The birds sing me out of bed early this morning. There’s something about the dawn song this time of year that is absolutely spectacular. They sing me out of bed and all the way outside for a walk, almost before I know it. The birdsong is the loudest right here, in these young woods, where my cabin is cozied in-between a couple of older and more substantial trees. As I trundle down the hill part of me is actually whining about how now that I am away from the woods…the birdsong is not nearly as magnificent. Through the woods on what I call the “fairy path”, it is mostly silent until the endlessly beautiful song of the Winter Wren peals out across the forest. Now I am broadly smiling as I head toward the stairs down to the beach.
About halfway down the stairs that I almost always use to get down to the water, I remember that a friend had told me that there’d been a mudslide and the beach was inaccessible from this location. “Strange,” I thought, “they seem fine, maybe I heard her wrong.” Just then, I arrive at the last flight of stairs, and there is something odd…I can’t quite put my finger on what is different. Oh yes…there has DEFINITELY been a mudslide. The high-bank above has slid down, right up to the stairs, but has actually not touched the stairs with even one clump of mud. The entire hillside slid…there used to be about ten or fifteen feet separating us on the stairs, from the rowdy ongoing battle over there on the hillside, between the Himalayan blackberries and the English ivy. Now this age-old battle is right here…right at my side. I actually have to change my route a bit to get over the last few large rocks and down to the sand, to avoid getting too intimately tied up by the blackberries who are now way too close for comfort. This slide is so disorienting…because the stairs did not get crushed. It looks like a cartoon scene, where maybe Bugs Bunny would see that the stairs were about to get smashed into a pile of toothpicks, and placing his two fingers into his mouth, would let out a shrill whistle and the whole hillside would come to a screeching halt…just in time. Maybe one big leaf would float down and land ON the stairs…but everything else would be just fine.
Finally my feet are on the sand, and just now, just as I have finally arrived, an otter emerges from the water, sleek and glistening, droplets of salty seawater hitching a ride along its whiskers. We are that close that I can see the droplets. I freeze and murmur a soft good morning, more from my heart than from my mouth. Subtly it makes a course correction and heads back out to a nearby rock.
We examine each other from this slightly less intrusive distance. Bloop…and it has slid back into the water. Still motionless I watch, looking straight ahead, but also in every other direction that I can, without moving my head…to see where my morning friend might surface again. Not too much farther out, it slides up onto another small rock, this time with a nice sized flatfish in its mouth. It’s fiddling with the fish quite a bit, maybe trying to make sure it’s got a hold of it completely. Then, a second otter appears, right at the rock: it gives no advanced warning, it comes up out of the water onto the rock and right into the face of the otter who’s very protectively clutching a fish in its mouth. Now there is quite a loud and heated debate about really whose breakfast this is. Lots of snarling and hissing, similar to the kinds of sounds I’ve heard raccoons making when they are not feeling all that much like sharing. Now both otters are on the small rock, and it’s hard to imagine how all three; two otters and a fish are managing to stay on the rock during such a ruckus, WHEN OUT OF NOWHERE, a PAIR of Bald Eagles is now heading straight for the otters, well actually, for their breakfast which they are both still somewhat attached to, literally. Right after these two eagles fly in and cause a major disturbance, A THIRD eagle arrives, throwing off the whole bunch of them just enough, and snatches the fish away from the crowd.
This is how my morning begins. I am laughing out loud. The otters are not. They disappear, probably still quarreling, back into the silence of the waters. I turn to head down the beach, and there is Mt. Rainier, or Mt. Tahoma as peoples who have lived here for many, many, many more generations than the rest of us, call it. She is an enormous mountain, around 14,000 feet high, I believe, and a singular one – not part of a range of mountains, at least not now. She is so huge, it is shocking to turn and actually see her, as often she is shrouded in clouds. Not this morning. The dawn lights are still lingering and she is just slightly steeped in the softest shades of mauve and pink. All is quiet except for a gentle and very slow lapping of the sea upon the shore.
Then the loons start up! What a morning, I cannot believe it…including that not that long ago I was whining about something or other. The loons. They are so very magical to me. They are not the loons, the ones called the Common Loon…they are another species whose coloration is not quite so spectacular, nor is their call quite as loony. But. They are definitely loons, magical, slightly off-putting, mystical, haunting. I was introduced to loons by a lovely movie, On Golden Pond, with Kathryn Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda, which takes place in loon country. All through the movie you can hear them and I became enchanted with them…never saw a live one…just heard that call of theirs. Back then, when this movie was made, if you bought the soundtrack to a movie (which I did in this case), you received a recording of all and only the sounds of the movie: all dialogue, whatever parts of songs played during the movie even if it was just one line, and, very importantly in this instance, THE LOONS. For me, one who grew up in the San Fernando Valley of southern California, loon calls are quite exotic. Breathtaking. Enchanting.
I had been living here by the sound (the Puget Sound) for about five months before I found out about the loons, and here’s how I met them. At the time, I shared my life with a very wise and quite elderly old man of a cat who was fifteen years old. One early, early morning, almost before you could actually call it morning, Tucker, my cat, woke me up. He was ridiculously polite about such things, and even more persistent. He sat next to me, and lightly patted my face with his paw. I am not making this up. I said out loud, “Tucker, I’m sleeping! Leave me alone.” He patted me again. And again. And then he started purring. He had a LOUD purr. Finally I was awake enough to realize that as long as I was this awake I might as well go use the bathroom. The night before had been a luscious spring evening, complete with a slight bit of warmth in the air and delicious fragrances, so I had left the large bathroom window wide open. I walked into the bathroom…Tucker was still sitting exactly where I’d left him…and just as I reached the window, I heard them. LOONS. Oh-my-goodness-loons! Over and over I heard them send out their chillingly eerie call. “Tucker, you woke me up so I could hear the loons!” I cried to him as I crawled back in bed. He was purring even louder now. I closed my eyes, he curled up next to me, took a few more loud and purring breaths, and then we were both out.
If you ever meet me on the Fairy Path and I am whining about something or other…please encourage me to stop it. Life is happening all around me if I will only notice.