Bluebirds and Gooseneck Barnacles

While hiking Silver Peak at Snoqualmie Pass, Forterra President Gene Duvernoy traces his appreciation for the wild.

With a few hours to kill earlier this year, I hiked a back way up Silver Peak, just east of Snoqualmie Pass. No, not that horrendous route from Lake Alice and not the abandoned spur trail off the Pacific Coast Trail either—a third, much less traveled way. It is an obscure route—pick your way past rocks to a ridge line and through old forest to shaded, wet parklands, then on to a field of large scree and up to the final ridge that leads to the summit. A way that isn’t dramatically exposed or demandingly complex, but shows a gentle side of Cascade alpine and dependably has a couple pockets of snow where I stop to fill my water bottle. A way I always find deeply satisfying, with ample solitude leavened by the occasional whiff of elk and bear.

Gene Duvernoy hiking in the Cascade Mountains
Photo by John Burge

On this day I ambled from Silver over to Abiel Peak, sat in the sun and with binoculars, a luxury streamlined scramblers deny themselves, watched a mountain bluebird conducting its workaday chores. Sun, vista and bluebird—and one of the memories that arrives from who knows where about my mother and her flocks of little bluebird statuary cluttering the home. Like most kids, I never asked,Why bluebirds? But whatever the why, they were important to a girl who grew up in a Bronx cold water flat with no more chance of seeing a bluebird than conjuring hot water out of her faucet. A connection to nature that for her could only be abstract, satisfied with some glazed porcelain. And I am lucky enough to live in a place where that connection is real and can be reaffirmed daily. A place only a few thousand miles from the Bronx, but worlds apart. A place that my mother would have thought a picture of paradise out of her Sunday catechism.

Several weeks earlier and 5,365 feet back downhill, I had gone for a walk on a Pacific Coast beach. It was a minus tide and over by Copalis Rock was a chock-full tide pool that demanded investigation: ochre starfish (no wasting disease here), morning sea star, tube worms, aggregating and Christmas anemones, and gooseneck barnacles. Two favorite landscapes—alpine and tidal—separated by what amounts to a short vertical distance, a slight bump on the earth’s crust, and yet these two also are worlds apart.

When our thoroughly modern and Seattle-ized kids were young, we used to outfit them with tweezers, magnifiers, six different field guides, snacks (healthy, of course) and water bottles. We were set for a good three hours of tide pooling, or until feet turned numb and teeth started to chatter. We spent wonder-filled days exploring a universe contained in a space hardly bigger than the trunk of my 25-year-old Beemer.

They still emphatically mourn my reluctant sale of that car. But as generations of mountain bluebirds on Abiel and gooseneck barnacles at Copalis Rock come and go, my bet is my kids also will cherish the time we spent together prying and spying in tide pools. And one evening soon, at just the right moment during a Sunday night dinner, I will let them know we owe our adventuring to the legacy of a couple of chipped china birds.


Twilight at Second Beach, near La Push, WA in Olympic National Park. Photo by Glenn Nelson
  • Glenn Nelson

    Glenn Nelson is a journalist, photographer and Web entrepreneur in Seattle who is currently developing The Trail Posse to encourage diversity in the outdoors.