Sunday, January 31, 2016

You'll come for the redpolls, but you'll stay for the wigeons: The Greenlake Expedition

Patient Scott holding the bikes
Today Scott and I traveled to see birds. When I suggested it yesterday he was not unwary. "Where--and how far?" he inquired, wanting to know how much highway driving in a zipcar I expected of him. He was visibly relieved when I explained that I wanted to go to Greenlake to have a look for the redpolls that seemed to have set up house there. I explained that it meant skipping our local farmers market in favor of the more extensive Ballard Farmers Market. I don't say that the suggestion that we could also visit Besalu tipped the scales, but it certainly didn't hurt.
 A photo of the redpoll in Banff
And so, as already given away in the first sentence, we traveled all the way to North Seattle to look at birds today. We put our bikes on the bus at shortly after 10:00 and were cycling along Greenlake by 11:00. This counts as an early start for us on a weekend day. The plan was to lock up the bikes and walk around the lake but, as it worked out, we came to a cluster of people gathered around a scope looking up at some birch trees before we found a place to lock the bikes. I replaced my bicycle helmet with a wool hat and pulled out my camera and binoculars while waiting for an opportunity to be offered a look through the scope which soon presented itself. I love my binoculars, I truly do, but gosh! a scope is a fine thing. You can see how truly charming the little creatures are through a scope. There were thirty or forty redpolls in the trees, busily feeding on whatever the seedy bits of a birch tree might be called. They're handsome devils, they are. I saw a few (much closer and attracting no papparazzi) in Banff a few years ago but it was nice to see them again. It's fortunate I got nice pictures at Banff (a redpoll was Mr December on the 2015 calendar) because the photos I took today were stinky.

A subset of the kazillion wigeons (kazillion = approx. 80)
After we'd exhausted the pleasures of the redpolls (it was chilly today, especially by the lake, so we could linger only so long) we got back on our bikes and continued at a leisurely rate--it was damned crowded--along the water, stopping whenever we saw something else of interest. The redpolls were fine but I think that the kazillion wigeons were even finer. I've never seen so many so close before.
A bit further along we encountered a similarly staggering number of northern shovelers who were completely unaware of a bald eagle 100 yards away. The eagle, as it happened, had no interest in leaving his perch; a couple of delicious fat squirrels were hopping around the base of its tree but he paid them no mind. We decided soon after that that it was cold and we had marketing to do so we abandoned the lake to ride up and over Phinney Ridge to Ballard where we had a lovely visit to Besalu, the farmers market, and Home Comforts where Scott bought a hat--perhaps he has six words for it.

Some wigeon ballet at lakeside

Friday, January 29, 2016

Malheur and the justifications for punishment

Not Malheur at all but public lands nonetheless

Thinking back to my philosophy of law classes more than thirty years ago, I can remember—vaguely—the debates about why there is punishment. One school of thought is that it’s preventative; you punish people for murdering someone because that discourages others from murdering people themselves. Another view was that you punished the person for their crime in order to rehabilitate them. A third argument was that the only way to treat the individual with respect was to hold them accountable for their actions. In this view the point wasn’t that it was good for them or good for society, though there could be those side effects, but rather it was treating them as a rational human being worthy of respectful treatment. It just happened that “respectful,” in this instance, meant locking them up in jail for a good long time because they had done something very wrong. (Thinking about this on my ride in this morning, it occurred to me that there was also a "protect society" position. See? Cycling does improve one's thought processes.)

 The astute reader will realize that since I go on longest about that third option—and with muddiest language—that it was the position I favored all those years ago. It’s an odd extension of the Golden Rule: treating others as you would like to be treated. I think, usually, that I want to be treated like a grown-up capable of making informed decisions and when those are wrong decisions, I should probably have to deal with those consequences. (In reality, I’m sure, I’d love to be allowed to skate on my mistakes and, quite frequently, that’s how it works out for me. Consistent and true to my ideals, I so often am not.)

But, let’s pretend I didn’t have the moment of honesty there and go back to the original three justifications for punishment and my declared alignment with the third. Today, it all wavers because I read this from one of the “remaining occupiers” at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, as he explains why he’s not willing to leave the Refuge:

“The option is you go out there and they get you and it’s a felony crime and it’s a prison sentence…A lot of us are scared of that option.”
 “We’re not planning on using any guns. Like I said, we [want] to go home,” he said. “But if they want to attack us then we got to defend ourselves.”
 “If they come in to arrest then they’re going to throw us behind bars where weird shit would happen.”

Today I read this (and do click the link and read the whole short piece yourself; it's illuminating in a depressing way) and think this man has consciously chosen to take over a public land and apparently is only now realizing that there could be some unpleasant consequences. I’d heap abuse on him for being so damned stupid except that, to some extent, he was justified in thinking it was all sort of a game since Mr. Cliven Bundy got away—and continues to get away—with grazing his animals on public land without paying for it. Having set that precedent, possibly the FBI shouldn’t be surprised that his imitators feel like it’s not fair that any of them should be held accountable. Which is why, I’d say, they’ve got to stop suggesting that charges won’t be filed and that anyone involved will not be prosecuted for the occupation of Malheur. The example set otherwise encourages future sad sacks like David Fry to get themselves into situations where shit’s gonna happen.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Who say bike maintenance isn't fun and fascinating?

On the West side of Seattle, it's beginning to feel, Thursday nights are work-on-bike nights. (This echo of the Prince spaghetti day commercial isn't working as well as I'd like.) In truth, I don't remember if it was a Thursday that I came home some weeks back, determined to clean the grease off of Bessie's wheels because she didn't seem to be braking as she should, but I'm going to pretend that it was. On this evening's ride home it was actually light enough to go through Dragonfly Park so that's what I did. I didn't realize, until it was too late, that They seem to be doing work on the paths there; fresh sand had been laid down in a couple of stretches. It went from being a little difficult to ride to almost-impossible-to-ride pretty quickly. Soon after, I noticed I was hearing the chain in a not-good way and also that the hill that immediately follows the park seemed steeper than it had the night before.

While that could just have been my own exhaustion (pretty much everyone at work has a cold/flu, and I'm not entirely an exception), I decided Bessie should come into the basement and have a bit of work done on her. I like to pretend that I'm turning into Madi Carlson's obsessive friend Sean McGraw. Oh, it's not like I'm really doing any of the steps he recommends in chapter 9 of her excellent Urban Cycling; but I like to pretend that I am. This  evening, after changing into my empowering Goat Justice League t-shirt, I rinsed, de-gunked, and re-oiled the chain, gave the front set of gears a bit of a scrubbing, and used soap and water and then dry cloths on the rims of both tires. Eventually I pulled the front wheel off entirely and ran some hot water over it in the laundry sink, scrubbing with a wee brush as I did so. Her frame even got a bit of a wipe-down. It was all oddly satisfying.

There should be photos, of course, but even I am not crazy enough to think that bicycle grease and my camera belong in the basement together--and I sort of suspect that the basement might not be entirely photogenic anyway. Instead I'm adding an older photo taken on a day when she was looking particularly glamorous.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Biking bonnet finale

It's been a quiet little weekend, for the most part, during which I finished the newest Orhan Pamuk, A Strangeness In My Mind. I saw the Guardian described it as "a love letter to Istanbul" which it may very well have been. Given that the plot, to some extent, revolves around three years of love letters intended for one sister but, unknowingly, addressed to and received by another, one might wonder if Istanbul was the intended recipient. I'll have to read that Guardian review to see if that's the angle they take. One doubts, rather; I assume that Istanbul truly is Mr Pamuk's beloved. He does a fabulous job of making me wish to visit--or at least wish I had visited at some less fraught time. I remember meeting some very charming Turks at the Frankfurt Book Fair some time back in the 1990s; I should have acted on their encouragement to go then.

 The weekend started out a little less than quietly as we had tickets for Seattle Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus which is just not a quiet little play. It's bloody and nasty, close to start to finish, and this performance was no exception. If anything, they played up the blood and violence. I admit I averted my eyes for a lot of the first half, which is particularly grim and horrific. The second half they played very much for laughs--a decision I could well understand though it makes the slaughterhouse final scene all the more shocking possibly. I found myself thinking of The Player's line in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at times, "Do you call that an ending?—with practically everyone on his feet?" I might also think of Queen Elizabeth asking for a comedy next time at the end of the Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare In Love (coincidentally another Tom Stoppard). I guess that will be Mrs Warren's Profession.

In my ongoing pursuit of being the most absurdly stylishly dressed cyclist in town, I've ordered a couple of helmet/helmet covers from Bandbox LLC; now I have another reason to long for warmer weather.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bikes, Birds, Books

The rain has returned to Seattle. It may be that it never truly left but I swear there was a day--recently, even--when it wasn't wet. But this evening's commute was very wet, as was today's mid-day ride downtown for  the "rally to show support for public lands," aka "Fuck you, Bundy Bastards." I wasn't eager to venture forth into the rain again this evening but, as happens more often than not, it wasn't so bad once I was actually out in it. Thank you once again to Madi Carlson for teaching me that I'm not made of sugar. But while I'm not made of sugar, my beloved bike did suggest that she was becoming too covered in oil to brake properly so once I got home this evening (and divested of my soaking wet clothes) I spent some quality time in the basement with the Borax and a lot of hot water and rags, removing a great deal of road gunk from Bessie's tire rims, brakes, chain, gear cluster, and, well, pretty much all of her. I'm hoping that, with Scott's help, I've got everything put together properly again. Fingers crossed! It fills me with inordinate glee to see that gear cluster looking shiny and new again.

 Yesterday there were definite periods of sun, and Scott (mostly recovered from his Slavolydian virus to which I'm really hoping I'm not going to succumb) and I packed up sandwiches, coffee, binoculars, and camera for an expedition to the Montlake Fill. I did not see the barn owl, nor the trumpeter swan nor the ruddy ducks nor any number of other noteworthy birds but I don't care, I tell you, because we did encounter a non-camera-shy fox sparrow and how often, I ask you, does that happen? Not often, not for me. That it was a bird with a bit of attitude is just a plus:

Fox sparrow at Union Bay Natural Area 
We stretch the definition of the Union Bay Natural Area (aka "The Fill") to include pretty much everything from the Montlake Cut to University Village which helped me to compile a list of close to forty bird species seen on an expedition. Not that I needed to cheat to get a bald eagle on the list: we saw an eagle, complete with fish in its talons, flying over the Center for Urban Horticulture, but my favorite photos (out of focus though they might be) resulted from a less than graceful attempt to land in some fir trees by the Waterfront Activity Center:

Our nation's noble symbol, failiing to stick its landing
It was, as always, a good day at the Fill even if the potential "new life bird" turned out to be a female lesser scaup. The wood ducks and coots were, as always, charming and photogenic:
Mrs and Mr Wood Duck (Is it just me or does he always look particularly dense?)
I don't think I can ever get tired of looking at coots.
 In truth, I don't have much to say about books; I just wanted a third noun for my subject line. Mostly, I've had such lousy luck with current fiction lately that I don't want to jinx things, but I will risk saying that, 236 pages in, Orhan Pamuk's A Strangeness In My Mind, is quite good. I can only say again, "fingers crossed."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

First Malheur, now this

Sanderlings that don't actually feature in this depressing post.
I am the first to acknowledge that my life is insanely soft. I live in a house I love with a man I love and with a cat I worship and there’s heat and electricity and tea with tea sandwiches and a little backyard in which I can sit quietly, most of the time, although occasionally the well-enough-mannered children across the alley play their version of basketball or dogs being walked in the alley bark and alarm Gradka as she basks in the sunshine. Some mornings, as happened earlier last week, I go outside to fill the feeders and find clear evidence that a hawk had junco for dinner the day before. But that’s the nature of nature and it’s not happy but I accept that hawks have to eat just as teenagers have to throw basketballs and some people inexplicably prefer dogs to cats.

My job may have me thinking about finding a psychiatrist willing to prescribe these days, but I know it’s a pretty pleasant job and possibly, knowing that my mother was mistaken in her belief that the New Yorker would want to publish me, in my youth, like as not, I’d have been happy to daydream about having my current job, given enough Vaseline on the lens. Maybe. Let’s move on as this paragraph isn’t building the way it’s supposed to.

 I’ve done a pretty decent job of avoiding political news, and I tell myself that writing checks is a fine way for me to ease the suffering of a handful of the millions of human beings in less happy circumstances. But the hell of being a sentient being still bothers me more than I’d like. Taking an interest in birds has been a nice distraction and generally it’s a calming topic. Oh, there’s the hell of habitat degradation and that whole climate change issue and, yes, okay, a whole host of depressing bits of business that can quickly make the bird business more fraught once you move beyond the visitors in your own backyard and, even then, you get the occasional slaughter.

 But, you know, reading the Tweeters list is something that I expect will fill me with envy on occasion (“This person saw a barn owl at the Fill! I’ve never seen a barn owl! I go there all the time!”), but I don’t expect it to make me suicidal. But the last week or two that has been changing. It was via the Tweeters list that I heard about the bastards taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. (For me, I am willing to step away from the “are they militia, armed white guys, or terrorists” question and just call them bastards. And I hope horrible fates await each and every one of them.) But even that, possibly, was better than what today’s Tweeter report included:

Spotted the NHOW [northern hawk owl] soon after arriving. Home owner had posted a sign stating no photographs so out of respect for that we went up the road a bit. Stayed for only a few minutes. As we were ready to leave a truck pulled up to the driveway and the man inside appeared to write down our license plate as we drove past. We left the area to bird Cassimer Bar waterfront for about an hour. Before leaving for home we drove through the area to see if the owl had moved so that a photo could be taken. What we saw instead was what appeared to be the owl hanging by one foot, upside down dead from the tree. We remembered hearing a gunshot a short while earlier. No pictures taken. We felt it best to leave the area. Feeling sick.

This northern hawk owl has been the buzz of Tweeters for several days now, with reports of the homeowner saying that he didn’t want photos taken of his property. Some people argued (sensibly, I’m sure) that you can’t prevent people from photographing what can be seen from a public street. Many people stressed the importance of respecting locals’ privacy and following their wishes. I likely didn’t think that much about it one way or another though I did point out to Scott that it was “only a three-and-a-half hour drive,” and I thought about how maybe we should try to get to Okanogan some day because it seems like people see a lot of nice birds in that area.

 But now. Yes, I do feel sick. Why should this fine bird be killed because some crazy person doesn’t like to have strangers park across the street from his property? Undoubtedly some of the birders were badly behaved. Having witnessed a group of photographers hound a long-eared owl last year, I know that they are capable of behaving badly. But why does the bird have to be the one to end up dead in this situation? Why do human beings have to be such self-willed agents of death and destruction?

I thought that maybe writing about it would make me understand or at least feel less miserable but that’s really not happening. It’s back to Mr Trollope for me because fiction written a century and a half ago is perhaps the only safe place to be.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Waiting for "Downton Abbey"

Great blue herons take over the Seattle skies.
I'm thinking that I should lay in a supply of corn meal, ham hocks, gunpowder, and guitar strings and just hide out at home for the next age or two. It really is unfair when I just want to read about bird sightings on the Tweeters list and instead learn about violent lunatic behavior. Possibly, of course, I'm just succumbing to whatever it is that Scott has been coming down with for the last several days or maybe it's just the end of a very pleasant little break from work interlude. One way or another, I'm not at my tickity-booest.

 It has been a nice little break, however. I went for a lovely long bike ride on New Years Eve day, seeing masses of brants and various other waterbirds along the waters off West Seattle; I rode to Jack Block Park, continued on to Alki, and thence to Lincoln Park along Beach Drive, before looping back to the Junction and homeward. It was a gorgeous day for it too; I kicked myself for not bringing my camera though possibly not having that distraction made it all the nicer.

The next day, after a late start thanks to a late night celebrating the New Year (TIP: The fireworks at Seattle Center really are much better from the Chief Sealth statue than they are from the pedestrian overpass of the West Seattle Bridge), we took Jetta Jared north to what I think was the West 90/Samish Flats spot northwest of Mount Vernon where we saw the lovely owl whose photo is shown here and was also featured in my post a day or two ago.

There were a couple of harriers as well which, under any other circumstances, would have been truly amazing but when there's an owl in the mix, well, they're just "not the owl." But it was another gobsmackingly gorgeous in the PNW and no one was trying to take over the public lands to make some sort of point. Our boots had a nice workout and had the opportunity to demonstrate their resistance to water.
Note: some frozen patches might not be as frozen as they look
Yesterday, Scott and I got on our bikes (after he did a little desperately-needed-maintenance on both) to visit Jack Block again. This time the ride included a stop by the very popular Top Pot Doughnuts on Alki and ended, more or less, at Constellation Park where we saw a few dozen sanderlings, four harlequin ducks, and a couple of killdeer, as well as a lovely sunset. It amazes me, it does, just how lovely a place I live. West Seattle, I tell you; it's the finest part of Seattle. The snowflakes were pretty nice earlier too.
Bikes at rest at Constellation Park

Friday, January 1, 2016