In Search of a Raptor
I’d like to return to seeing the world with the eyes of a child. You know what I mean — eyes still able to observe life through the lens of imagination, like my 10-year-old friend Logan did on our recent visit to Portage Creek Wildlife Area in Arlington, WA.
Arlington is about half way between Seattle (where I was staying) and Anacortes (where Logan and his mom, Christy, live). I wanted a place Christy and I could quietly connect and Logan could explore. And, after caregiving through three long nights with little sleep, I figured meeting in the middle was my best shot at not crashing my car. I googled “nature” near Arlington to find several rave reviews of the wildlife area.
According to the county, Portage Creek is: “a 157-acre wildlife reserve home to a variety of wetland plants and animals.
“Stroll along the tranquil stream and enjoy the open meadow paths while catching glimpses of herons, raptors and many species of waterfowl,” the wetlands' website invited us.
Raptors! That would keep Logan busy. So much had happened in six months — Christy and Logan had lost her father to cancer, I had finished cancer treatment, and at least three other close friends were diagnosed with cancer. We had a lot to catch up about. Even so, connecting one-on-one between our many family and work obligations had been tricky.
But raptors! We were set.
I like to think of America as the kingdom of signage. If you want to get somewhere in these United States, just follow the signs. The many, many signs. But there must not be a lot of people looking for the Portage Creek Wildlife Area entrance because it took us about 30 minutes to find the spot that GPS kept telling us was a mere 2 miles from The Stilly Diner where we met for a gut-busting breakfast. (An aside: Those 63 glowing Yelp reviews were spot on. Try the cornbeef hash!)
Eventually we rolled onto a road leading into an housing development. If we hadn’t blinked, we would not have missed the tiny sign marking the gravel road to the wildlife area parking. We found it on a second, non-blinking drive by.
The empty trail from the parking lot was thin and barely visible and we were forced to plunge blindly through knee-high grass to stay on it. My first thought was to wonder just how long it’d been since anyone else walked here. That thought was followed closely by another: When will we trip over the body? About two seconds later my foot landed on a discarded sweatshirt half-buried in the mud.
By then, I was also starting to wonder, where’s the wildlife? Standing on the narrow path with an expansive wide open wetland on one side and a farmland and the freeway on the other, the only birdsongs seemed to be coming from the Arlington Airport. The only wild animals in site were the SUVs speeding along the freeway causing a beehive-like hum to move the air. We had apparently stumbled on a lesser known, lesser trod back park entrance nowhere near the namesake Portage Creek. The creek, Googlemaps now showed us, was too far and muddy to hike to from where we stood.
“So much for a nature adventure,” I told my friends.
But this is what I mean by a child’s eyes.
While Christy and I groused about not having the right shoes and made fun of the lack of wildlife in this wildlife area, Logan was perfectly happy in his sodden sneakers. And he seemed to be finding nature everywhere, even on this unremarkable grass path.
“Ooooo! I A banana slug!” he called out from where he’d raced in front of us.
“Look at this spiderweb,” he pointed out not far from the slug.
When we hit the end of the path, Logan was ready to break trail through the trees and a vast array of underbrush in search of that far-off creek. He found a snail, more spiders. Later he found a wild bench in the middle of nowhere were we all sat and pondered the cloud-filled sky, the cat tails, and a few semis whizzing by.
“There are raptors here somewhere,” Logan assured as we set back toward the car. His mom and I snickered and gave each other the “Oh, yeah” eye roll.
But Logan was determined to find them. And he did.
“Look, raptors!” Logan laughed as an airplane surged over our heads.
Christy and I are both moms — we like to keep our kids clean and entertained. If we hadn’t had Logan with us, we might have missed the adventure right in front of us, too focused instead on mucky shoes and finding the “real” wildlife area.
Thank goodness, we had a raptor-spying, spider-seeking, slug-loving young adventurer with us to open our eyes.