Beyond the scablands of eastern Washington, where an end-of-the-Pleistocene flood roughed-up the landscape, the Columbia Plateau rolls like a shaken rug before it levels to a flat plain that extends to the Columbia River. The plain is now a stubble of crops, smelling of chaff, dust, and onions. The snow has melted from the plain, but the dappling of white on the gliding wings of the Northern Harriers seems like snow.
It’s two and a half hours to the Columbia River. I should have counted the Red-Tailed Hawks. Perched on the electrical poles, the hawks were little ruffled by the wind that created only small riffles among the feathers of their gravel-colored breasts. A red tail standing at the side of the road ignored me as I passed. A Great Blue Heron, also standing at roadside, might have wanted a ride. The heron had his head down, neck like a hose bent to a U, chin to his breast, and his shoulders were hunched to the wind. The heron’s coverts flipped like a thumb at my approach, and I regretted not stopping.
A coyote trotted across the stubbly plain. He was probably competing with the hawks for prey. The coyote stopped to look at me. I nodded my best wishes in his direction and drove on toward Don Giovanni at Seattle Opera. Don Giovanni has some of the complexity of predator/prey relationships. I regret, however, that Mozart vanquished Don Giovanni to hell, a moralistic acquiescence that seems unnecessary. The Don was simply a coyote, and I hope the coyotes on this plateau are never vanquished.