched a coyote chase down a fat nutria, catch it, and carry it off into the bushes.

*The summer night I saw the great horned owl looking down at me from the top of the redwood next door.

*Dozens of ducklings trailing after their mothers every spring at Oaks Bottom and the Rhododendron Garden.

*The July morning I watched a mama raccoon lead her three little ones into the creek and teach them to turn over rocks and hunt for food.

*The very young coyote pup who jumped out of the bushes, cocked his silly little head, and watched the dog and I walk down the street.

*Every spring when the does finally bring the fawns out and show them off.

*Another July when I accidently confronted a mama raccoon and her babies on the trail at the refuge.

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My head is full of delightful fleeting encounters. Maybe yours is too. Photographs are wonderful, but if you have to choose between a great shot and relishing the moment, choose the moment.

Then you can tell everyone about it! That’s what I do.

AN INVITATION: If you have a memory (with our without a photo) please consider sharing it here. Your stories are a gift only you can give and they are more interesting than you may realize. Send me an email or leave a comment here. We can talk on the phone or, if you’re willing, we can meet. I can’t wait to hear your story.