Growing up in the more rural side of the Pacific Northwest to a family who appreciated the great outdoors, I had a childhood where “the woods” were nothing more than an extension of what I saw as home.
In the PNW, we have two ways to tell time. We have our PNW work-lifestyle of hustle and bustle where we count down the minutes between 9am to 5pm, often dread our alarms on Monday morning, and hope the week fly’s by to happy-hour Friday. But, for some of us their is this other PNW state-of-mind we carry, and with it a different sense of time. This is where we see time slow down, where we don’t mind getting up when the sun first rises on a weekend, drink a hot cup of coffee on a crisp day, and the only measure of time are the moments where we measure our day by the breaths we take. For those of us who grew up with an appreciation of latter lifestyle of time keeping, we often find a Mental North when we revisit this more natural method of time. We tend to seek this out especially at the busiest or most stressed times of the year, where we need to take the time to just watch the sun rise above tree tops, and sets below our feet looking as we look down at it from atop a mountain.
I have had this kind of natural horology fostered in me since I was a kid. And as an adult, a small grey and white bird reminds me which version of time in life really matters.
Meet ‘Le geay brun de Canada‘
Almost every one of our avian friends here in the PNW has a distinct personality that reminds the area we live in. From the pride we feel with an eagle blots out the sun, to the common goofy mallard meandering in a lake, we can see our own personality in these feather friends. But for me, these small grey and white Mountain-Top Raider perhaps more than any other fowl, are among my favorite.
Almost any time I share a photo of my old feathery friend, I will get usually two questions;
“Where is this!?” & “What bird is this?!”
Usually, a comment or two of ‘bird whisperer’ precedes these questions. They are a notable minor mascot to the PNW lifestyle and culture around the Republic of Cascadia.
In our neck-of-the-woods the Grey Jay carry several colloquial names, (most I use in bold throughout this post ), but their true name is the Canada Jay or the Perisoreus canadensis. The Canada Jay was first documented scientifically, as far as I could tell, in 1760. When the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson included a description of the this bird from a specimen he got from Canada in his book Ornithologie. You’ll have to brush up on your French to read the details, but in his text you can see that he originally called this bird Le geay brun de Canada or in Latin Garralus canadensis fuscus. Although Brisson created the Latin name, it isn’t recognized by the ICZN (International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature) Binomial System. It wouldn’t be until until 1766 when the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus updated his book Systema Naturae , and cited Brisson and in this 12th edition and added the Canada Jay and its binomial name Corvus canadensis.
You usually find Whiskey Jack watching you from above trails or at mountain vistas. For me, I am often greeted by these jays at our local mountain Koma Kulshan (Mt. Baker) As the sky season picks up, they are usually robbing ski-bums or snowboarders at the lodges of their french-fry’s when the aren’t looking- which is where their nickname Camp Robber. But, out on the trail, these birds are usually quite curious, and aren’t opposed to visiting you, sans food, if you are patient and welcoming.
How the Mountain’s in the PNW “Tweet” us
Whenever I retreat to the mountains, for some crisp air and mental clarity, I keep an ear out for flutters above the tree tops. I like saying hello to my old feathery friend from my childhood, the Snow Jay, however they are named. And as someone who adventures typically with a watch on wrist, when they come down to say hello, they remind me what the time really is.