Long and Fading

Fading pink skies reflect off the ice surrouning snags in Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on January 2, 2011. Original: _MG_2459.cr2

At the start of 2011, after taking the previous picture at Horse Lake I moved to adjacent Long Lake, the pink skies fading in intensity despite the trivially short drive. Though side-by-side the differing natures of the lakes meant some wildlife preferred one to the other. Dead snags stood upright across the narrow width of the lake with many of their fallen brethren floating nearby. It was my favorite spot for close looks of teal and grebes and mergansers, with egrets and herons and bitterns hunting the shallows. In the warmer months turtles sunned on the logs, one of the few reptiles in the area. Mammals also made an appearance though not as often: otters fishing, raccoons and coyotes prowling the edges, deer up on the banks. Nutria too but then they were everywhere.

The tallest snag was near the road out-of-frame to the right, one day to my astonishment an adult bald eagle perched there almost right above me. Swallows would stop to rest as they hunted the skies above the lake, while below blackbirds and sparrows searched the marshy shores for insects to feed their young. The tall snag on the left was a favorite spot for kingfishers, as well as taller ones on the right, it was my favorite place to watch them as they dove down from the heights and plunged into the water after small fish.

But time took its toll on the former trees and one by one they began to fall, until on a visit four years later I sadly noted in my journal they were all gone. On a later visit it seemed more of a marshy meadow than a lake though perhaps in the rainy season it would fill up again. I wondered what animals would now call it home but it was not for me to know, change wasn’t just coming to the lake.

The Pink Horse

Pink skies reflect off a frozen Horse Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on January 2, 2011. Original: _MG_2265.cr2

One of my favorite places at Ridgefield was Horse Lake, an innocuous seasonal pond at the start of the auto tour. To the left and right of this image grew clumps of tall grasses where bitterns and herons and egrets hunted. Dabblers like teal and pintails and wigeon congregated further left and right. In this open spot if there wasn’t much road traffic, and if you were patient enough, shy divers like scaup and bufflehead swam up to feed. The not-so-shy coots were always around, and often too the skies filled with cackling geese who wintered at the refuge in large numbers.

And once, and only once during my many visits, sunrise lit the skies a vibrant pink that reflected off the frozen pond. My favorite time to visit was on rainy days where you had to take it on faith the sun had risen, towels strewn round the Subaru as I listened to the pitter-patter of raindrops and the chitter-chatter of ducks. Because it was the start of the auto tour, there could be too much traffic for my liking on sunny days, and during the winter about every other day brought duck hunters and volleys of shotgun blasts. But in memory it can always be as peaceful as it was on this day and many others besides, as morning came to my little Horse.

Pink skies at sunrise reflect off a frozen Horse Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on January 2, 2011. Original: _MG_2313.cr2

The Quiet Ones

A juvenile bald eagle calls out in the rain while perched on the ice of a frozen Rest Lake on the auto tour of the River S Unit at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in January 2008

A juvenile bald eagle calls out to other nearby eagles on a rainy winter morning in 2008. Rest Lake had frozen over during a cold snap but by mid-morning a steady rain was falling and soon enough the ice would melt. I was rather surprised years earlier when I first heard an eagle’s call, given their size I assumed they’d have a rather raucous call so I was a bit taken aback by the soft and gentle cry that escaped their fearsome beaks.

A Woman Scrapes Ice From Her Windows

A woman scrapes ice from her car windows on Christmas morning in the Irvington neighborhood of Portland, Oregon

It’s been cooler than normal this past week in Scottsdale, but cooler in the sense that I wore a long sleeve shirt last night rather than I was scraping ice from my car windows. This was Christmas morning in Portland, a rare (barely) white Christmas. It was the overnight ice that was naughty not nice, coating the streets and causing problems for those going to visit family Christmas morning, or for a man wanting to walk his elderly dog.

White Christmas

An ice-covered Siskiyou Street on Christmas morning in the Irvington neighborhood of Portland, Oregon

Here in Portland we got our first white Christmas since 1937. I was alone on Christmas morning when I went out for a walk as the pup didn’t want to leave the house, not because of the light dusting of snow but rather the thin sheet of ice that covered the sidewalks and streets. We sometimes get ice from either freezing rain or frozen snow melt, or in this case a little of both, but it melted in a couple of days when warmer weather returned. Made a mess of things over the holidays though.

Melting Ice

A pied-billed grebe beside melting ice at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

A pied-billed grebe surfaces beside melting ice at Rest Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike the melting sea ice, the melting lake ice isn’t alarming, as during our mild winters it rarely freezes in the first place. A cold snap froze some of the shallower and smaller lakes and ponds, but it was nothing compared to the snowstorm that in a week would bury us first in heavy snow then thick ice when it melted and re-froze.

The Sea Was Angry That Day, My Friends

Patterns in the ice look like waves

Today’s post is a tribute to four things that have brought me joy.

The title is one of my favorite lines from Seinfeld, spoken by George in the episode “The Marine Biologist”, when his little lie that he was a marine biologist, told to impress a woman, snowballed and led him in the end to having to rescue a whale in distress. Thinking of my favorite lines from that show still make me laugh all these years later.

And whales are on the mind as I’ve been reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick for the first time, I’m a fifth of the way in and have been enjoying it so far. It’s unfair as a modern reader to judge the whalers of the book by the abject slaughter that was to come, but even so, though I have yet to meet Captain Ahab or Moby Dick, and I don’t know the story of the book other than Ahab’s pursuit of his obsession, I hope the great white whale devours everyone by the end, save for Queequeg and Ishmael (who as the narrator I assume survives). I also hope that the whale can take to the land, and even the skies, scourge of wickedness no matter where it lies, no matter where it hides. Take care Captain Bildad, when you hear your a knockin’ at your door, that the great white whale lies not beyond!

That’s what Melville was known for, right? Superheroic whales? Shame the book was a failure during his lifetime, the opening line of “Call me Ishmael” is one of my favorites of any book for reasons I don’t yet understand myself, but it hooked me from the get go. I’ve been reading the novel on the train on my iPad, which has quickly become my favorite computer. It’s also the one I’d probably give up first if I had to, as I don’t use it for photography, but it has made riding the train so much more enjoyable than in years prior. And it’s gotten me reading books again. So hats off both to writers of novels and the engineers who designed the magic computer that lets me hold so many in my hands.

And finally, a tribute to the little refuge that is Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge where this picture was taken, not of the seas but a small section of ice in a quiet channel that froze in this rough pattern compared to the smooth ice that was all around it. I’ve spent more time than I’ll admit publicly in this spot looking for bitterns or whatever else might come by, and on this cold winter morning was treated to a variety of a patterns in the ice.