Autumn Arrives… Bringing Back our Spotted Owl (With Photos)

So today is the Autumnal Equinox.

When I learned of this, I initially thought, ‘So what’, right?’  I’ve seen so many of these….

But tonight has been a serious bookmark on the change of seasons of this year.

First, the sunset was a study in subtleties:

And then… It was a God moment.

I heard the most quietest of sounds from the garden.

And there… Over there…. Yes, what’s that…? There was our local Spotted Owl. (Sorry for the crummy cellphone pic; you use what you have.)

I’ve been trying to see her for the longest time. And tonight, there she was! 

She was hunting mice…

.. And she was successful.

.A minute after this pic, I saw her quietly pounce on something next to the garden fence.

And after a few more moments, she flew away… no more than ten feet past me, with something in her talons. I wish I’d had my glasses on, but that’s the way these things are meant to be.

But I realised what a few special moments I have been privileged to witness.

And I do hope that the circle of life here on the side of the mountain, tightens just a little bit.

May you have…Good hunting. May God give you and your chicks success; so much so, that we may never have to kill another mouse again in an effort to keep them from getting into our house. 

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Hazy and Smoky (with photos); and a change I can feel: Rain’s Coming.

This morning, I’ve been enjoying a rare privilege of sitting outside in the sunrise, with a cup of coffee and a dog companion.

The breeze is up; a welcome change from this summer, when all we had were lighter winds that heralded the change from hot to hotter; or from strength-sapping oppressiveness to I’m-glad-it’s not-so-awfully-hot-today.

We had a strong cover of smoke and cloud last night, so we didn’t get very cold; about 58° overnight. This morning we have an East wind of about 10 knots, varying up and down by about 7 knots each way. We have some light ashfall coming from the fires in the Gorge, but nothing like earlier.

The humidity is way down; in the high teens to low 20s. I’ll miss that, but I’m glad to trade it for cooler weather and rains to put out the forest fires.

Locally, the Archer Mountain fire is under control and is being slowly knocked down. This is the fire that is only about ten miles away from us and was raining ashes and blackened evergreen needles everywhere here for a few days.  There was a lot of concern about some of those ashes still being live, but thankfully, no secondary fires.

Now the haze and smoke are almost to the point of being oppressive. Our house is tight, and we’ve kept it closed up, but my poor wife is suffering terrible coughing fits. Out here, my eyes are streaming, and even the light effort of watering the flowerbed brings on coughing.

And right now, we have no health insurance. (This is a post for another time, and I need to let my rage at the Dilbertian COBRA payment system cool a bit before I write about it.)

Back to the weather:
Here are some photos of how things are right now. I’ll start with a few grab shots on my way home yesterday. I-84 is finally, finally, open westbound, meaning that my two-hour drive is finally back to an hour.

On the way home, anyway.

It’s still almost a two-hour drive to work. At about 50 MPH, as we’ll get some slowpoke up in front of about forty cars, someone who is completely oblivious to the line behind. Listen, WSDOT: If you want things to be safer on SR-14 in the Gorge, put up a few signs. I even have the slogan: “Keep a mind for those behind. If you want to go slow and sight-see, please pull over periodically and let everyone by.”

So back to the drive home. Here’s a shot when it was safe to grab one on the I-84 highway. I’ll say up front that camera angles won’t be perfect, as I prefer keeping my attention on my driving, rather than grabbing a snapshot. Visibility was about 2500 feet at this point, but in some places you had to be careful, because it would suddenly go down to 100 feet. You can see a big patch of smoky obscurity coming up:

These photos also show the great curse of automatic cameras: due to software tweaks, they see better than you do. Keep this in mind as you look at these photos. Things are quite a bit more obscure than you see here.

 

Here’s coming into Cascade Locks. Note how everything looks so deserted. Well, yeah, and smoky.

 

 

Crossing The Bridge Of The Gods. You can’t see the far end of the bridge – and it’s not all that long.

 

Looking East, toward Cascade Locks:

 

And looking West, toward North Bonneville. Yes, those are streamers of smoke from the forest fires.

 

Finally, home… And the Ridge is just a looming presence in the haze.

 

 

Oh yes, we can’t wait for the rain. It’s been since June 15th.

Don’t see this kind of thing, all that often: A Double Rainbow

This afternoon, we had weather of storm, nice, storm, nice, storm… You get the picture. Weather typical of where I grew up in Western Washington. But today brought a special reward: a clear double rainbow.

This is one of those things where the light has to be just right, and the contrast good enough for a camera to capture it.


It was invisible only moments later when the clouds to the Southwest parted and the Sun bought the primary rainbow into full brilliance.

And then it was all gone.

Transitory moments are part of our existence; they are a great part of what we are. THIS is why I am forever urging you to get outside, go outside, no matter what the weather; and just be a part of what is happening in Nature.

God created it all; he still beckons and says, “Look what I have to show you, my child”.

The birds have returned!

The last couple of nights, I’ve heard a Ring-Necked Pheasant in the upper meadow. Today, I saw him in the back meadow, looking along the fence, picking up seeds from the dead blackberries.

He reminds me of the ‘lot bell’ that we had where I was an Apprentice Mechanic: we had hoses strung across the lot, and the bell would ‘ding’ when a potential Customer drove in…

This particular pheasant shrieks whenever someone drives by on our dirt road. He kind of reminds me of a temperamental character who always yells, “Get off my lawn!”

Meanwhile, a couple nights ago, I saw a murder of crows, chasing an eagle. But the eagle, zooming along the edge of the Ravine, executed a powerful, graceful, and gorgeous wing-over maneuver that just took my breath away. And the murder of crows could not have a prayer of following the eagle.

Although they all objected loudly, they lost the eagle.

And tonight, the eagle came back to perch on one of our oak trees. The crows were still loudly in pursuit, trying to drive him off. You can always tell when there’s an eagle on the vicinity, from the caphocophany of the crows. Even so, I managed to grab a shot of him, waiting patiently for the crows to give him space.

He’s in the top of that spindly oak, and you can see the crows, giving him a hard time.

A few moments later, he flew off; the crows giving a half-hearted chase, as they knew they’d won. For the moment.

The cold and the rains may have finally let up, for a while. And the raptors have returned, hunting mice and voles; bringing a balance to life on the side of the mountain.

I’m really, REALLY, ready for the winter storms to be over…

Almost a month to the day, I wrote something similar while sitting in the home office and looking out the window.  And here I am today, feeling the same thing.

Thursday through Saturday, we watched an ice storm roll in and cover everything with cold slipperiness. All the windows on the North side of the house were turned into pebble glass, and it began to feel as if we were living an endless scene from Frozen.

Saturday brought enough thawing so that we could at least see out the windows, so the icy claustrophobia began to lift. Weather reports brought hope that perhaps today (Sunday) we might be able to go to church, and then to the store to pick up a few would-be-nice-to-haves.

That’s not happening.

This morning we have heavy snow showers, and as of the time to get up for church, about a half-inch accumulation. Remembering that there’s probably still a layer of ice underneath that, we’re staying put. Again.

Time to finish touching up my resume’ before I send it to some friends for proofing, and to begin to put together my new website. Last time I was out of work, I hand-coded my entire website; let’s see if I can avoid that, this time.

Meanwhile:
We have lots to be thankful for: the power is on, which means we have water to drink, and the heat is running, so we’re warm. It’s easy to ‘be still and know that God is’ when it’s this quiet inside and outside.

The snow has let up enough for the trees at the edge of the meadow to show themselves a bit. Those deck railings yesterday had 8″ icicles hanging from them:

Maybe we’re finally, finally, getting a break in the weather…

Ten days ago, I’d posted that it looked like the weather was finally moderating.

I was wrong.

Meanwhile, we’ve had yet another ice storm move through, with us locked-in for another few days. It’s been so cold and the humidity so low for so long that the doors on the South side of the house don’t latch correctly. The weather has taken them about 1/4″ out of square.

Well today, it actually seems to be breaking. Yesterday evening, the temperature was actually above freezing for the first time in, I think, three weeks. It’s been crawling its way upward for the last couple days, and yesterday it finally broke past freezing. The upper deck was the first thing to show it. That patch on the middle of the top step is one of the few spots it’s safe to stand upon:

There’s a certain relief in seeing all of this ice and snow get melted: an end to watching where I step with such extreme care, no more making sure that there’s little exposed skin when stepping outside.

But I’ll also miss the excuse for being quietly sequestered at home with my wonderful wife, the distance from the hustle-bustle of the modern world, and the quietness of mind granting me an ease with which I can settle into a good book.

It’s also been an exceptionally good time to practice the presence of God daily. To quietly pray, and to listen.

Okay, I’m ready for the winter storms to be over

Since the second week of December, we’ve been in a continuous cold snap. It’s been a ‘friendly’ kind of chill, easily tolerable; you just dress for it and it’s no problem. It’s when the weather turns harsh that it gets tough to take. You can always stand it for a day or two, because the latest storm will blow itself out. Most nights here on the side of the mountain have been mid-teens to low 20s, days mid-20s. The last few days the temps have almost hit single-digits just before sunup. It’s been so cold the last few days that I’ve had the pellet stove going constantly, to supplement the heat pump and help keep it from using the expensive auxiliary heat.

A pause for a White Christmas note here: None this year, either. I’ve been living in this part of the country for more than 63 years, and I only remember TWO true White Christmases. Usually we get snow, then it’ll melt right before Christmas, and then the day or so after Christmas we get a good bit of snow. That was the story again this year, only that snow is still with us: We still have about 3″ of snow left from the storm that came along just after Christmas, topped by a half inch of hail from a thunderstorm a week or so ago. It makes the driveway just plain treacherous.

Yeah, I’m ready for this to moderate.

Meanwhile, I’m appreciating the beauty of the winter for what it is, trying to “remember not to forget” (as my Mom used to say) to thank God for the ability to see this with my own eyes and experience it in person.  The other night Dara had been running around and cavorting like a puppy in the snow, and I was trying to capture her in the midst of her joy:

Let’s talk about ice storms. This region is famous for them.

A couple weeks ago, we had the worst ice storm I’ve seen up here in 26 years. The evergreens survived just fine (as soon as the sun comes out, they absorb the heat and can shed the ice quickly), but there has been a lot, an awful lot, of broken branches and branchfall from the oaks and alders everywhere around; my one neighbor across the road has lost a lot of wood. You have to stay away from those trees, because they are on deadly hair triggers. The branch can snap and bounce in any direction without any prior indication it’s going to move. Going up to my upper meadow right now is not recommended, as that stuff is invisible overhead, and will snap and fall to the ground without warning. Usually the birches here and there will just bend and do fine, but this time almost every one of them has the top broken out of it. The trailer is parked in the upper meadow, but it’s safe in an open spot much closer to the house.

The winds are what everyone talks about, because the Gorge is famous for its winds. Our winds have been moderate; about 20-25 knots constant, gusts past 45. There have been some nights where we’ve had real wind – it gets so loud in the lee side of the house, it’s as if you’re standing in the middle of the surf at the beach. You actually had to raise your voice to be understood. Last night was one of these. The gusts tend to hit so hard on that lee side of the house, it sounds like a body falling against the outside of the house.

Yesterday morning, the winds had really come up, with intermittent hard snow showers. You can tell the weather is breaking because the winds aren’t maintaining a constant speed, but instead are gusting wildly and then lulling. Gusts were hitting something past 60; they hit and then back off so quickly that my anemometer can’t speed up fast enough to measure them. But you see an 80-year fir out there at the edge of the ravine bending and swaying like a birch and it does give you a little bit of pause.

I’d let Dara out to go do her morning potty and I think she got seriously cold. She came in, got pets for being a good girl, then disappeared. I got to looking around for her, wondering where she went, and here she’d hopped up on the bed next to my wife, with her chin on my wife’s elbow. The expression here says it all: “What…”

We tend to get powder snow here that drifts up quite a bit; the wind is blowing the snow around so much today that it’s like living inside a snow globe.

We’ve been snowed in a few times, but my neighbor a couple houses up is a farmer and tends to get cabin fever. He’ll stand it only so long, then we’ll hear him coming and working the road with his D8 CAT. One time when he was plowing, I took a cup of hot coffee out to him and asked him how the drifts were, up at his place (he’s a little more exposed than we are) and he said that although he’d had the CAT plugged in, he’d had to shovel out the cab of it so he could find the seat to sit down and uncover the dash so he could get it started. That’s a drift of roughly eight feet deep.

Back to the present. Our weather is supposed to finally moderate, and get into the mid-30s. That would be a relief, if for nothing more than to be able to walk around outside without fear of falling. But we are supposed to go through an ice storm first. And late last night, the predicted ice storm hit. This morning, all the windows on the North side (the Ravine side) of the house are iced over. All the glass looks like that pebble glass that’s used in bathroom windows which lets in light but preserves modesty. It can give you a touch of claustrophobia if you think about it a bit too much.

Yeah, I’m ready for this to moderate.