PacNW 2016: Episode I: Food and Lodging

In a perfect world, this journal would have been updated daily, even hourly, while I went through a whirlwind of a week of travel, socializing, and intense birding, but the combination of a) whirlwind and b) recovery from whirlwind left matters undone until now. Still, the basics should be easy to get across: on the evening of Saturday, March 26th, Kelly and I flew to Seattle for a week (roughly) so that she could attend the Pacific Writers' Convention (a/k/a PacifiCon, but far more widely known as Bitchin' Party) and I could check off a state or two for my ongoing Fifty-Fifty project.

We arrived at SeaTac's airport at roughly 1:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. according to our bodies), so there was every reason for me to assume that I was hallucinating the loudly beeping airport cart that whizzed by me carrying Iggy Pop, but it turned out he was actually doing a show in the area that weekend, so I must assume it was reality. Nonetheless, it was clear that we were in no shape to negotiate the light-rail system, so we took a cab to our Air BnB lodgings, punched the key combination on the door, and collapsed without taking much time to look the place over.

After sleeping in, however, we discovered that our hosts' Columbia City home offered not only a lovely basement apartment for their guests, but a full-sized Airstream trailer in the driveway (which IS available for lodgers who request it) and a view of Lake Washington, the freshwater lake just over the hills from Puget Sound.

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Sunday's weather was moist and grey, but the rain was fairly light--and we would eventually be shocked when it turned out to be the ONLY rain we encountered during our visit. We wandered the hills of the neighborhood, marveling at the beautiful gardens, many of them built on rock walls, and the mossiness of nearly everything. We also gazed longingly at the numerous attractive houses, many painted a shade of dark blue we'd rarely seen elsewhere. In fact, the house at right above is a lighter blue than most of those we observed. Architecture varied from bungalows to modernistic boxes, such as this blue beauty down by the lakeshore:

DSC02971.JPGA few bits of whimsy popped up, such as the house that looked like a steamboat:

DSC03049.JPGOur main purpose, however, was finding breakfast, which we did at the place our hosts had recommended, Both Ways Cafe, where I tried the amazing Northwest Scramble (eggs, salmon, cream cheese, spinach, scallions) and enjoyed a terrific biscuit and what may have been the best home fries I've ever eaten. (One of the secret ingredients: smoked paprika.)

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Our hosts, Tom and John (seen above with their dog, Buster), invited us to have dinner with them that evening, and we devoured a lavish feast of roasted vegetables, penne with meatballs, and something called a mazurka, which as far as I knew was a dance. What John served up, however, was a firm tart, almost a cross between shortbread and seed-cake, with a vein of raspberry jam running through it and a top layer of seeds and nuts. I wouldn't have ordered anything of the sort in a restaurant, but I'm deeply glad my sense of duty to my hosts drove me to try it--delicious. It also turned out, in accord with my mother's Rule of 400 People, that Tom had attended a writers' workshop at Bennington where one of his instructors was Max Steele, who had chaired UNC's Creative Writing program during Kelly's and my college years.

(Mom's Rule of 400 People: there are only 400 people in the world. The rest are just hired extras.)

Kelly slept in Monday morning, which allowed me to wander the lake's edge in search of birds. The life bird I'd seen the day before and logged as a Thayer's Gull was back (though later research revealed it to be the far more common Glaucous-winged Gull, my first official lifer in the Evergreen State), but I was also interested in the small gull with the clean yellow bill and greenish-yellow legs--my first look at a Mew Gull. Genesee Park, just below our lodgings, gave me another lifer, the mouse-brown Bewick's Wren, as well as a brief glimpse of a pale eye on a strangely shaped dun-and-grey bird I was pretty sure I'd seen once in California: the Wrentit. (This last remains in some dispute, as the Wrentit has never been reported north of Oregon, but I sure haven't come up with a better candidate.)

The day's big event, however, was watching several Bald Eagles, one adult and a couple of immatures, who were chasing a gull over the lake. (Below you can see the adult at right, the dark juvenile at left, and the pale gull between them.) I'd watched a lot of Balds over the years and had developed a sense that they are generally fairly lazy birds. They're big and powerful, sure, but primarily fish-eaters, so I felt pretty certain this gull was carrying a fish that they coveted, and the two of them seemed to be actively herding the gull, as though trying to get it to drop its prey. 

DSC02976.JPGLet's just say my certainty was misplaced.

A few moments after I snapped the above photo, the adult eagle hit the gull, punching it off course. I waited to see the splash below as the gull dropped the fish, but suddenly the eagle dove in again, and I realized it wasn't after a fish. There was no fish.

The eagle seized the tiny gull in its talons like a toy, and in an instant it was flapping toward shore, almost directly over my head. It landed in a tree just across the road and began tearing into its prey, loudly calling out its triumph.

DSC02984.JPGThe fierce scream you usually hear when a Bald Eagle appears on TV or in a movie is a lie; sound effects departments almost always substitute the cry of a Red-tailed Hawk. because the  high, chattering, almost giggling call that Balds make in these circumstances is, um, not quite a match for the murderous sort of events to which I was a witness that morning.

I stood there for perhaps twenty minutes, snapping pictures as the eagle tore into the gull's corpse, completely ripping away one wing and sending a shower of feathers to the ground below. American Crows, Steller's Jays, a few juvenile eagles and even another adult all gathered around the tree, hoping to grab scraps, but the big Bald was having none of it. Eventually I headed back up the lakeshore and up the hill to meet Kelly. We had brunch to eat and a trip into Seattle to make. We had to travel the dingy tunnels of the city, explore the dark history of its origins, and meet a cartoonist for dinner.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on April 10, 2016 9:59 AM.

Bullshit: A Brief History was the previous entry in this blog.

PacNW 2016: Episode II: Earth and Sky is the next entry in this blog.

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