Goodbye Washington, I Love You

A hoary marmot rests on a rock in the late afternoon on the Summerland Trail in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park

Washington lies across the Columbia River just to our north. I’ve spent a lot of time at Ridgefield and I’ve written about my love for that little refuge but there are two more parks that are near and dear to my heart: Olympic National Park and Mount Rainier National Park. The Olympics literally go from the rugged coast (and tide pools) to rain forests to the snow-capped Olympic mountain range, along with plants and animals endemic to the Olympic peninsula. Rainier has its massive namesake where you can easily hike trails from the lodges and within minutes see pikas and marmots. There are many other trails too, such as the Summerland Trail in the Sunrise area where I met this hoary marmot sunning itself on the rocks. Sometimes I saw bears in both parks, sometimes quite close, sharing the trail with me. Deer and elk, birds, ground squirrels, so much wonderful wildlife living in such breathtaking scenery.

Washington has many other wonders I never explored, I never even visited Seattle for that matter apart from one quick business trip. But I could have explored these parks alone for the rest of my life and never gotten bored. Goodbye, I love you.

Goodbye Ridgefield, I Love You

A yellow-headed blackbird straddles two stems at Rest Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

It’s not like Mount Rainier or Olympic National Parks, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, not the sort of place you plan a trip around. It’s not scenic, there are no mountains, no beaches, no waterfalls, no old growth forests. But I spent more time here than anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest. I might have spent more time here than all other parks combined. Not because of what it didn’t have, but because of what it did: the auto tour.

There’s a mostly one-way gravel road that winds through the seasonal ponds and lakes of this unassuming little refuge across the Columbia in Washington where for significant portions of the year you have to stay in your car. Because the animals aren’t spooked so easily if you are in your car compared to when you are not, I watched birds and mammals behave naturally from close distances. I met this yellow-headed blackbird, showing off his acrobatic skills as he straddles two stems, at Rest Lake late on a sunny spring evening.

I stayed dry in the rain and warm in the cold. Relatively warm in the cold, I shut my car off when I stopped and sometimes I stopped for hours. I kept an extra coat to drape over my legs on the cold days, extra towels to drape around the car on wet ones. I started playing around with video towards the end once I got a camera capable of good video but it was too late for me to have taken very many, but those few videos joins thousands of pictures in my archives.

I’d be embarrassed to tell you how many hours I sat in my car and watched bitterns hunting at the edges of the lakes. Or watching herons and coyotes hunting voles in the big meadow at the end of the auto tour. Watching the eagles and swans at Rest Lake. Watching red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, marsh wrens, song sparrows, common yellowthroats, American goldfinches, all from one spot at South Quigley Lake.

There are a couple of short hiking trails at the refuge, one only open during the warmer months when the cackling geese are gone, but mostly what drew me was the auto tour. Too much so I suppose, I knew I should explore other places more often, if nothing else for the exercise. But I kept having wonderful experiences so I kept coming back.

I haven’t been up as often the past few years, mostly because I was walking Ellie during the hours I would have normally visited the refuge, but Ridgefield I will hold in my heart for all of my days. Goodbye, I love you.

Not for the Squeamish

A female American kestrel eats a mouse at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

A female American kestrel pulls apart what looks like a mouse at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on a winter morning in 2006. There are a couple of species of mice at the refuge that I’m aware of, deer mice and Pacific jumping mice, but I have no idea which this is (was). Some predators at the refuge swallow their prey whole, while others like kestrels pull them apart and eat just the parts they want and toss aside the rest.

In the Shadows

A coyote pauses in front of a blackberry thicket at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

A coyote pauses in the shadow of a dense thicket of blackberries, invasives that are widespread across parts of the Pacific Northwest including Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington. The coyote was next to the parking lot at the trailhead for the Kiwa Trail, I got to see and hear it howl in the sunlight before it sauntered up to the blackberries and started down the trail (which was closed to humans, I watched the coyote from my car).