Sunset on the Columbia River (photos by Me)

The birds are singing their sweet evening songs, as the sun lowers in the sky, turning the clouds golden yellow. Sparrows sail slowly and gracefully over my head. As the river laps at the shore and little fish bob to the surface for an evening snack of water bugs. This has always been my favorite time of day. It must be the sounds and the bright colors. I’m surrounded only by birds song and the wind rustling through the leaves. The sky is bursting into every color of the rainbow, ever changing. It’s a different color every time I glance up to look at it. The clouds seem to be moving towards the sun as if attracted to it, like a moth to the flame. The wind picks up and a breeze smelling like the ocean rushes in up the river. I’m reminded of a passage in John Muir’s “A Wind-Storm in the Forests.”
The winds go up every tree, fingering every leaf and branch and furrowed bole; not one is forgotten; the Mountain Pine towering with outstretched arms on the rugged buttresses of the icy peaks, the lowliest and most retiring tenant of the dells; they seek and find them all, caressing them tenderly, bending them in lusty exercise, stimulating their growth, plucking off a leaf or limb as required, or removing an entire tree or grove, now whispering and cooing through the branches like a sleepy child, now roar like the ocean; the winds blessing the forests, the forests the winds, with ineffable beauty and harmony as the sure result”.

I’ve seen many things in this river; seals, cranes, geese, ducks, sail boats and large ships carrying logs or filled with grains. I understand now how Crevecoeur saw nature never “without wonder.” I feel that way now too, my favorite thing though would be the colors that swirl in the rivers ripples and peaks as the sun is setting. The clouds above turn baby pink and the river below mimics it. Giving the river the appearance of pink icing on a cake. I wish I could describe this view as well as Crevecoeur could describe nature around him. The line I remember best is when he said that, “nature has profusely lavished her most splendid colours, the most perfect azure, the most beautiful gold, the most dazzling red are forever contrast and help to embellish the plumes.” I wish I could see things through his eyes and know what colours he saw at that moment.
The river is very calm right now, the tide must be going out. I can tell because the fishing boats at the dock are pulling taut on their front ropes while the rear ties lay with slack. The boats rock softly in the gentle flowing currant as the clouds above explode in a hot pink cotton candy fluff. A bald eagle flies up river, then up towards the tops of the trees returning home after a long day of hunting and sailing. It’s amazing how soothing and peaceful a sunset set to the soundtrack of a dozen different birds singing a song that no one, but I, will ever hear. I sit silently, startled by the honking of a crane as he flies upriver, just inches above the water. He’s landed somewhere just a few yards from me behind some bushes but I cant see him for now. He’s probably laying in wait for the finches to stop arguing in the tree above his nest before he ambles on home. Who knows what finches argue about. He’s given up on going home and flies further up river. So low and so close to me I can see his eyes. I wish had taken a picture but he flew so gracefully by I couldn’t take my eyes off him and his majestic blue, gray feathers.

There’s a cat wondering down the shore, moving closer and closer to the river. He pauses ever few steps to listen to the finches and sparrows. He settles himself below the tree of arguing finches, his body silhouetted by the setting sun. I’m curious what the finches are arguing about. I know I’m being completely anthropomorphic in stating this, but it doesn’t sound like a pleasant conversation. They are speaking louder and faster, not allowing the other to get a sound in. They seem to be talking over each other. The only breaks in the yelling is when one flies down from the tree as if falling, pulling up from his nose dive only at the very last minute. The little finch flies across the river, then down the river only to return to the same tree to argue again. This time with quicker peeps and more forcefully squawks. I think maybe he flies away from the tree to clear his head so he can think of a better comeback. He leaves the tree again screeching this time. I wonder why till I notice that she is chasing him. They return to the tree only to squawk at each other some more. Maybe she feels he isn’t bringing home enough worms for the baby chicks.
When I sat down, out here by the river, I felt silly and wondered if someone might walk up behind me. Perhaps they would wonder what I am doing way out here all on my own but the gentle lapping of the river on the shore and the setting sun have relaxed me. I feel quite comfortable, nestled in the sand among the bushes. The sun is almost set and even the arguing birds have quieted down. The robins seem to have forgotten I’m here. Maybe because its getting dark now that the sun has set. I say they have forgotten because their flying quickly by me, so close I straighten up and brace myself for the coming impact. They take a sharp turn away from me just as I brace myself. Maybe it’s my movement that reminds them that I’m still here or perhaps they are just playing games with me.
The moon is getting brighter and the clouds are getting darker. The crane I was hoping to see again still has not returned, much to my dismay. I’ve always been drawn to him, since he’s such a quite bird with a seemingly private life. Though I’m sure my attraction to him in no way compares to Muir’s relationship with the water ouzel. While Muir’s water ouzel is always happily singing and frolicking about, my crane is lumbering slowing with silent movements. Perhaps the type of bird a person is drawn to says a lot about their personality. Much like an owner and their dogs.
The trees are now black and the clouds look like lumpy blue cotton balls. All collecting around the hole in the sky where the sun disappeared into. There is a halo of light encircling the moon, like a keyhole into another dimension. The water is clear now and sparkles like diamonds, reflecting the bright moon, like a traffic light on a puddle. There is an eerie silence now that all the birds have settled in for the night. Even the river is creeping silently. It’s getting late, the bugs are nibbling at my neck and my fingers are getting cold. I should probably head home now but want to see that crane again. Maybe another time. I will definitely return to this special spot again just to wait for him to appear, because I know he will return. I just have to be patient and wait. Like Emerson said, “Nature ever flows, stands never still.”

Norton Book of Nature Writing:


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