A walk through the sanctuary

Wandering the boardwalk in the wee hours is the thing I love most about my life right now. There are no hard conversations to be had. There is no outrageous news blaring from a box or a screen and there are no expectations of me other than the ones I have of myself: That I be respectful. That I be mindful. That I am attentive and that I understand that I am not separate from this place. 

I think it’s time for a proper introduction to the oasis I consider my second home. It is part refuge, part sanctuary and sometimes it feels like the thing that saves my life over and over. It lies in both Thurston and Pierce counties in Washington State and makes up more than 900 acres of restored delta flats. It was named for the tribal leader and treaty rights activist, Billy Frank Jr. He led a grassroots campaign for fishing rights on the tribe’s Nisqually River in the 1960-70’s and while he fought hard for treaty rights, his is a love story too. 

Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1974 to protect the Nisqually Delta. In 2009 it was renovated by removing 100 year old dikes and dams to restore tidal flow by reconnecting 762 acres with the tides of Puget Sound. An estuary is defined as that transition zone where a body of freshwater river meets the ocean. The result is brackish water (brackish being salty, but not as salty, as the ocean). Something about that meeting of tide and stream creates an environment where life thrives. It is a biologically rich and diverse area that supports a variety of habitats.

It was established to also provide essential habitat for migratory birds. The sea life that is supported provides food for sea birds, shore birds, songbirds and raptors. A January walk will reveal many of those benefittng from the restoration and preservation of this protected space. 

I was actually surprised to learn that the Puget Sound is an estuary. I had no idea. It is, in fact, one of the largest estuaries in the United States. It is second only to the Chesapeake Bay, that stretches nearly 200 miles from Maryland to Virginia. Protecting and restoring the Nisqually Delta plays a key role in the ongoing recovery of Puget Sound. As one system thrives, so do others. 

There is a lot to be learned about the national refuge system, the Nisqually Restoration Project and Billy Frank Jr. For anyone looking to really do a deep dive into this remarkable place, a simple Google search will bring a wealth of information. 

Any meeting of a river and a sea is a place of change … it will be proof of our ability to survive, if we learn to respect wild places like the Nisqually Delta, to trust them for their naturalness and to love them for their power to move us”   – Victor B Scheffer

The gates to the refuge operate on a timer and are generally open sunrise to sunset. There are two large lots available for parking and between them lies the visitor center. There’s a kiosk at the center where you can find maps and pay the $3 daily fee (and any additional donation) to help support the refuge. Your America the Beautiful pass is good here, as well as other options you can read about at the kiosk. 

Visitor Center

During these unprecedented Covid times, the visitor center and bathrooms are temporarily closed. There are portable toilets onsite near both parking lots and also out at the twin barns as you head out to the dike road. Bring your own sanitizer !

Here are some of my favorite photos from the past 12 months. Every season tells a story of it’s own and I feel forever grateful for the chance to more intimately know this amazing place. 

Northern Harrier

If someone would have told me even two years ago that I would find this sanctuary such a place of personal renewal, I might have scoffed. Why is it that it takes an advance in years to fully appreciate what is essentially in our own backyard ? 

Maybe I am living into a new calling. I had an idea what I might do with my life after the P.O. but it never looked like this. I am working now to find a meaningful balance within what I see, what I create and what I witness. I started this blog four years ago hoping to find an extension of those ideas and create an outlet for just such things. 

For those who are reading and those who choose to leave a comment, thank you. It is so gratifying to write and share with you what I see and how I experience the world. If you are so inclined, I would love for you to share the link to this blog with anyone that you think might appreciate my perspective. You can hit the FOLLOW button to sign up to get an email when a post is published. It is the ultimate compliment and as I move through the coming year, I will be sharing more to these pages and less to more traditional social media. 

Come learn with me. 

Leonard Cohen wrote : 
So come, my friends
Be not afraid
We are so lightly here … 

May our presence be less alarming and more inquisitive. Less bewildered, more amazed. May we take on the gentle pace that is nature .. and may we thrive in her presence.

Join me

In Search of the Very