Cormorants and a seagull
My daughter took this picture of Pelagic cormorants while we were sitting on the ferry. I love cormorants. They’re peculiar little things; their bones are solid instead of hollow, and unlike most water birds, they have no oil in their feathers, which is why they spend a lot of time with their wings in the air, frantically drying off.

I’m not the only one who thinks they’re strange. According to, “Cormorants seem tо be а very ancient group, wіth similar ancestors reaching аll the wаy bаck tо the tіme оf the dinosaurs. Іn fact, the very earliest known modern bird, Gansus yumenensis, hаd essentially the same structure.” I was also very taken by the title of this article: The Cormorant: the Devil Undisguised? . It only makes me love them more :)


Bird altars and treasure boxes: Gallery #1

I’ve known Thurid slightly for years, and I knew she made beautiful things out of paper, but I hadn’t seen many of them; they aren’t for sale. Thurid herself is graceful, charming and slightly mysterious. We never talked much until the day we decided to go ice skating. I think she reassured me that she wouldn’t fall down. The second time I passed her – I skate faster than I should – she was skating backwards, marking these perfect feathered ovals on the ice, white on white. It was so beautiful to watch. And so typical of her – little bits of hidden treasure.

Thurid was an ethnographic objects conservator. During an internship in Fairbanks, Alaska, where she found opportunities for entertainment somewhat limited, she ended up out in the woods one day, learning to make paper. They used a blender powered by a generator. She had always loved texture – she used to weave – but making paper and fabricating objects from it gave her the medium and the technique to make things that she really loved.

She talks about the effects she wants to produce, rather than the significance her creations have for her, but I did notice the altars she showed me all have something to do with birds, and they all have a similar aesthetic. They look fragile and earthy at the same time, and have a lot of layered but fairly monochromatic texture. I have no idea what that might mean; they are, however, the pieces she has saved over many, many years of making them.

The boxes are almost entirely paper, except for surface decorations – a little cloth and bone and stone and paint, sometimes. I thought the boxes themselves were wood, but they’re heavy cardboard. There is one in her house that she uses to save seeds from her garden, and they do seem made to hold meaningful things. Like the altars, they are precise, elaborate, strange, deliberately worn and supremely decorative: artifacts from a world that exists only in Thurid’s head. I know that sounds very romantic, but that’s how I feel when I look at them.

I’m not much of an interviewer; I’m a little uncomfortable asking a lot of questions. If you would like to ask Thurid better questions about the things she makes, I will forward her your emails via I’m working on another post with pictures of the little books she makes, and her collection of beads, which should be up by this weekend.

The Birds

Not my eagle. Shanan took the picture
Here’s the summary of my birding experiences on or near the island:

1. Sitting on Jane’s beach at 6 a.m., I was interrupted by an eagle splashing down in front of me to grab a fish. His wings got soaking wet. He tried to row himself into shore and was not doing very well. I went looking for a stick to drag him in with, but was picturing him tearing me to shreds once I got him out. (OK, I know nothing about birds, but I meant well.) He finally made it to shore on his own, and hopped around eating the fish off his foot. He did not like it at all when I laughed.

2. This was more of a bird flinching than a bird sighting: a turkey vulture landed in my yard and started eating a rabbit that didn’t seem to have stopped breathing yet. That was probably my cat’s fault. I sat down on the kitchen floor with my head between my knees until I felt it was safe to stand up. I could have gone out and intervened, but it was going to have to be killed anyway, and I didn’t think I’d be a more efficient killer than a vulture. There does seem to be a pattern here.

3. I was staring up into a china blue sky and saw a falcon slam into a dove. It sounded like a bat hitting a baseball, and there was a perfectly round puff of white feathers. No birds to be seen.

4. A barred owl swooped down between me and my open front door one night. That was like magic. Their silent flight is enchanting.

5. Years ago, I went to Good Friday mass at St. Joachim’s with Jane, and when we drove home, a big, light-colored owl flew beside the car for a few moments. Very eerie, very beautiful.

If it weren’t for the owls, I’d find this all a bit ominous.

And if your admiration for birds isn’t shot through with fear, there’s a birding cruise that leaves from Bellingham every Saturday this summer. I’ve gone out with Victoria, the naturalist, to look at the whales around here; she seems to know them as if they were part of her family. And Victor, the other naturalist, is writing a book on Lummi Island birds. They are so impressive, and eventually I will forget what that turkey vulture did and go on a bird walk with them.