The world is considerably more mysterious than priests and politicians would have us believe. How else explain frogs falling from the sky? Small toads, actually, bouncing off the taut skin of English umbrellas. Or common minnows sliding off the slate roofs and clogging the gutters of Aberdare, Wales? Waterspouts? Sure, you can trot out that swaybacked old excuse but it has no legs. Waterspouts don’t pluck only one kind of amphibian or small fish out of a pond, fastidiously ignoring all the surrounding muck and water plants. In fact, a waterspout is more likely to rain mud and sticks on your head than small fish.
Early morning and a peregrine falcon perches high on a sea cliff on the outer coast. Surf beats against the foot of the cliff, spindrift hangs like mist and the rising wind tastes of salt. The peregrine watches intensely. Far below, a rhinoceros auklet returns to its rookery from feeding at sea, skimming the ocean’s surface. The falcon slips from its perch, folds its wings, and plunges headlong toward the sea.
Painted on the side of a brick building overlooking Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle is a faded advertisement for the Washington State ferries. Beneath an illustration of an antique ferry is the caption "Have lunch over seas" in an equally antique font. It’s a clever pun despite the fact that Puget Sound never qualified as a sea and the state ferries have discontinued food service onboard. There is probably a name for such things, or should be—the ghosts of commerce lingering like the faint impression on the Shroud of Turin. This particular case is even more convoluted—a false ghost—since the Washington State ferries didn’t exist prior to 1951.
Great Blue Herons nesting in the towers that support high power transmission lines are intermittently shorting the power grid and plunging Puget Sound neighborhoods into darkness. It seems the herons are pooping when they take flight. In itself, not unusual for a bird. Their logic is impeccable. Why carry superfluous weight into the air when the heavy lifting is your own? The peculiar thing about heron poop is its length—almost three feet. Streamers of guano are spanning transmission lines and providing an unexpected path for electricity to propagate. Electric poop.
I work in Pioneer Square, Seattle, on Occidental Avenue South—a street with no cars. Around the corner is Elliott Bay Books. Elliott Bay is an intellectual landmark in Seattle’s history, a place that anchors the city in a sea of change. It’s a book store with worn plank floors that groan beneath your feet like a wooden boat working in a seaway. There are as many levels to the store as the Robinson family’s
tree house—the floor suddenly pierced by a staircase that descends to a rough cafe or rises to receding levels of books like a trick of perspective in an Escher print. It reminds me most of the chandleries that still existed on the waterfront of Los Angeles harbor when I was young—the smell of Stockholm tar and Manila hemp and kerosene, the dark and crooked places crowded with ground tackle, hurricane lights, and oilskins, and the old men with scarred faces who stood behind high counters, dour and frightening. Those were places where a child, or an old man, could dream as deeply as a mollusk encompassed by a shell.
Ken Cooper, Cultural Consultant for Fish, Timber and Wildlife of the Lummi Tribe of Washington state, listens to the "trees as they talk to one another, the songs in the wind, the stories of the pathway that started a long time ago…When I come back I play the song that I hear floating on the wind and play the feeling that I hear coming out of those trees that are pained, that know they’re going to be cut down. They do talk. They have a lot to teach us. Anybody who goes in the mountains and sees beauty has a form of healing."
A few days respite from work before beginning the commute from Kingston to the Seattle waterfront onboard one of the new Mosquito fleet. This morning I sat on a park bench overlooking the Kingston marina drinking a damnably expensive cup of coffee beneath a sky obscured by high cloud. The water of Appletree Cove was so still that concentric ripples left by a gull taking flight could be seen half way to the far shore. I listened to the high, distant drone of a float plane, the twitter of swallows returned from the south, the irritated cackle of crows (crows seem always irritated), and the sound of gulls squabbling over some scrap of food or place to stand.
On a bright day last Fall I drove to the end of the earth and parked. A boardwalk of cedar planks led from the trailhead, through stands of western hemlock, red alder, and cedar draped with epiphytes, to Cape Flattery and the northwestern most point of land in the contiguous United States.