Saturday, August 21, 2010

On vacation

For the last week I've been doing a bare modicum of work, in deep relaxation mode. I began with a trip to the Columbia Gorge, where I ate and drank tasty things, took in the fabulous scenery that graces the Gorge, and visited the Maryhill Museum. Birds were a bit sparse in the heat, but I happily sighted a black-throated sparrow while eating dinner in Hood River, a white-throated swift near Ellensberg on the drive home, and in the Gorge itself some kind of hawk I couldn't identify. I actually failed to catch sight of the peacocks that roam the grounds of Maryhill. I figure they were hiding form the heat, since the outdoor temperature at the time of my visit was a degree or two above 100F.

A collection of historically and ethnically diverse chess sets makes up one of the permanent Maryhill exhibits, and I loved the newest one, which had been added since my last visit, designed and made in porcelain by Inge Roberts in 2008. I especially like the rooks--
castles or tall houses that remind me of the Rapunzel tale with faces peering out of some of their windows. The current temporary exhibit featured the glass work of William Morris, including a video of he and his team making a couple of the pieces on display at Maryhill. All of the pieces were either vases or bowls. Many of the vases were engraved with images of flora and fauna; some, though, had three-dimensional figures (made of glass or in some cases metal) of ground squirrels, lizards, pine cones, leaves, and other flora and fauna, mostly from the Pacific Northwest. (You can see photos of some of them here.)

Back in Seattle, I've been visiting the Union Bay wetlands. I've been noting the changes there as the year turns. Now, at high summer, Shovellers Pond has all but dried up-- making me realize just how shallow it must be in the winter and spring. For the last few weeks I've been really interested in a pied-billed grebe, which is an odd-shaped, fairly elusive water bird. It can swim really fast underwater, and can also swim with its head just barely above water. Today I saw it with what I think must be a mate-- and sitting on a nest
in an area of water full of water lilies and reeds. Once it settled on the nest, it was almost invisible. Only a few yards from it, a blue heron was stalking a fish (and at one point moved so quickly it scared a female mallard, who relocated itself in a hurry, to keep out of the heron's way. It took the heron about fifteen minutes to move in on the fish, taking one agonizingly slow, stealthy step at a time, its neck thrust out, far ahead of its body. As it moved, it stepped into deeper and deeper water, until finally only about an inch of its legs remained visible above the surface. And then suddenly the heron pounced, thrusting its beak into the water. When it pulled its beak back out of the water and straightened up, it held in its beak a black bottom-fish, which it then began to eat. After it had gotten the
whole thing down its throat (and it did take awhile), it then went through a series of movements, stretching its neck and opening its beak as wide as it would go. Through my binoculars, I could see the lump of the fish being shaken, bit by bit, down the heron's neck.

Is it a coincidence, I wonder, that I decided I wanted to have fish tonight for dinner?

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