THESE ARE MAGIC DAYS in the San Juan Islands.
As I sit in Wee Nooke, my cedar writing hut atop the rocky knoll, the door and windows are open wide. Buttercups at my doorstep match the sunshine streaming in. No heater today, for the first time since autumn. No hot tea to sip. I’m guzzling cool lemon-water and hyperventilating on the sweet scent of wildflowers. Our wintry days are finally done.
Besides those cheerful, buttery blooms, we’re enjoying a bumper crop of fairy slippers, aka calypso orchids. Sea blush, each of its flowers barely the size of a grain of beach sand, is starting to carpet the knoll with pink. And I was briefly flummoxed to come across what looked for all the world like avalanche lilies, those spidery blossoms of snow white on a tall stalk much more often seen on Mount Rainier than a few feet above sea level. Never encountered this flower on my island before, but this week half a dozen are bobbing in the gentle April breezes on the knoll. A little research proved that climate change hasn’t, in fact, brought interlopers off the mountain; these were great white fawn lilies, Erythronium oregonum, a common flower in the San Juans, though new to my corner. The leaves are spotted like a fawn, thus the name. (For a quick bit of education before making a wildflower safari to the islands, check out this useful guide, Wildflowers of San Juan Island National Historical Park, which pretty much applies to the entire archipelago.)
Birds are causing a flap in my world, too. The past few days I’ve been regularly hearing a distinctive call from what I believe to be a rare (for us) Pileated Woodpecker, that sartorially splendid redhead of the forest. These guys, which can be the size of a small chicken, often set the woods echoing with a burble akin to the jungle birds of old Tarzan movies. Nesting, maybe? But it might also be a Northern Flicker, whose call is similar and which is more common here. A big flicker clung and swung on my suet feeder this morning, perched as precariously as Kong atop the Empire State. Compare the two plus-size birds and their calls here and here on Cornell University’s handy “All About Birds” website.
Other avian excitement: Saw the season’s first American Goldfinch at my feeder 10 days ago, decked out in fabulous lemony plumage all fresh for mating season (there might even have been a paisley cravat there). Haven’t caught one on camera yet. But this morning, as I sat in my living room working a crossword, I looked up in time to see a large Bald Eagle swoop down through my trees, carving a wide circle directly in front of my window before perching on a tree limb by the side of the road. Wow!
I grabbed the camera, stepped outside, and called for Galley Cat. Give me credit here: I put the cat’s well-being above my hope for a photo. I’ve heard about eagles flying away with felines.
Galley, for once, responded immediately from somewhere in back of the cabin. “Whadda ya want, Pops, whadda ya want?” she trilled, weaving in and out of my ankles while I click, click, clicked the camera shutter in the direction of our national bird, seemingly oblivious of the 10-pound ginger tabby who was doing her best to trip me. As soon as I got my photo, I shooed her inside.
That’s my report from the San Juan Islands on this exceedingly clement day in late April. I hope you’re relishing similar days. Wherever the seasonal wonders find you.