Bird Brain

(Originally published November 22, 2013)

Hiking is fun. Hiking in the rain unprepared is not. Riding the bus is a fairly neutral experience. Riding the bus soaked having just just hiked in the rain unprepared is a fairly poor experience. You’re probably noticing a pattern here. Long story short; I went on a short trip recently in which I hiked approximately 1,700,056 times the distance I thought I would have to and got rained on in the process. But hey, it’s the journey not the destination right?

Nope. Now for the long story long part.

Hiking in itself isn’t a problem for me; I have many hundreds of miles logged to go along with a couple hundred nights spent in campsites. Things get problematic when what is advertised as a “short walk” turns out to be a nearly two mile trek up a steep hill after riding the bus for half an hour. Oh also, I missed my first bus by one minute, which made me ten minutes late for my second bus, which meant I had to wait twenty minutes for the next one to show up, which meant of the twenty-five people I was supposed to be doing all of this with, three others were left.

So why did I continue to slog through all of these problems? In vans and the pouring rain no less? Birds. This wasn’t a walk for the hell of it, I was going to the Cascades Raptor Center right here in beautiful Eugene, Oregon. The CRC is a wildlife hospital and nature center specializing in birds of prey that has been around since 1987. There they all kinds of feathery friends including Great Horned Owls, Snowy Owls, Bald Eagles, Gyrfalcons, and many more. The whole place is a large collection of large outdoor cages set on the side of the same mountain you have to walk/drive partway up to get there.

I knew most of this when I (finally) got off the bus 30 minutes late, wishing I had worn three more jackets and scuba gear. What I didn’t know was how far the center was from the bus stop, as mentioned earlier. Luckily the DSLR I had brought had a rain cover built into its case. That way it could be useless AND dry, there was no was I would be able to use it in the deluge. Once the (long but scenic) hike was over, I arrived in heaven. Not because I had died on the way up or physically ascended that far, but because I happen to like birds, and there were tons to be seen up close and personal (except for the cages of course). I quickly found my favorite, a Gyrfalcon named Finn. More accurately, he found me, as he screeched at me when I was walking by as I first arrived. I screeched back, and the rest is history.

Finn the Gyrfalcon

The most impressive of the animals I saw that day was the Bald Eagle, Aeolus. He was larger than many dogs I know of, much fiercer too. The award for funniest went to a Snowy Owl (yes, just like in Harry Potter) by the name of Archimedes who would make an awkward cawing sound whenever I said “Hey” to him.

Aeolus the Bald Eagle

The CRC is the perfect alternative outing. The misery of the walk there, the walk back, and the bus rides both ways was completely wiped out by my fascination and the overall positive experience I had once I arrived. The oft-maligned destination had justified the journey, not the other way around. Drive there and everything is flawless.