The Eagles Have Returned to Yukon Harbor.

By Russell Neyman.

There are mornings when I feel especially connected to Old Colby and the morning rituals that date back hundreds — more likely, thousands — of years.  The place simply sings.  I feel like sharing what things are like here this September day.

[A bit of background: Having lived in Southern California since my early teens, I pulled up roots last fall and relocated to the eastern outskirts of Port Orchard, Washington. The neighborhood is the former site of an 1800’s lumber mill town, Colby, just south of Manchester. My new home is an 1801 traditional “foursquare” with hipped-roof, porch, and balcony, and it faces due east with a view of Puget Sound. The town of Colby is long-gone, with only a few of the original residences — including mine — remain. ]

I got up about sunrise — as I always do — and drove to the small market at Woods Road and Mile Hill Drive to get a cafe latte and a newspaper. It was a bit chilly last night, perhaps forty degrees, a sure sign that the Alaskan wet air is creeping toward us and the Fall season is close by.  It was the first time since spring that I turned the oil-fired heater on. Some of the broadleafed trees are already orange, but summer is trying to hold on. A warm rain hit us over the weekend, giving the lawns and flowers another burst of green. But you can see that our warm days are numbered. I’m actually looking forward to winter — but not yet.

“Eagles are not particularly

hard-working creatures;

They’re opportunists.”

Six-thirty. A good-sized foggy/cloudy mass is stuck over Seattle and the hills beyond, wrestling with the Eastern Sun. I love rainy days, but today I’m rooting for the sun to win the struggle. Above me and to the West are patches of blue sky.

The four fir trees in front of my house are the only ones left along Cole Loop. All the others have been hacked down by someone wanting to “invest” in a better view. Even my small stand has had their lower branches removed by some greedy viewmonger, allowing a clear view of the city lights to the East. If I had lived here then, I wouldn’t have allowed it. I’m proud of those trees, sparse as they are, and refuse to cooperate with anyone who wants to have them removed. Trees can be political, especially when there’s a view to be had. Everyone up-slope thinks they’re an eyesore, and everyone down-slope thinks they’re beautiful. These trees are favorites of the eagles.

The street along the shoreline in Colby has looked like this since the late 1800's.

The street along the shoreline in Colby has looked like this since the late 1800's. Mine is the hip-roofed "foursquare," center.

It’s almost always quiet along this stretch of Yukon Harbor, especially in the morning. Hardly a car to be seen or heard here; but less so across the bay on the Harper side, where bursts of ferry traffic rush by every 45 minutes. Still, except for the birds, it’s always quiet. There are the usual people fishing or crabbing in the stretch between my front porch and Blake Island. I don’t think there has been a single time since I moved to Colby that I haven’t been able to spot a ferry or two. Right now, the boat from Vashon is pulling into Southworth. Ferries are really the ugliest of ships, the two stubby ends lacking the grace of the old Mosquito Fleet steamers. The modern ferry is a sort of machine-like craft without a hint of sleek anywhere to be seen. I see these ships and others around the Sound, realizing that this chugging of activity has been going on here every single day since the 1860’s.

The ships on Puget Sound are a constant, like the tides and the weather. Despite Nature’s resistance, Mankind is here to stay.

I can tell the time of the year by where the sun rises in relation to Blake Island as viewed from my porch. At the peak of the summer, in June and July, Old Sol burns through over the Northern End, with Seattle’s Space Needle behind it. When I sit in my favorite spot on the living room couch, the July sun blasts in my face when I read the paper. I really don’t mind; it’s a very small price to pay for such a view. In a couple of months — December and January — the sun will rise over the tip of Vashon Island, off to the right, and lose many of the struggles with the weather. Right now it’s coming up near the Southern Tip of Blake, just about where the Fauntleroy Ferry landing lines up behind it, and winning.

The local burn ban was lifted last week, so this morning I was finally able to start a fire in the stone ring at the top of my beachfront slope. Well, I can’t really call it a slope any more, since December’s mud slide has made it into more of a cliff. The tides have washed away the pile of roots and mud, and all sorts of plants have re-established themselves down below. The mud slide, caused by a faulty storm drain and a very wet winter, was a mini-tragedy, but I realize that it was just Nature rearranging her petticoats. It has happened before, and will happen again.

In any case, I set up a Boy Scout style fire, with dry kindling and newspaper (I never took the time to read it) and when it got going, threw on some brush I had wanted to burn. I added some pieces of scrap hardwood from my wood shop, too, to give it some heat. The Madrone and Oak, especially, are hot-burning trees. I looooove watching a fire and smelling the wood burning.

All sorts of wildlife were out. Some type of large fish — salmon, I imagine — were feeding right off my beach. It was hard to see them because they only jumped every now and then. I should say that I heard them and saw the results of their high-flying act more than actually saw them, just a loud splash and a wake spotted out of the coner of my eye. Whatever type they were, they were BIG. Smaller, foot-long fish jumped, too, perhaps trying to escape the big ones.

The fish suddenly disappeared when five or six dolphin roamed through at a very slow pace. I watched them for, perhaps, twenty minutes, spotting them for the first time when they passed the two posts that remain from the 1800’s Colby pier. They cruised past my buoy, rising to breathe every five or ten yards, and eventually disappeared in the direction of Manchester, to the North. It’s hard to realize that these animals are actually feeding, given how calmly they pass through. Around them, I’m sure, are terrorized fish. Picturesque as leaping fish might seem, there’s a chance that death is involved in some way.

There’s a large starfish, perhaps 12 inches across, clinging to a piece of wood down on the beach, right were the rocky bottom starts turning to mud. I suppose the eagles and seagulls will eventually find it and tear it up. If I change to my boots later, I might go down to investigate. I know better than to wander among the sticky mud and slippery rocks without special all-terrain gear.

The raccoons have been on the bank. I know this because of the funny star-shaped footprints in the mud and because the fruit from the lower branches of my apple trees are all gone. The ‘coons lost their favorite habitat when the lady on the corner lot cut down her trees this summer to make room for a new house, but I know that these animals will adapt. They are tenacious, gritty creatures who meld with humans well. I suppose they might be living under my back porch, but am afraid to look.

One of the neighbors says a river otter greeted him last week, meandering past his deck and slipping down to the water. I hear they’re very shy animals. I haven’t seen one myself, but hope to. I suppose they compete with the eagles and birds for the starfish and crabs.

Speaking of eagles, one of the local pairs is back. They sat in the trees just in front of my house on a daily basis back in June and July, entertaining the neighborhood with their awkward courtship. The male would ka-ka-ka his request for favors, and the larger, less vocal female would occasionally allow the fumbling male to mate. From what I know about bird anatomy, which isn’t much, it seems that the various components necessary to reproduce aren’t well suited to treetop romance. I admit I haven’t examined the procedure closely, but it seems to be an awkward struggle.

One day two months ago there were five white-headed, adult bald eagles in these treetops, with a larger brown-colored “golden” eagle nearby watching the action, all within sight of me at one time. For months, their visits were almost daily during the early part of summer. I could depend on their early morning, distinctive calls and their arguments with the crows. I don’t know why they tolerate the abuse the smaller, black troublemakers (certainly one of Nature’s most annoying creatures) who dive and peck the eagles as they fly by, like German fighter planes buzzing a slow-flying formation of B-24’s over Berlin. You get the feeling that the eagles could easily turn and knock the crows out of the sky, but for some reason they don’t.

I suppose it’s a pure coincidence, but it seems like the eagles make a point to arrive at the stand of trees here on Cole Loop when I build fires at the top of the slope. That happened this morning. Perhaps they equate a fire with scraps of food, a component of their relationship with mankind nature has been wired into their DNA.

In August, they suddenly disappeared. I suppose a naturalist would know exactly why this happened, but I can only speculate that they have a estuary or creek elsewhere where food is more plentiful this time of year. Not that there’s any lack of prey here, but I think they might find easier pickings in places where young chicks and old fish collect. Having observed the baldies, in particular, for many months, I can say that they are not especially hard-working birds but, rather, opportunists. They hang around, looking for an easy meal. When the tide goes out, they grab the stranded crabs and starfish, and in the midsummer they nab the weaker ducklings that hatch in the bushes a half mile up the shoreline. I wonder how this pattern of opportunism fits into the fact that the bald eagles are our national symbol..?

But they’re back, greeting me as I lit the fire. I suspect that I will see a few noisy, brown fledglings pretty soon, the results of the June mating dances held here. Last winter the youngsters would sit on the treetops, shrieking at their parents to bring food. I have heard that they don’t get their white crown for three or four seasons.
The only downside to an otherwise picture perfect morning was a berry-blue glob of eagle poop one of the visitors deposited on my truck. I should know better than to park it under those trees.

The sun is fully up now, and seems to be winning the shouting match with the clouds. My fire is fully engaged, pumped up by a large chunk of tree I just tossed on top. That should provide entertainment and a smoky aroma for several hours. The place has a rhythm that is pleasing and something I can count on. It’s a nice morning.


3 thoughts on “The Eagles Have Returned to Yukon Harbor.

  1. As I sit here in B’more looking at the fall colors and rain I mentioned you to a colleague who lives in the San Juan Islands area. This last piece you wrote was so very lovely. Perhaps you might run across one another way up there. I hope to get up north sometime myself and will look you up as well.
    Here’s to historic years to come.

  2. As happy as we might be to have you as our neighbor, we take exception to your characterization of our work ethic. We believe in working “smart”. We just make it look easy. Proudly, we symbolize America as “the Land of Opportunity”.

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