Port Orchard Birding

If yesterday’s sunshine was an unexpected treat, my trip to Port Orchard for lunch after my hike at Theler Wetlands was an even more unexpected treat. When I was there last Sunday there were very few birds and with all the people out on Veterans Day I didn’t really expect to see much. But since I was there for lunch I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to walk down and check out the dock.

I wasn’t disappointed. There were a lot more birds than I’d seen at Belfair, like this small Mew Gull which seemed to glow in the bright sunshine,

Mew Gull Overhead

the first female Red-Breasted Merganser I’ve seen this season,

female Red-Breasted Merganser

the first flock of Barrow’s Goldeneye’s whether it was taking off,

Pair of Goldeneyes Taking Off


Barrow's Goldeneye Landing

or just courting a mate.

Barrow's Goldeneye Courting

Fly Away

Although rain was predicted today, and every day for the next seven days, I woke up to beautiful blue skies this morning. Since it was rather cold, for here at least, I thought perhaps it was just a break between showers, but when it was still bright blue after Skye’s morning walk I had to grab the camera and fly away for the day. After all, I’ve waited months to finish writing about Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, it couldn’t hurt to wait another day to finish.

It was bright enough that I could even set my shutter speed at 1/1600 and try for shots of birds in flight. There really weren’t too many birds at Theler Wetlands, but I would have been perfectly satisfied if I hadn’t seen a single bird. So it was a plus when I got to spend 5 minutes watching this Marsh Hawk hunting, and then being hunted by a flock of crows who finally drove him out of sight.

Marsh Hawk Poised to Dive

It wasn’t too long, though, before a small flock of Double-Crested Cormorants flew overhead,

Double-Crested Cormorant in Flight

which spooked the female Common Mergansers we were watching.

Merganser in  Flight


When I read Hardy’s novels in high school I’m pretty sure I dismissed one of the themes all four novels I read had in common which struck me as mythological claptrap, particularly when expressed through words like “Hap,” “Doomsters,” or the far older “Fates”. This theme is clearly expressed in the poem “Hap:”

IF but some vengeful god would call to me
  From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
  That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”
  Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
  Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
 Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

  But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
  And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
  And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan….
  These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.

I preferred to believe my future success, or failure, depended upon my own merits and not upon pure Chance, much less, Fate, sounded like Greek mythology to me. Older and wiser, I’m no longer quite so sure. No, I don’t believe in Greek Gods, but “crass casualty” has seemed to play a significant part in my life and probably in other’s lives as well.

I’d still like to believe that the mere whim of another person could not affect my fate as surely it did Tess’s future when the parson told her father of his “noble” heritage:

“Good night, Sir John,” said the parson.

The pedestrian, after another pace or two, halted, and turned round.

“Now, sir, begging your pardon; we met last market-day on this road about this time, and I said ‘Good night,’ and you made reply ‘_Good night, Sir John_,’ as now.”

“I did,” said the parson.

“And once before that–near a month ago.”

“I may have.”

“Then what might your meaning be in calling me ‘Sir John’ these different times, when I be plain Jack Durbeyfield, the haggler?”

The parson rode a step or two nearer.

“It was only my whim,” he said; and, after a moment’s hesitation: “It was on account of a discovery I made some little time ago, whilst I was hunting up pedigrees for the new county history. I am Parson Tringham, the antiquary, of Stagfoot Lane. Don’t you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family of the d’Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan d’Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?”

“Never heard it before, sir!”

“Well it’s true. Throw up your chin a moment, so that I may catch the profile of your face better. Yes, that’s the d’Urberville nose and chin–a little debased. Your ancestor was one of the twelve knights who assisted the Lord of Estremavilla in Normandy in his conquest of Glamorganshire. Branches of your family held manors over all this part of England; their names appear in the Pipe Rolls in the time of King Stephen. In the reign of King John one of them was rich enough to give a manor to the Knights Hospitallers; and in Edward the Second’s time your forefather Brian was summoned to Westminster to attend the great Council there. You declined a little in Oliver Cromwell’s time, but to no serious extent, and in Charles the Second’s reign you were made Knights of the Royal Oak for your loyalty. Aye, there have been generations of Sir Johns among you, and if knighthood were hereditary, like a baronetcy, as it practically was in old times, when men were knighted from father to son, you would be Sir John now.”

“Ye don’t say so!”

“In short,” concluded the parson, decisively smacking his leg with his switch, “there’s hardly such another family in England.”

Many, if not all of us, have heard rumors about our family’s “noble” past, and it has had no effect on us, but the parson himself had doubts whether he should tell Jack Durbeyfield his family heritage. It quickly becomes clear he shouldn’t have because Jack immediately take on airs. In the end this “innocent” remark leads directly to Tess’s seduction when the family sends her to seek help from family members who (ironically, this is, after all, a Hardy novel) weren’t relatives at all.

Another chance incident, the death of the family’s only horse leads Tess to give in to her mother’s urgings that she appeal to rich relatives. Just before this accident Tess and her brother have this conversation:

“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”


“All like ours?”

“I don’t know; but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound–a few blighted.”

“Which do we live on–a splendid one or a blighted one?”

“A blighted one.”

“‘Tis very unlucky that we didn’t pitch on a sound one, when there were so many more of ’em!”


It is this unlucky accident that finally forces Tess to visit her rich “relatives” because she feels guilty about the death of their family’s main source of income even though she and her brother had undertaken the trip because their father was unable to get up after drinking too much the night before.

Right after Tess meets Alec d’Urberville, we read:

Thus the thing began. Had she perceived this meeting’s import she might have asked why she was doomed to be seen and coveted that day by the wrong man, and not by some other man, the right and desired one in all respects–as nearly as humanity can supply the right and desired; yet to him who amongst her acquaintance might have approximated to this kind, she was but a transient impression, half forgotten.

In the ill-judged execution of the well-judged plan of things the call seldom produces the comer, the man to love rarely coincides with the hour for loving. Nature does not often say “See!” to her poor creature at a time when seeing can lead to happy doing; or reply “Here!” to a body’s cry of “Where?” till the hide-and-seek has become an irksome, outworn game. We may wonder whether at the acme and summit of the human progress these anachronisms will be corrected by a finer intuition, a closer interaction of the social machinery than that which now jolts us round and along; but such completeness is not to be prophesied, or even conceived as possible. Enough that in the present case, as in millions, it was not the two halves of a perfect whole that confronted each other at the perfect moment; a missing counterpart wandered independently about the earth waiting in crass obtuseness till the late time came. Out of which maladroit delay sprang anxieties, disappointments, shocks, catastrophes, and passing-strange destinies.

One suspects the narrator’s not the only one who’s wondered about the vagaries of Love. Where would Country Music or the Blues be without such questioning? I doubt we’ve yet attained the “acme and summit of the human progress” where “these anachronisms will be corrected by a finer intuition, a closer interaction of the social machinery than that which now jolts us round and along.”

Unfortunately, sometimes Hardy’s use of “chance,” or “coincidence” seems heavy handed, used more as a plot device than as a philosophical point of view. For instance, when Tess goes to Angel’s family to seek help she suddenly fears that condemnation and turns away:

Then she grieved for the beloved man whose conventional standard of judgement had caused her all these latter sorrows; and she went her way without knowing that the greatest misfortune of her life was this feminine loss of courage at the last and critical moment through her estimating her father-in-law by his sons. Her present condition was precisely one which would have enlisted the sympathies of old Mr and Mrs Clare. Their hearts went out of them at a bound towards extreme cases, when the subtle mental troubles of the less desperate among mankind failed to win their interest or regard. In jumping at Publicans and Sinners they would forget that a word might be said for the worries of Scribes and Pharisees; and this defect or limitation might have recommended their own daughter-in-law to them at this moment as a fairly choice sort of lost person for their love.

This scene reminded me of too many scenes in Return of the Native where Hardy focused on characters’ misunderstandings to the point that, for me, at least, it began to undermine the credibility of the story rather than highlighting the problems created by people who stereotype others or who jump to conclusions about others.

I’ll have to admit I’m irritated that Hardy felt it necessary to have Angel’s father convert Alec to Christianity, making Alec regret his past and seek out those he’s offended. This conversion seems to lead inevitably back to Tess and causing her willingness to hear Alec out. The irony is impossible to ignore, but the unlikelihood of the event stretches my willing suspension of disbelief further than it can go, undermines the plot, seems contrived — and ultimately seems unnecessary.

In the end, though, I’m still convinced by Hardy’s portrayal of Tess’ life. Seeing my own life in retrospect, mere chance can play havoc with the best of plans and shape our lives in ways we can never rationally anticipate.

“Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess. And the d’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing.

The difficulty is in determining how much of what has happened to us is the result of pure chance and how much is determined by other factors. One suspects that Tess’ luck wouldn’t have had such disastrous results if it hadn’t been abetted by her station in life and by societal prejudices.

Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles

As I stated here quite awhile ago, Thomas Hardy’s works changed my life. Before I read his novels in a senior English class, I thought I would major in mathematics or physics in college. When I applied at the University of Washington I was initially accepted as a Physics Major. After writing my senior research paper on Hardy, I knew I wanted to major in English. Though I suspect there was actually many factors in this decision, the kind of insight I gained from Hardy’s novels and poetry drew me like a magnet.

Although Hardy’s primary theme in Tess of the D’Urbervilles focuses on the hypocrisy that allows men to have sex before marriage while condemning women for doing the same, he’s too good of a writer to believe that a tragedy like the one that befalls Tess can be attributed to a single cause.

The beginning of the novel focuses, instead, on the Durbeyfields. Though more competent than her “shiftless husband,” Mrs Durbeyfield seems incapable of dealing with everyday life:

This going to hunt up her shiftless husband at the inn was one of Mrs Durbeyfield’s still extant enjoyments in the muck and muddle of rearing children. To discover him at Rolliver’s, to sit there for an hour or two by his side and dismiss all thought and care of the children during the interval, made her happy. A sort of halo, an occidental glow, came over life then. Troubles and other realities took on themselves a metaphysical impalpability, sinking to mere mental phenomena for serene contemplation, and no longer stood as pressing concretions which chafed body and soul. The youngsters, not immediately within sight, seemed rather bright and desirable appurtenances than otherwise; the incidents of daily life were not without humorousness and jollity in their aspect there. She felt a little as she had used to feel when she sat by her now wedded husband in the same spot during his wooing, shutting her eyes to his defects of character, and regarding him only in his ideal presentation as lover.

Not surprisingly, this behavior foreshadows Tess’s tragic life:

All these young souls were passengers in the Durbeyfield ship–entirely dependent on the judgement of the two Durbeyfield adults for their pleasures, their necessities, their health, even their existence. If the heads of the Durbeyfield household chose to sail into difficulty, disaster, starvation, disease, degradation, death, thither were these half-dozen little captives under hatches compelled to sail with them–six helpless creatures, who had never been asked if they wished for life on any terms, much less if they wished for it on such hard conditions as were involved in being of the shiftless house of Durbeyfield. Some people would like to know whence the poet whose philosophy is in these days deemed as profound and trustworthy as his song is breezy and pure, gets his authority for speaking of “Nature’s holy plan.”

I doubt passages like this made much of an impression on me when I read it in high school because my family was closer to poor than rich, but I was still naive enough to believe that I could become anything I wanted to become. However, after years working as a caseworker and a teacher, I’m all too aware of the disastrous effect of poor parenting on children.I think it’s far easier to overcome poverty than it is to overcome poor parenting.

It’s this grinding poverty, abetted by foolish aspirations, that puts Tess in the hands of Alec D’Urberville, as she is vaguely aware from the very beginning:

Then, examining the mesh of events in her own life, she seemed to see the vanity of her father’s pride; the gentlemanly suitor awaiting herself in her mother’s fancy; to see him as a grimacing personage, laughing at her poverty and her shrouded knightly ancestry. Everything grew more and more extravagant, and she no longer knew how time passed. A sudden jerk shook her in her seat, and Tess awoke from the sleep into which she, too, had fallen.

Even though Tess was more aware of the dangers of her position than her foolish parents, she felt obligated to go in order to replace the horse that had been killed when she fell asleep on the road:

Having at last taken her course Tess was less restless and abstracted, going about her business with some self-assurance in the thought of acquiring another horse for her father by an occupation which would not be onerous. She had hoped to be a teacher at the school, but the fates seemed to decide otherwise. Being mentally older than her mother she did not regard Mrs Durbeyfield’s matrimonial hopes for her in a serious aspect for a moment. The light-minded woman had been discovering good matches for her daughter almost from the year of her birth.

Though it’s better known now that the children in dsyfunctional families, particularly alcoholic families, will assume roles that allow the family to survive, I’m sure I’d never heard of that concept when I read this novel. It’s clear, though, that Tess tries to play the “hero,” a role often filled by the oldest child who serves as a surrogate parent in an alcoholic family.

Though Mr. Durbeyfield is foolish enough to think he can somehow lay claim to his royal heritage through his daughter’s efforts, it’s Mrs Durbeyfield that seems most responsible for Tess’s seduction by Alec for she sends her off hoping that she will be able to attract a rich husband that will lift them all out of their poverty:

“And yet th’st not got him to marry ‘ee!” reiterated her mother. “Any woman would have done it but you, after that!”

“Perhaps any woman would except me.”

“It would have been something like a story to come back with, if you had!” continued Mrs Durbeyfield, ready to burst into tears of vexation. “After all the talk about you and him which has reached us here, who would have expected it to end like this! Why didn’t ye think of doing some good for your family instead o’ thinking only of yourself? See how I’ve got to teave and slave, and your poor weak father with his heart clogged like a dripping-pan. I did hope for something to come out o’ this! To see what a pretty pair you and he made that day when you drove away together four months ago! See what he has given us–all, as we thought, because we were his kin. But if he’s not, it must have been done because of his love for ‘ee. And yet you’ve not got him to marry!”

Get Alec d’Urberville in the mind to marry her! He marry HER! On matrimony he had never once said a word. And what if he had? How a convulsive snatching at social salvation might have impelled her to answer him she could not say. But her poor foolish mother little knew her present feeling towards this man. Perhaps it was unusual in the circumstances, unlucky, unaccountable; but there it was; and this, as she had said, was what made her detest herself. She had never wholly cared for him; she did not at all care for him now. She had dreaded him, winced before him, succumbed to adroit advantages he took of her helplessness; then, temporarily blinded by his ardent manners, had been stirred to confused surrender awhile: had suddenly despised and disliked him, and had run away. That was all. Hate him she did not quite; but he was dust and ashes to her, and even for her name’s sake she scarcely wished to marry him.

“You ought to have been more careful if you didn’t mean to get him to make you his wife!”

“O mother, my mother!” cried the agonized girl, turning passionately upon her parent as if her poor heart would break. “How could I be expected to know? I was a child when I left this house four months ago. Why didn’t you tell me there was danger in men-folk? Why didn’t you warn me? Ladies know what to fend hands against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks; but I never had the chance o’ learning in that way, and you did not help me!”

Her mother was subdued.

“I thought if I spoke of his fond feelings and what they might lead to, you would be hontish wi’ him and lose your chance,” she murmured, wiping her eyes with her apron. “Well, we must make the best of it, I suppose. ‘Tis nater, after all, and what do please God!”

In Hardy’s next novel, Jude the Obscure, we see the kind of girl that uses a “pregnancy” to trap a man in the character of Arabella. It would be impossible to transform such a woman into a sympathetic vicim, much less a heroine. Tess’s pregnancy reminds me that during the years I taught high school far too often it was the “good girl,” the one who swore she would never have sex before marriage, not the girls who seemed to jump from boyfriend to boyfriend, that ended up pregnant. Innocence has its appeal, but knowledge is essential to cope with a world that is too often anything but “innocent.”

Tess’s desire to help her family after they lose their home upon their father’s death, sets into motion the final tragedy for Alec knew how to take advantage of her desire to help her brothers and sister in order to regain her from Angel:

“Where are you going to next? To join your dear husband?”

She could not bear the humiliating reminder.

“O–I don’t know!” she said bitterly. “I have no husband!”

“It is quite true–in the sense you mean. But you have a friend, and I have determined that you shall be comfortable in spite of yourself. When you get down to your house you will see what I have sent there for you.”

“O, Alec, I wish you wouldn’t give me anything at all! I cannot take it from you! I don’t like–it is not right!”

“It IS right!” he cried lightly. “I am not going to see a woman whom I feel so tenderly for as I do for you in trouble without trying to help her.”

“But I am very well off! I am only in trouble about–about–not about living at all!”

She turned, and desperately resumed her digging, tears dripping upon the fork-handle and upon the clods.

“About the children–your brothers and sisters,” he resumed. “I’ve been thinking of them.”

Tess’s heart quivered–he was touching her in a weak place. He had divined her chief anxiety. Since returning home her soul had gone out to those children with an affection that was passionate.

This short passage foreshadows Tess’s return to Alec for the sake of her family. I know I’d forgotten the ending of the novel until I reread it. I’m still not entirely convinced that Tess would have ever gone back to Alec after her initial experience but her willingness to sacrifice herself for her family seems consistent with her character throughout the novel.