An election year! I admit I’m tired of all the politicking. What better antidote than a good dose of nature? The dog and I take ourselves for a walk. Any day outside, no matter the weather, always helps to deliver an attitude adjustment. But today is a blue sky, sunshine kind of day and I’ve barely taken a few steps along the trail before the bleakness of the news has become a vague, distant memory.
Little Si is my go to hike, when the outdoors is calling and I only have a window of time. Perched next to it’s larger neighbor and namesake, Mount Si, on the western edge of the Cascades, Little Si at 1,576 feet, is an easy, accessible, beautiful hike. All these qualities also make it a very popular hike so its not a destination, especially at the weekend, for anyone seeking solitude (or a parking spot at the trailhead after 9:00am). Today, I’m hiking it midweek and it is surprisingly quiet!
One of the great wonders of living in a temperate region renowned for its rain, when the gray lid of cloud is eventually snapped off to reveal the roof of blue, the world comes to a standstill, savoring the moment. Recent rain has washed away the drab and every shade of green is glowing in the sunlight. Would I really notice and appreciate this palette of blues, pinks, greens and browns if it was on offer every day?
I’m not the only one enjoying this beautiful day. The dog trots in front of me, nose to the ground, navigating his way by scent. A Douglas squirrel scurries up the trunk of a tree to perch on a branch just out of reach to scold us. His tail forms an S shaped exclamation mark, twitching his indignation each time he calls.
This part of the hike takes us through dense forest nestled between the two mountains. Mournful two note whistles from a pair of juncos in the trees above us only seems to add to the hushed stillness. A sheer rock face on one side of the trail is the wall we have to walk around, following a path that takes a more forgiving way to the top. We hear the raucous call of a raven high above us, mocking our labored climb. Who needs feet when you have a pair of wings!
Sword ferns and mosses blanket the forest floor, spilling over boulders and fallen logs. A tiny Winter Wren perches on the top of a snag, with head thrown back and beak open. His call is a melodic cascade of notes pouring over one another filling up the silent spaces on the forest floor. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, per unit weight, the Winter Wren delivers its song with 10 times more power than a crowing rooster. The understory of a forest with its dense soundproofing of vegetation is a tough place to live if you’re trying to carve out your home turf through song. But the wren is undeterred. Who needs size, or even a microphone or loudspeaker, when you have such a voice? Watch this beautiful video produced by Lang Elliott and Bob McGuire.
A little further up the trail another Winter Wren calls, negotiating his boundaries. Their voices might be large but their territorial claims are modest! Just space enough in the forest where the male can create a few nests made with grass, moss and lichens, waiting for the love of his life to select the ideal one. Once chosen, the nest will be lined with feathers and hair, a soft bed for a clutch of eggs.
It was Nietzsche who said: All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.
I can hardly claim to be having great thoughts but thinking and walking go together, and it has occurred to me that birdsong is such a beautiful way to communicate. Even the strident call of the raven and the plaintive two note whistle call of juncos have an elegance to them.
It also occurs to me that one of the reasons I needed to take this walk today was to escape from the negative rhetoric of politics: the posturing, self- aggrandizing, demeaning putdowns, fear mongering and hate speech. This is the ugly side of human communication. And yet, we are also capable of beautiful, elegant ways of communicating. I have only to read Mary Oliver’s poem inspired by birdsong, Such Singing in the Wild Branches, to know that humans have the capacity for exquisite forms of communication:
……….. First, I stood still
And I thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness-
And that’s when it happened,
When I seemed to float,
To be, myself, a wing or a tree-
And I began to understand
What the bird was saying,
And the sands in the glass
For a pure white moment
While gravity sprinkled upward
Like rain rising………….
I can’t control the words of others, none of us can, but I can control what I choose to listen to. I can also choose the way I communicate. Imagine the world if we humans chose ways of communicating with one another with the intention of creating the transformative, attitude-adjusting effect that birdsong possesses. Just a thought I had while walking.