When One Needs a Retreat with Birds

Such a place is our property in Seattle (Tukwila, really, but no one knows where that is—not even people who live in Seattle). We lucked into an acre lot on the Dumamish River, just over the southern Seattle city limits, still wih a Seattle zip code, twenty years ago this summer. We’ve made this place a wildlife habitat as best we can, bordered to the north by the I5 and to the east by Burlington Northern. To the south is Foster Golf Links across the river as it bends it’s ‘U’ around us, and to the west, thankfully several blocks away, lies SeaTac Airport.

Trains, planes, and automobiles.

Our oasis of sanity will shortly be joining the hot Seattle market, likely to be bought by a builder who can throw up four 5-bedroom, 4-bath homes with tiny yards for people to buy and pour cement all over for their four + cars. That is what our neighborhood is turning into, and that is why we are leaving.

At least this little stretch of shoreline where tiarella blooms and a downey woodpecker makes his home will be left untouched, thanks to Federal regulation and the city’s compliance with these laws. And we’ll make a bunch of money, but that somehow doesn’t offer much comfort.

Over and around the freeway noise I can hear birds getting about their springly business of reproducing. Bewick’s wrens, flickers, robins, Anna hummingbirds and crows protect their territories. Towhees love our overgrowth of Himalayan blackberries, and juncos scratch in the mulchy duff I leave in the garden. I haven’t heard the kingfisher this year yet, and it’s too early for the ospreys. Such birds have made the most city-life. I used to worry about the Stellar jays, but they seem to thrive everywhere in Puget Sound.

But you can’t bring back the early denizens of this semi-rural peninsula in the bend of the river when we first came. Beaver, skunk, coyote, rabbit and muskrat are gone, except a beaver has been here recently, gnawing at the bark of sequoia I planted 15 years ago. I hardware-clothed that sucker, and the beaver went back to the willows that survive—willows we planted on the bank just when we moved here and cleared out a jungle of burdock plants.

In the river itself we’ve seen both otters and sea lions feeding on the salmon. Mergansers and Canadian geese snack on reeds.

And humans stand on the muddy shores in September when salmon fishing season is open.

Across the river from our bank, sliding between the freeway soundwall and the opposite shore, is the Green River Bike Trail. I love watching the riders and walkers there, and if they ever look up, they can’t really see me. This trail is little known and thus easy to ride, not like the over-crowded and downright dangerous bike trails snaking through north Seattle. The trail follows loops of the Green River, which is what the Duamish becomes a few miles south of us. This juncture marks what is left of the Black River, long closed off from its flow into Lake Washington when a ship canal was cut from the lake to the Sound—the lake’s water-level fell, you see, and the river had nowhere else to go. An airport got built on the dry mouth, where a well-known airplane manufacturer is dealing with a tragic flaw in one of its airplane lines.

The trail goes south for several miles, intersecting with the Interurban Trail, which parallels the river too, but instead flies a straight line beside the Burlington Northern rail line. One can ride one’s bike from Seattle to Puyallup, a distance of 35 miles.

I’ve never gone that far.

The spouse and I have always liked to by homes in sketchy areas. Mostly because the price is right. Also there are houses that have great yards for a garden. The first house we bought in Columbia City, a once-borderline now hipster neighborhood of South Seattle. We spent a modest sum on a house that is now worth $500,000.00—if not more.

We moved to Tukwila because the house had an even more spectacular yard for a garden. Again, a modest sum. Now it’s worth almost four times that amount.

We don’t do this for the money, except to buy what we can afford. We don’t really care about location location location. We just want a nice, old house with a great yard. And we own one in Albany, Oregon, on the edge of town in the old neighborhood, bordering on a city park and a ulitlity right-away where no one can put up a f–king housing tract. And the Calapooia River is a 10 minute walk away, and beyond, the great Williamette flows.

I’ve already found the osprey nest.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


When One Needs a Retreat with Birds — 3 Comments

  1. Welcome to Oregon! Maybe we’ll see you at Orycon upon occasion. Now that you are retiring, your options are wide open. Sorry to see your old neighborhood going to the construction pits.

  2. I hope you enjoy Albany! I believe I grew up nearish your new digs – in a house just a block from the bridge down to the park and the river. I have many fond memories of rambling around as a kid. it’s a great area, and a nice town – may your life there be filled with gardens and birds and as much nature as possible

  3. I live in Tukwila! I often wonder where the growth will end, if I were to move somewhere less crowded, how long before that area suffers the same way? I suppose it will not end as long as the population keeps growing in this city.. state… country… world!
    Best wishes for your move!