Monday, April 30, 2012

Ode to the Drab Gray Birds of the Pacific Northwest

Good day to you bird addicts. Today's post is contributed by no other than the infamously bizarre Cass Grattan, who has told BB&B about how birdwatching has brought about his complete financial ruin and social castration, as well as what exactly he thinks about other birders. Aside from coping with the constant state of terminal Fear and Loathing that a lifetime of birdwatching has reaped, Cass is a master communicator and unrelenting flogger of words. He writes to us from the grim recesses of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, amid short breaks between Northern Spotted Owl surveys. Photo of Drab Gray Northern Fulmar and Crisping Bonaparte's Gull by Seagull Steve.


Welcome. To the Realm of Fog and mist-choked fjords. Home to behemoth gymnosperms that drip moss onto their felled parents that perished millenia ago, only to have a variety of taxa sprout from, and consume, their rotting and vital corpses. Here, the line between Life and Oblivion is blurred, and one is hard pressed to articulate either concept in this environment of elemental fluidity.

Behold. The Gray and its oppressive weight on the observer’s senses. Early explorers of the area felt it. Our peaks and waterways bear names such as Deception, Disappointment, Destruction. Lewis and Clark spent an unbearable winter here. It is certain that visions of the Dismal Niche on the Lower Columbia accompanied Lewis in his final hours before he auto-delivered himself from this world. You, like him, can feel its power and fear its depth, for this is only the beginning of an unspeakable horror that lies westward; the pelagic of the North Pacific.





It is here that the elegant simplicity of the Gull and Fulmar is fully realized.  When these birds wheel against an ashen storm front, stacked cumulus wedged into the dome above, their simplicity and banality are transformed into a subtle and seamless weave of element and beast. Their blueprint is understood in these waters. And it is here that the power and magnitude of that titan of fashion that we know as the Economy of Style reaches its most refined expressions.  

Here our Picoides are smudged, our sparrows darkened, and our Merlin the blackest. All these regional variations in plumage are in accordance, and reverence, to the perpetual desolation of their environs.

Hutton’s Vireo, gluttonous miracle. Unwavering in its quest of woodland sustenance, its attire represents the zenith of neo-Bauhaus refinement.

Pacfic Wren, the tireless troglodyte. Its song a tangle of roots, its rags a humble assemblage of shadows and earth.

The Creeper, or as its known locally, Vermiculated Woodsprite; its get-up a perfect confluence of land and light.  

The ouzel, river god cloaked in shale blue, the color of waterworked rock. It wears its feathers in obvious defiance of the garish and wasteful wardrobe of other deities.  Carved and behaving like a miniature inland auklet, the ouzel's opulence lies not in its plumage, but in its throat. Its song, like the river itself, is endless in its dexterity and imagination.

Soon though, the Western Tanager with its fire-in-the-head, will arrive. As will the Black-headed Grosbeak in all its neotropical anti-glory. The various warblers will return in their whorish clownsuits.  Northwest birders, scorched retinas and all, will sing these tramps and transients endless praises while the clouds of Bushtits that have kept us company all winter long with their cheery industry and immaculately balanced feather toning, will pass unnoticed.  People will suddenly see a Black-bellied Plover in their haughty breeding duds, not realizing they have been here all through our darkest hours, haunting the intertidal with their wraith-like cries and plumage the color of sand and time.




So it goes. I will let the flamboyant and ephemeral excitement of migration, with its promise of imported facemelt, and its band of gaudy breeders pass me by. I will stick to the understory and its understatments. I will seek out the peninsulas, turn seaward and let the megavagrants pass by and boggle another’s mind while I consider the crisping of the gulls, watching them wind the gears of time and ride the wind that has shaped them.



11 comments:

  1. A fitting description reminiscent of 'Die Grossen Grauen Zoll' one encounters so often in Weimar Republic plays and poetry.

    It's a miracle anyone is still alive up there.

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    1. Laurence. I have no idea what you are talking about. But I wish I did.

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  2. Thanks for the laugh. "Our peaks and waterways bear names such as Deception, Disappointment, Destruction. Lewis and Clark spent an unbearable winter here."

    I'm nearing the end of my second year in the Pacific Northwest and although I appreciate dramatic seasonal changes (coming from California), I can't imagine the malaise of Lewis and Clark, pre-coffee-houses and neon.

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    1. I'm sure if Cass could respond, he would say something about doom, clouds and optimistic chickadees.

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  3. I've always known I am no match for the rot, and I will stay safe in my sandy cities of heat and smoke.

    McCreedy

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    1. How come you keep birding the Salton Sea? I think I'll head that way soon myself.

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    2. The Milpitas Wash is not so far, and I'm working with aces that know their waterbirds. I had only been once previously, in 2006. I used to have no interest in any shorebirds, gulls, etc. it was like watching grazing cattle. Then Rich gave me a scope and it is way cooler when you can see them.

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  4. I liked this so very much. The connection to my consciousness is tenacious and mysterious and I'm fine with that. Nice.

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  5. I read the description of the Black-bellied Plover, then looked up to see a Le Conte's Thrasher: another bird the color of sand and time.

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