Christmas Day my partner
and I decided to pass on various family Christmas doings and attend the Church of Nature. We left in the morning and drove north on a nearly empty I-5 up to the Sedro-Woolley turnoff to Highway 20 and headed into bald eagle country. This time of year, eagles flock to the Upper Skagit River and you can stop along the road from Concrete to Rockport on up to Marblemount and spot the splendid birds perched in the trees along the river like so many over-sized Christmas ornaments, or watch them feed on salmon carcasses along the river banks.
In the course of the day, we saw at least several dozen (we stopped trying to keep track). You can check out the annual eagle count here
, with numbers up through mid-December.
Things can get crowded with eagle-watchers as the eagle population increases in January. In 2008 the annual Upper Skagit Eagle Festival
is scheduled for Jan, 26-27. But the shops were closed, the crowds otherwise engaged. We literally had the place to ourselves, except for the eagles, crows, seagulls, hawks, osprey, Barrow's goldeneye, snow geese, and what I think were Cackling geese, a smaller Arctic species of Canada goose that migrates through.
The country is green and brown and beautiful, sometimes gloomy with boggy stretches where the moss-covered trees suggest that when someone says "stick it where the sun don't shine," they might not be referring to part of your anatomy but some parts of these Northwest lowland woods. The foothills and mountains loom around you here, the higher parts of the tree-covered hills covered with snow that paints the standing trees white but also highlights the patches of clearcut forest.
Further on, there was snow on the ground and we passed Marblemount--the jumping off point for the North Cascades--and drove through the Seattle City Light town of Newhalem up to the Gorge Dam lookout
Here's where we had our white Christmas adventure. I decided to pull into the snow-covered parking lot in my all-wheel drive vehicle and immediately got the car stuck in snow that was as forgiving as wet concrete. The stuff was packed under the car so the wheels couldn't spin, and the tires were stuck in snow that acted like wedges. Oops.
Solitude is lovely, except at times like this. I was reminded of a similar experience when I got my old Plymouth stuck on ice on top of Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island one winter day. I was able to borrow a cellphone from someone and called AAA. I remember how odd it was to describe my location not by a street address but by saying, "I'm on top of a mountain."
People are scarce here on Christmas Day, but as the Bible story goes, "a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him." Fortunately, some people also traveling on Highway 20 happened by and must have imagined how they would feel stuck alone up there. We gladly accepted their pity and their help. After about 40 minutes of the six of us digging, pushing, rocking and using branches to help give the tires traction, we were able to free the car.
We thanked the Good Samaritans profusely. We then parked in a safe spot and hiked down a short, snowy trail to look down into the gorge with its high dam holding back jade-green waters. Above, the rocky cliffs and forested mountain slopes were white with snow. There was an amazing silence. I looked out on the wondrous view with my partner beside me, my fear and adrenaline beginning to subside.
On the way home, it seemed miraculous to ride in a car that was actually moving
. We drove through mist and rain and slush into heavy snow south of Everett. We returned in the early evening to a Seattle dusted in white, not unlike the head of a bald eagle.