03 January 2017

A Whole New Light

Now, you don't see it; now, you do.

Our physical environment heavily influences what things we see and how we see them. My experiences at the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge demonstrate this fact well.

The most recent of my trips to the refuge possessed a much different character than the previous two (the second of which I blogged about two years ago). Back on my first trip in 1994, rain dominated experience, and in 2015, a thick fog enclosed the refuge. As a result, my family and I had limited visibility both times, drawing our focus to things close at hand. When my mom and I returned four days ago, clear skies, sun, and miles of scenery treated us to many new sights and experiences.

Out in the open, in the context of the Nisqually Valley and the extended Puget Sound, the refuge and the recent work to restore it took on even greater significance. It truly represented the meeting place of mountain and marine ecosystems--the destination of the Nisqually River, which begins at Mount Rainier. In that light, the work to remove the dykes that had dominated and reshaped the estuary for a century meant so much more. Seeing the sun shine on the larger natural processes working freely once again at the refuge proved quite satisfying.

Besides highlighting the larger importance of the refuge, the clear day revealed sights and things I've never seen before. For the first time, I saw the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from that vantage point. I also documented my first sighting of a peregrine falcon--a bird I was drawn to as a child and waited years to see in the wild.

American wigeon at the Billy Frank Jr.
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
The final revelation offered by the sunny day at the refuge involved ducks. As an amateur bird-watcher, I have experienced difficulty committing ducks to memory. For some reason, other than mallards and wood ducks, they all seem to slip into one general image in my mind. I think one reason for this difficulty is that unlike songbirds, I am not around ducks all the time. However, because of the open scenery and the many ducks at the refuge last week, I was able to identify and become familiar with four species, including the American wigeon, the green-winged teal, the common goldeneye, and the bufflehead. I can say that they are more than just ducks to me now. I can see them for the individual species they are.

When the light changes, even familiar places give us more to see.