A great egret stands in a wetland with trees in the background on the Oaks to Wetlands Trail at Ridgefield National Wildlife Unit in Washington

This environmental portrait of a great egret on the Oaks to Wetlands Trail is one of my favorites from my many visits to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, the second-to-last picture on my second-to-last visit. I didn’t know it was going to be my penultimate visit, I arrived in innocence, unaware in a month a job search would begin that ended in a move far away. The trail is in the Carty Unit, a part of the refuge I didn’t visit very often as I so loved the auto tour in the River S Unit, I almost didn’t go since I forgot my tripod which made pictures in the dark of the forest difficult (I’d forget it on my last visit too). I’m glad I did since it turned out to be my last hike on this trail.

It takes on extra meaning for me now as in both picture and memory I look at my beloved refuge from a distance. Thankfully the look evokes fondness rather than regret, full of thankfulness for my many visits rather than sadness at their end. I knew after moving here the biggest test of how happy I was would be if editing old pictures brought tears rather than smiles, so I’m pleased to report that I’m both grateful for my two decades in the Pacific Northwest and thrilled about exploring the American Southwest.

The wetlands behind me, the desert before, my life begins anew.