A Christmas Eve tale

A Christmas Eve sunset adds color to the fading light at Wallula Gap.

A Christmas Eve sunset adds color to the fading light at Wallula Gap. Don Davis

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At noon on Christmas Eve, to calm pulses palpitating for Santa’s visit, Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I wandered westward on rural roads parallel to the Walla Walla River.

Outfitted with scones and coffee we drifted along, alert for vehicles in a hurry to pass.

Foggy, snowbound Blues hulked in the review mirror. Misty white vapors and snippets of blue beckoned through the windshield.

Darlene scanned to the right. I scanned to the left. Nora took turns.

We all squinted for herons, hawks, pheasants, pelicans, coyotes and deer.

A bald eagle would be good.

Then, near the Whitman Mission, Darlene said, “There’s a bunch of deer.”

I braked.

We counted 17 deer, four with antlers. One had six points.

“They look really healthy,” Darlene said.

Nora stood in the window.

Some deer looked at us.

Some continued browsing.

We passed the mission turnoff.

A few minutes later, a red-tail hawk landed on a hillside. We waited a few minutes for it to fly. It didn’t.

A hawk on a post near a naked bush watched us pass on Touchet-Gardena Road. I made a three-point turn and crept back with the window down and the camera ready.

The hawk’s beak and one eye peeped around the bush. Darlene steered left-handed as I snapped photos past Nora’s nose and eased to a stop. I snapped another 20 photos before a pickup passed and the hawk flew.

On Highway 12 briefly, we turned onto Byrnes Road and passed through prime raptor range.

“That looks like an owl,” Darlene said, pointing toward a telephone pole.

It did, a great horned or a long-eared owl.

“Great horned,” Darlene concluded.

I stopped, snapped frames from the window before standing with Nora beneath the pole and the haughty, yellow-eyed stare of the owl.

It watched closely as we climbed back into the truck and rode away.

We saw pelicans way off on the left-side pond at the McNary National Wildlife Refuge, but didn’t stop.

We turned east onto Highway 124 at Burbank Heights and north a few minutes later to Ice Harbor Dam.

A coyote looking away lay in a field on my side. I stopped. It turned and with one blurring move leaped into full stride and disappeared over a knoll.

“Wow!” I said. “That was quick.”

Dozens of pelicans floated below the dam. I parked above the riprap along the bank, 20-30 yards from the water.

Hundreds of gulls mingled with the pelicans. Nora and I strolled along the bank as pelicans and gulls glided close overhead.

Nora and I walked back and forth for a long time beneath a blue-white sky, and I recorded 100-plus photos.

It was fun.

Several steelhead anglers lined the bank on the road to Charbonneau Park. Nora and I stayed in the truck at the park because Canada geese carpeted the grass, and no eagles loomed in the trees.

So, we turned back.

At Hood Park, the slanting sun cast a golden glow on the Snake River, naked trees and hazy clouds. I followed Nora into the park from near the boat launch.

An bald eagle poised regally, high in a distant tree. A photographer with a long lens stood beneath the tree. I approached slowly and stood a few feet behind the woman.

She turned and petted Nora.

We talked awhile, and as we turned back to the eagle, it flew and we both snapped images eagerly.

Nora romped free as we returned to the truck. The setting sun cast a rosy glow beyond Wallula Gap.

We stop at Arby’s for dinner, then toured homes with Christmas decorations.

What a nice Christmas Eve! Maybe we would catch a glimpse of Rudolph.

Contact Don Davis at dondavis@wwub.com. More of Don’s photos can be found online at www.tripper.smugmug.com .

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