I watch the bald eagle glide high above the Kitsap Peninsula and hear it’s shrill cry as it swoops down through the pale blue Pacific Northwest sky toward its nest in a tall Douglas fir overlooking Puget Sound.
The nesting female raises her white-feathered head as the male pumps its wings, stalls in mid-air, extends powerful legs and alights gently beside her. The nest is in the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, a brief ferry ride across Puget Sound from Seattle. The 150-hectare estate on a wooded promontory in the island’s north was bequeathed to the public by late timber magnate Prentice Bloedel.
The eagles’ nest is visible from the French-style country house that was the Bloedel family home. The library holds a photographic record of the annual nesting of the magnificent birds that are America’s national emblem. First sightings of each new bald eagle chick are religiously observed.
In the surrounding gardens I follow a network of groomed paths through second-growth forest to glens filled with magnificent rhododendrons. There are grass meadows, ponds and lakes where Trumpeter swans feed. The reserve also has a formal Japanese garden and mystical moss garden.
The ride across Puget Sound to Kitsap, just 35 minutes from downtown Seattle, is aptly branded a journey “just far enough to get away”. Ferries sail regularly between Bainbridge and Seattle’s Pier 52.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Timothy Egan has described riding the ferry towards the Seattle waterfront as “the greatest urban view anywhere in the world”. On fair-weather days the city skyline is etched against a backdrop of Mt Rainier and the Cascade Ranges.
The Peninsula is a mix of rural countryside, farms and seaside villages but also has tracts of intact wilderness where black bears rummage through the forest undergrowth. Local wetlands lure migratory birds and birdwatchers each spring and autumn. A forest in the far north has the oldest bald eagle’s nest in Washington State. White-tailed deer inhabit the woodland areas and open meadows. Kitsap also has coyotes and raccoons, even cougars and Puget Sound is home to sea lions and harbour seals and visited by orca and humpback whales.
David Guterson’s 1994 novel Snow Falling on Cedars is set on a remote Puget Sound island, one thought to have been modelled on Bainbridge, the author’s home. In his best selling novel he writes:
“… a brand of verdant beauty inclined its residents toward the poetical. Enormous hills, soft green with cedars, rose and fell in every direction. The island homes were damp and moss-covered and lay in solitary fields and vales of alfalfa, feed corn, and strawberries.”
That’s Kitsap in an eloquent nutshell. It’s no wonder that so many creative people – writers, artists, sculptors, musicians and others – have been inspired by this inspiring rural tranquility.
Fishing and berry farming are both economic mainstays along with island tourism, which in turn is good for the artists and growers. I’m not at all surprised to read that Bainbridge has been ranked among the top spots in the US to live.