While we were in Eastern Washington state to visit my father-in-law, we went to Othello to see the Sandhill cranes, which stop there every year in late March on their way from Texas to Alaska.
We found them, hundreds of them, in and above a cornfield off the highway, along with geese and a huge flock of little black birds. The field was fenced off from us, but we stepped out of our rented Minivan into the rain to watch them.
On the ground, these hundreds of birds, at least three different species, created a tremendous cacophany. But when they took flight, they soared, shape shifters in the air, seeming to mimic and re-mimic the mountains behind them.These birds, so loud on the ground among the dry corn husks, irritated, chatty, frantic, seemed in the air to have no trouble forming and reforming their lines, working within the air space, rising and then settling again.
The cranes fly from Texas to Alaska, and then back again, every year. We stepped out of our minivan to watch them.
Simultaneously many birds and one bird, they soared. These four seem to inhabit the position of the bird in front of them in the space just left, as if the image could be of one bird over time.
Not touching, in the air they communicate through sound, vision, and motion,
creating, breaking, and re-creating different alignments that serve their purpose.
Sometimes they floated in pure, effortless motion, at one with the air, the mountains, the fields, their hollow dinosaur bones exquisitely perfect for their mission, to take this long journey and to raise chicks who in turn will take this long journey. They live to move. They move to live.
How do they know where to go? How do they get there?
I’m sure Washington, D.C., is continuing to blossom like crazy this week, but I’m with my family in Kennewick, Washington, visiting my father in law. It’s earlier in the spring up here and the trees are just blossoming. Alongside the roads, in the hollows and valleys of the dry hills, stand weeping willows, their light yellow-green tendrils cascading around them like hair, like a gown, half tree, half maiden, presenting themselves in the breeze.
We went to Puerto Rico for a week. Our friend and professional dog-sitter, Jim, took care of the dogs for the first time since last April. He walks and feeds them twice a day, and the rest of the time they hang out in the house doing whatever dogs do when they are on their own—sleeping, barking at the mailman, sleeping. We started leaving the dogs home when we can’t take them with us instead of taking them to a friend’s house or kennel after our old dog Ubi got so stressed out at a doggy day care a friend took her to while we were away (this seemed like a good idea before we tried it) that she almost died. Literally. We came home to a quivering heap of fur and bones. Clearly, in her elder years, if she couldn’t be with us, Ubi just wanted to be at home, waiting for us.
I texted Jim a day or so after we left to make sure he had gotten into the house okay and he wrote back, “Everything is fine. Cholula is so mellow on the walk now!” Of course, this made my day. I know Cholula is generally doing great these days, so much better than last spring, but it’s hard to see it sometimes when it happens day by day, and it’s easy to focus on the negative—the time I pushed her past her capability and she charged a friend, the time she ran off (again) into the woods for 20 minutes before coming back.
But I had to wait until we got home to get the full story of Cholula and Pundit’s week without us. This was left for me by Jim on our kitchen table, one note per visit. Our family loved them so much I’m sharing them here, for your reading pleasure:
We had a wet walk. Pundit and Cholula kept looking at me as if to say, “Where are the hot dogs?” (Last spring I was still using hot dogs on walks to get Cholula’s energy away from other dogs). We saw another dog across the street. Cholula hardly noticed!
We took a leisurely walk. No issues.
Pundit and Cholula were on their best behavior with other dogs. I didn’t hear a peep out of either of them!
We had a very pleasant late evening walk. No poop.
Everybody was full of vigor this morning! Still no poop from Cholula.
Everybody ate. Everybody pooped! All was well!
We had another very pleasant morning walk. Cholula was a bit more riled up, but I didn’t have any problems.
Cholula came racing down to see me. Pundit jumped up out of the chair. Everybody was very, very excited! Pundit got some kind of bone on the walk and crunched it up before I could extract it.
Everybody was in need of a good scratch behind the ears and some love, so I gave it to them.
There were a lot of squirrels, cats, and other dogs about. Cholula got pretty excited, but I got her to calm down.
We had a damp and rainy morning walk. Cholula was still looking for that cat! All business was attended to.
We had a rainy walk.
We took a brisk morning walk. Everybody pooped. All was well!
I came bearing food! Cholula and Pundit were very, very excited!
And then we came home. And Cholula and Pundit were very, very excited! For a moment it was a toss up as to whether Cholula was more excited to see me or her rat holes in the back yard, which she hadn’t had access to all week—but then I won! Over the rat holes! Cholula pushed like crazy and raced like a demon up and down the yard jumping on me with full doggy joy while Pundit ran from one to the other of us barking like a maniac—and we were glad to be home.
If you live in DC and want Jim’s information for dog walking or sitting, let me know. He’s the best.
I’ve always lived in rainy places. I love the rain. I love living in the rain forest of Washington, D.C., the spring-time high water in the rivers and creeks, the way that after spring’s blossoms, the leaves burst forth and expand until they grow so large they pull the branches outward and sunlight flickers through dense green all summer long. I even love the heavy, humid summer days.
The desert is so foreign to me, and so dramatic. Since my father-in-law lives in the tri-cities area of Washington state, east of the Cascades, where there is very little rain, we visit it every year or so. I usually don’t like to drive much, but I love the road trips out of the tri-cities area and into the high desert, the vast dry scrub ringed by mountains and cut by squares of bright green crops growing in irrigated fields.
Even better, this area is a desert with rivers running through it—the Columbia, the Yakima, and the Snake. Just outside the cities is the only free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River, running through striped cliffs before it hits its first dam. We visited the free-flowing part of the river a few years ago, but none of my kids match the height limit for the boat that took us there, so this year we contented ourselves with dammed water’s controlled flow. Still, the rivers are magnificent. We rode on the Columbia on a paddle boat, drove across and back across it over beautifully spanned bridges, and watched the geese and ducks paddle along it from a river-front play ground. We also visited a dam on the Snake River and counted a few salmon going upstream in the fish ladder—although the professional counters promised us they would soon be coming through in larger numbers, my girls thrilled at the occasionally glimpse of a large shiny fish belly or side through the muddy swirling water pressing against the glass windows of the viewing area.
We also left the riverside communities and drove into down-town Pasco, which is largely Mexican-American. We literally had to cross to the other side of the tracks—in fact, we had to wait for 15 minutes for a long, empty cargo train to cross directly in front of our car. The kids counted ninety-something cars; my husband and I checked out the detailed grafitti. Downtown Pasco is something of a ghost-downtown, with too many empty sidewalks and shuttered store fronts. Our regular favorite Mexican restaurant there was closed, so we drove slowly along the few blocks, looking for someplace to eat lunch. We saw a taqueria and stopped. Although the bathroom outside of the restaurant proper almost put us off, we were so hungry we went in—and had the best tacos we’ve had in ages. The meat was so perfectly seasoned, the sauces so fine, the tortillas so thin and light. My husband is half Mexican and really nothing makes us happier than finding a good, authentic Mexican restaurant. If you’re ever in Pasco, go.
Best of all, our family got to spend a week together, all day, every day.
Oh, and the dogs did fine too. They stayed in the house. Our friend and professional dog walker, who knows about Cholula’s problems and is happy to walk her with hot-dog treats in his pocket to attract her energy when other dogs appear on the horizon, came twice a day, and my father gave them a couple of extra walks during the week. Both dogs and house were in fine condition when we returned. And the dogs were so satisfyingly thrilled to see us when we returned—or maybe, if our dogs are our mirror, it was just that we were happy to be back home. In any case, there was much leaping and racing.
My father recently told me about a time he was in San Antonio for work and went to some botanical gardens on the edge of town to relax between meetings. He wasn’t paying attention to the time and the gardens closed and he had to scale a wall to get out and then jog two miles before he could find a
Cab. He barely made it to his 7:00 meeting. I so admire this about
My father–although it was exasperating when I was a child. He has the energy and the will to squeeze in visits to beautiful places wherever he goes, even when it is completely impractical to do so. It’s very sweet slugabed. Well, I’ve been out of town for the past six days, across the country from Washington dc, and we did our best to follow that spirit of travel, as much as we could with three children and my 85 year old father in law in tow. I’m writing this on my iPhone and who knows what the auto spell check has been inserting onto this post, so more when I get back, probably more than you ever thought you wanted to know about Kennewick and pasco, Washington.