Thursday, February 07, 2013

Just Friends

                                                          U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

We took the ridgetop trail, in spite of the grade warning. It gave us a precise number – something like 30%, I don't remember exactly, but I peered about that flat Tualatin wetland and said, “I'm all agog to see how you can get that steep of a trail out of this country.” The whole trail was marked as maybe a quarter mile long: where could you hide such a thing?

We took it. It did take us along the top of a ridge, strictly speaking: a finger of ground a couple dozen feet higher than the marsh, that groped out a couple hundred yards, ending in a faint bulbous flourish. It was studded with doug firs, second or third growth trees. A ridge. Okay.

It overlooked the flats, but not with any very grand or open view. We retraced our steps and wandered out onto a platform that stuck out over the marsh itself, which was more interesting. I've never learned the names of waterfowl, but I always like to look at them. Occasionally a cloud of geese would rise, making a racket – for no perceptible reason – rise, make a broad sweeping circuit, and come back to settle again. A birder with a straggly gray beard and a battered hat, with the brim folded back in front, corrected Martha, when she called them Canadian Geese. Crackling Geese, he admonished her.

He and his younger oriental wife drifted off – we were to catch up with them again, trying to photograph a white-breasted nuthatch, a bit further down the trail – and we lingered on the deck a while, in thin, unexpected, watery sunshine.

“What did he say they were?” I asked.

“Crackling Geese,” said Martha.

“Though I suppose, really, a hat like that doesn't actually make you an expert birder,” I murmured.

“Oh, it does too!” hissed Martha, indignantly.

Gray owl pellets on the gray planking, full of tiny gray bones: we gazed up into the leafless trees above us, but saw nothing. It was not much of a day for spotting things, really. A quiet, melancholy winter afternoon. The only sight I was really taken with was the dark green Tualatin River. They had built an overlook high over the water – they were big on overlooks, at this refuge – and the Tualatin is one of those rivers that always looks as though it has a secret destination. Wherever you are, it's just hurried away from you around a corner. I don't know what gives it that particularly vivid color, a shadowy emerald. The Clackamas has the same color.

I've never let myself grow attached to these rivers. Too close. Someone's going to ruin them, someday. I keep it casual, friendly-like. If anyone asks, we're just friends.

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