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Reservations and Jumpstarts


Sunsets on Shaw don’t suck.

I didn’t realize I was feeling stressed till I walked around the farm. Out there were the waves of green I’d forgotten about. Aimlessly I dawdled between this plant or that. Admiring the life I’d helped my friends stick in the ground, meditating on what had brought me here, and what might make me leave. This was precious moment without engines or people or anything but an evening stroll in the twilight warmth of the Pacific Northwest.

We forget how to be kids and how to play all too easily. I realized I hadn’t drawn, rolled in the dirt, or laid and watched the clouds roll by without an agenda for too long. I climbed a tree to try to look at a Northern Flicker’s nest but found out what I already knew, that it was too deep to look inside. I walked and listened through the trees and around the recently cleared pond and thought about my choices in the reflection of evening in that dark surface. I glanced at flits of robins and juncos as they moved warily about in the hour when predators strike. A white flag waved over the field, a young buck bounding closer to its kind, eight of whom were browsing down on the edge of the maples. I took photos of junco eggs, left unattended long enough for me to squeeze a smart phone in the cramped space they’d chose in one of the outbuildings. Inside were four beautiful blue eggs resting on chicken feathers from the farm.


A double exposure taken while floating on the pond on Old Copper Farm where I currently live and the trees nearby.



Earlier in the day I’d been on a boat, so far from here, mostly in terms of my sentiments but also in terms of environment. Lazily sliding up the Haro strait we’d started seeing whales off the wild side of Henry Island, where Kellet Bluff draws the Southern Resident Killer Whales against the steep dive into the Strait. We watched from a distance as several females crossed North, including the new youngster, dubbed J51. Everyone is deeply tuned to this little one, a newly needed youngster for a declining population. How little we see of these animals, how little we really know despite intensive efforts, how much a small cross section of scientists and enthusiasts really care for them.


A male in J Pod on the Haro Strait.


Dall’s Porpoise in Boundary Pass.


California Sea Lions on the waterfront of Newport, Oregon.










I pretty good summary of my exploits: a camera, a computer, a notebook, and little things I’ve collected in my wanderings. The only thing missing is my binoculars.

I looked out from a musty cave of contemplation and saw people all around me, some who feign care for this one day, some who try to make it a part of their daily regimen. I don’t blame people individually, except those who peer down at humanity from steel towers with sweeping decisions made across tropical hardwood boardroom tables. No, most of us have a hard time even pretending to care for the planet and even those who do and work actively to save it are still tapping away on gadgets made from petroleum and metals gouged from the earth. Maybe we’re just not capable of saving ourselves.


Paintbrush and Buttercups on Yellow Island in the San Juan Islands.

Still, I try hard to focus on the overwhelming biodiversity, the connectivity that spans continents and oceans, and how I can see all of it in my lifetime. Because really I’m as selfish as anyone else and even if my writings and photos make an impact, I know deep down that my carbon footprint is too high and that we’d be better off moldering in a cabin in the woods with the lights off. This has been said before by me and other people, but I keep coming back to it. And really, I still want to climb through Tropical Deciduous Forests with the racket of Magpie Jays overhead or cruise on a boat alongside Killer Whales. Sometimes I think my Biophillia is really a disease that urges me forward to travel farther and gulp more petroleum.


Beautiful skies in the San Juan Islands.

And yet, I can’t help but laugh at how helpless people are despite all our power of imagination and ingenuity. How a boat can break down and you can float, with no power over tides or currents, watching the land sink away from you and cursing the very thing that’s keeping you from freezing to death in the frigid Salish Sea. How you can drink a beer as consolations prize and grumpily watch a dandy Common Loon sink into the water like it was made for diving, because, well, they are.

Usually I don’t feel guilty for being human, because despite dark moments (and my life has been blissfully free of anything short of melodrama), we have so much to be happy for and in the best circumstances we can live with relative pleasure alongside most other organisms. I realize that as I write this riots are breaking out over inequalities, terrorists hold court over poverty stricken hamlets, and that children die daily from curable diseases and malnutrition. And there’s that whole we’re destroying to planet thing. I know there is pain in the world and I don’t believe in it going away, the same as I don’t believe humans can find utopian understanding with the natural world.

Yet I still want to do my bit and try to be happy at the same time. I’ve seen what anger can do to people and while there’s much to be angry about, it’s not an emotion that makes things better in most circumstances. However, the joy that comes from watching Turkey Vultures tilt across the sloped hills of the San Juans or finding a blooming cactus hiding on a hillside of sagebrush along the Columbia River will never turn sour. Watching birds arrive and depart, is far better than slinking around looking at all the destruction, because while I know we can do better, I also know we can do worse.


What’s even better is having someone to find those cacti with. These are Snowball Cacti, a type of Hedgehog Cactus in the Columbia River Gorge near Vantage, Washington.


Velella velella, a monotypic hydroid (jellyfish relative) that have semi-regular standing events where millions if not billions wash up on shore. This stinky mat covered the beach in Ocean Shore Washington. I got to see it while helping my friend scout for potential new seabird survey sights in Grays Harbor, Washington.

Sometimes it’s useful as a writer, artist, or whatever else I or anyone else calls me, to simply vent thoughts without an aim or theme. There’s this strange expectation to convey information, not sentiments, in the world of discussing natural history. Some might believe there’s not room for both artistic spirit and scientific precision. I agree it’s a fine line to toe but it’s not impossible nor should it be discouraged. I’ve been told I’m not an artist, not a scientist, not a journalist. My output has been plugged with the worry of this, a greasy wax that I’ve been working away at for the last few months. It’s almost squeaky clean, as it was before it was abused by time and the unnecessary opinions of others close to me or otherwise.

So today I’ll go outside and use all my senses, listen to the birds, think about the animals of the deep, and try to learn from the people around me. I’m an optimist and I believe I can have fun, make a difference, and see a good portion of the birds, natural wonders, and distant locales in my lifetime. I’ll experience pain as things decline and waver (both in the world and personally) but that shouldn’t stop me from writing or taking photos.

So maybe this wasn’t what you expect from Wingtrip after a silence for a few months. But it’s a necessary release, and hopefully you’ve enjoyed the photos I’ve included because I’ve been busy and seeing things despite the pause in content. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I’m still doing cool, valuable, things when I’m not hunched over a computer typing or editing photos (evidenced by the photos here in) or posting on social media. Straightforward science and nature communication will resume shortly. Thanks again for reading, perusing, and maybe enjoying from time to time.


  1. Wyatt Miller

    I enjoyed this. It’s nice to see the stirring of grand scale thoughts and basic undiluted emotion that I get, from spending time in nature, conveyed so purely in your words and photos.
    I experienced a rush of memories from most of the pictures, being awestruck by the sheer numbers of vellela vellela washed up on the Oregon coast near Tillamook as a kid, to being very curious about finding a cactus in Eastern Oregon where I didn’t expect it for some reason. I still have not seen Orca, and I’m holding out for a sighting in the wild, but I enjoyed those shots too.
    Thanks Brendan.

    • Brendan McGarry

      Wyatt, thanks so much for the kind words. I’m glad they resonated with you. Hopefully our paths will cross sometime soon. Come visit the San Juans and I’ll take you out on our boat this Summer and you’ll likely see Orca.

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