The white streak is a flock of snow geese -- so distant. I could not get closer.

The white streak is a flock of snow geese — so distant. I could not get closer.

“The sound of geese in the distance,
is wonderful:
in our minds
we rise up
and move on.”
— Robert Sund, “Spring Poem in the Skagit Valley”

Snow geese, Skagit Valley

Snow geese, Skagit Valley

The snow geese rise up, then settle again.

The snow geese rise up, then settle again.

“Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake”
by Anne Porter, from Living Things

I watched them
As they neared the lake

They wheeled
In a wide arc
With beating wings
And then

They put their wings to sleep
And glided downward in a drift
Of pure abandonment

Until they touched
The surface of the lake

Composed their wings
And settled
On the rippling water
As though it were a nest.

Snow geese in a field near Anacortes

Snow geese in a field near Anacortes

“Wild geese fly overhead.
They wrench my heart.
They were our friends in the old days.”
— Li Ch’ing Chao, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

I didn’t have much luck photographing snow geese on my most recent visits to the Skagit Valley.  I saw only a couple of flocks, and they were in distant fields.  I could not drive closer.  I love to witness big flocks taking to the skies, whirling around, and settling again.  How do they swarm and yet not run into each other?  I am always reminded of M.C Escher’s prints of birds:

M.C. Escher, Sky and Water, 1938

M.C. Escher, Sky and Water, 1938

In past years, I’ve gotten closer and came away with some photos that captured the breathtaking whirlwind of wings.  One of my snow geese photos was chosen for the cover of Bearings Magazine‘s Autumn 2016 issue (it’s a publication of the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota).

Snow geese in flight, Skagit Valley, 2012

Snow geese in flight, Skagit Valley, 2012



What We Need Is Here

November 26, 2016

Skagit Valley snow geese

Skagit Valley snow geese

The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Flock of snow geese in the Skagit Valley

Flock of snow geese in the Skagit Valley


Watercolor painting of Skagit Valley snow geese

Watercolor painting of Skagit Valley snow geese

Snow geese

Snow geese

Snow geese

Snow geese

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
Are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Making a landing

Making a landing

The annual migration of snow geese to their winter feeding grounds in the Skagit Valley is in full swing.  I am always thrilled when my visits to the Skagit Valley coincide with the snow geese’s feeding schedule.  I saw these birds settled in a field along the road on Fir Island, which is best reached via the Conway exit off of I-5.

Skagit Valley snow geese








Autumn Geese
by Valerie Worth, from All the Small Poems and Fourteen More

One long

The whole

Vs of snow geese, like bracelets strewn across the sky

“Birds are the life of the skies, and when they fly, they reveal the thoughts of the sky.”
— D. H. Lawrence, Birds, Beasts, and Flowers

The first snow geese are starting to return to the Skagit Valley, which is their winter feeding ground.  These vast animal migrations are a wonder and a mystery.  What strong, inner forces urge them to leave home for another so far away?  Do they understand their restlessness and the force that propels them?  It’s awe-some for me to be in the presence of such instinctual behavior.

Flock of snow geese feeding on Fir Island near Conway

Snow geese returning to Fir Island after their summer absence.

Skagit Valley snow geese

The Skagit Valley must seem like a green paradise.




Snow-capped Mount Baker dominates this Skagit Valley view

Winter offers its own pleasures in the rural Skagit Valley, a one-hour drive north of Seattle.  We were on the lookout for trumpeter swans and snow geese on our most recent trip.  We saw the birds, but they had settled to feed some distance from the road.  It’s always awesome to see and hear the great flocks in flight, even if they were too far away for good photos.

Trumpeter swans in flight

Trumpeter swan

Skagit Valley in February

Skagit Valley snow geese in flight

I love day-tripping to the Skagit Valley to see the flocks of snow geese that winter in the area.  Each October, they migrate from their nesting grounds in Wrangel Island off the Siberian Coast.  They spend the winter feeding in the fields of the Skagit Valley and roosting in Skagit Bay before returning north in March.  You have a good chance of seeing the snow geese near Conway and Fir Island, just south of Mount Vernon.  They are an awe-inspiring sight.

Sky filled with snow geese in flight

Incoming, ready for landing

Snow geese feeding on the wet fields of the Skagit Valley

Taking wing

The flock settles in a new feeding area.

Touched by Snow Geese

March 11, 2010

The snow geese are still wintering in the Skagit Valley.  How lovely they are.

Flock of snow geese in a Skagit Valley field

Winged wonders

"they were, in part at least, golden"

Snow Geese
by Mary Oliver

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
     What a task
     to ask

of anything, or anyone,

yet it is ours,
     and not by the century or by the year, but by the hours.

One fall day I heard
     above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was

a flock of snow geese, winging it
     faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun

so they were, in part at least, golden.  I

held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us

as with a match
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,

but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.

The geese
flew on
I have never
seen them again.

Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

Hunting Cries

January 28, 2010

Hunters in the Skagit Valley

Waterfowl hunting season in the Skagit Valley ends on January 31st.  When we were driving along searching for snow geese, we were fooled by some decoys, which from a distance, looked like a flock of birds.  I’m not sure whether they fooled the snow geese.

Hunter setting out decoys

I wasn’t expecting to witness the drama of the hunt on my weekend drive to the country, but it was there in living color.  We found a huge flock of snow geese along Fir Island Road in a field that was marked as a reserve.  However, just across the road was private land, and we heard the plop, plop, plop of guns as the hunters successfully brought down several birds.  Then it was a race between the dog and an eagle to see who would reach the fallen bird first.

Eagle surveys the hunting grounds

Hunting dog and eagle race to the kill

Dog retrieves fallen goose; eagle is foiled.


Hunter with his snow geese

The Blind
by Timothy Murphy

 Gunners a decade dead
wing through my father’s mind
as he limps out to the blind
bundled against the wind.

 By some ancestral code
fathers and sons don’t break,
we each carry a load
of which we cannot speak.

 Here we commit our dead
to the unyielding land
where broken windmills creak
and stricken ganders cry.

 Father, the dog, and I
are learning how to die
with our feet stuck in the muck
and our eyes trained on the sky.