The First Sure Sign of Salish Sea Spring—Eagles or Hummingbirds?

by David Greer

Bald eagle feeding fledgling in its nest high in a Douglas-fir on Pender Island, British Columbia. E. Myles Clarke photo.

On the islands of the Salish Sea, spring is often interrupted by the final roars of winter’s lion. Firs and cedars that usually withstand storm winds from the west or south may break when a rare mass of Arctic air brings with it a mean gale from the north.

In a rural community, branches falling on wires can trigger power outages lasting hours or days. When that happens, the ancient woodstove takes over from the idled electric heat pump, while oil lamps brought out of the closet cast a warm and flickering light on the novel that has been waiting for just such an occasion. Sure, your iPhone may still have some juice left, but you’ve no idea whether the lights will be out for hours or days. What better excuse to bury yourself in a good book under a cozy woolen Hudson’s Bay blanket?

No power also means no water from the pump-driven dug well, but fortunately you had the presence of mind not to tear down the old outhouse from the cabin’s earliest days when indoor plumbing was a luxury enjoyed by few on these remote islands. As long as you remember to gently relocate any yellowjacket queens wintering under the toilet seat, there’s a certain pleasure to sitting in a privy overlooking the rainforest in the gloaming, the more so if you remembered to replace the empty toilet paper roll after the last power outage. On really stormy nights, you might even hear the waves crashing on the distant beach. Read more »

Swainson’s Thrush and the Sockeye Moon

by David Greer

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
—Excerpt from The Lake Isle of Innisfree, by William Butler Yeats

Our people lived as part of everything. We were so much a part of nature, we were just like the birds, the animals, the fish. We were like the mountains. Our people lived that way. We knew there was an intelligence, a strength, a power, far beyond ourselves…. Everybody had the right to comfort, to security, the right to food, a home, the use of the land. This is because we believed that everything was put here by a great and wonderful intelligence.
—Excerpt from Saltwater People, by Dave Elliott

Pacific tree frog. Photo by David Greer.

Visitors to my cabin in a forest glade on a small island in the Salish Sea almost always remark upon the silence. It’s true, if you’re freshly arrived from an urban community, the silence at first seems absolute and a little overwhelming. It’s only when you quiet yourself that the silence surrounding you starts to come alive with the texture and colour of natural sounds.

Some sounds may seem easily identifiable to visitors if only because their creators are visible. The slow thunk-thunk-thunk of a raven’s wings beating the air as it passes arrow-straight across the circle of blue sky over the glade. The chittering of a bald eagle high in a fir. The cat-like mew of a red-eyed spotted towhee rooting through underbrush. Other noises require more careful observation and familiarity but are instantly identifiable to those who know them. The faint scrape of the jaws of a yellowjacket backing down a cedar post, a grey ball of nest paper slowly enlarging beneath its mandibles. The lazy kre-e-e-eck? deep in a cedar, like a creaking rusty door in a haunted house: the territorial call of a male Pacific tree frog, gold and green and shadow-secluded. The urgent whistling of a juvenile barred owl, harassing its parent for freshly killed flesh. And in the gloaming, not the soft sound of the linnet’s wings, but those of its close cousin the house finch in this part of the world six thousand miles from Yeats country. Read more »