Friday, March 27, 2009

Hunting Day

From the canoe -
I'm preparing for a slide lecture on my artwork that I will give next month. My prep for these things, being that they are never the same and I don't like to prepare exactly,(I can't read the rest of the sentence, ha). I've been thinking a lot about my path as an artist. That path has no known destination, nor does it have clear direction. It has dead ends that branch off, it has distractions, and it has chance encounters with people that think that you are on the same path as they are, but you are not, or maybe you are but only for a moment. At times the path disappears and some amount of searching or sitting and thinking about where you are has to occur before finding your way again. One thing is for sure, when I am centered on the path I can feel it.

It is gray and drizzling at times today. The temperature is about 40F. It is not a pleasant day, but in the words of Elwood P. Dowd, "it is a fine day, they always are." Which brings to mind two movies that you should see when you are out of sorts. 'Harvey', with Jimmy Stewart, and 'Pollyanna', with Haley Mills and Karl Malden. Don't underestimate Pollyanna just because it is a g-rated Disney movie.

I paddle out to the dirtberg, which is slowly sinking. It is in the same spot as before. I dig a chunk of the surface out (see photo) to see what it is made of, which is (surprise) swamp muck. Lots of rotting vegetation in a matrix of dense muddy poop. I guess that it is dense enough to trap swamp gas underneath, which is what I think causes these floating islands. On the north shore, I spot a few very beautiful green winged teal. I also find a mating pair of ring-necked ducks. Moving east, ducks out on the lake begin to scatter and I see a Bald Eagle skimming the surface aiming for a flock of coots. The eagle has come from nearly a half mile to go after that particular flock. The flock refuses to take wing, skittering across the water as one instead. The eagle circles, hovers and circles. It's white tail is toward me and spread wide in a fan. After a couple of minutes, it finally drops and catches the coot, immediately setting off east towards the NE lagoon instead of the lunch counter. Drifting with the wind into the lagoon, I can see the eagle has the coot draped over a branch, holding it in place with it's left foot and eating it at a fast pace. Leaving the lagoon, a Canada goose takes a defensive posture towards me. 20 feet further I spot its mate sitting firm on a brand new nest, the first that I've seen this spring. I head into the wind to cross the bay and return via the east channel of the burial island.
I also saw a kingfisher, two northern flickers, a sharp shinned hawk and more common mergansers than usual.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


It's very calm and gray. It sprinkles, but so lightly that my wool pants dry as fast as the rain settles. I'm in the big lake. I'm paddling past opulence . I can't actually say that it is wealth or success. I never see the owners of these great lakefront homes. Not in the yards nor looking out the big windows that face the water. The only ones that seem to enjoy these choice properties are the gardeners and workmen that take care of them. Be careful of what you wish/work/aim for.
If that guy would shut off the lawnmower, it would be remarkably peaceful.
Up ahead, Gilligan jams the throttles on his big boat the second he gets to Wilson Point, where the speed limit ends. A cormorant projectile craps from a buoy and a DeHavilland Beaver passes over my right shoulder, its radial engine rumbling at 250 feet.
I see a condominium with minty blue glass used as balcony fence. The glass is the same color as "Tidy Bowl". Does the lake appear safe and sanitary from inside those apartments?
In Union Bay, the Coast Guard is busy messing about with buoys. Lots of swallows near shore. The bay is a melting pot of ducks today. More types than normal and in some cases, such as the mergansers, they are in bigger groups than I have seen. I stop and sit in the branches of the lunchcounter perch and drink coffee. The eagles are in the burial island perch, 3/4 mile south of me. Then I head over to the dirtberg, which has sunk a bit and not moved - it shouldn't have, 4 days of south winds should have pushed it to grounding. I will head to the south end of Lake Union today to take out. It is raining lightly, but it is very calm and I am washed out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dirtberg Movements

In the photo is the right half of the dirtberg in Union Bay. It has moved a hundred yards or so in the last 2 days. The above water portion is about 3 canoe lengths in diameter (40-45 feet). Most of the berg is below water and I can touch it 10 or 15 feet from the visible edge. Having risen from the lake bed, there is no vegetation on the berg. I did spot a large cobble and, of course, several litter items. For those in need of more info, from the dirtberg, the N. point (where the beaver is slowly cutting down a tree) is 042 deg true and the NE edge of the shell house is 303 deg true. The plan today was to paddle the bay quickly and jot down all of the birds that I saw. It was about 40F, but the wind came up soon after I started, so I noted birds for only about half of the paddle. Here they are, in order...

Mallards, Teal and Pied Billed Grebes,
Buffleheads and Canada Geese,
Crow, Widgeons and Hooded Merganser,
Gadwalls, Wood Duck, Violet Green Swallows,
Coots and Pidgeons and Cormorants,
Common Merganser and a Great Blue Heron,
Red Wing Blackbird and a bunch of Robins,
An unkown Sparrow and a Northern Flicker.

Of note, the Violet Green Swallows are here in force and have just migrated in from points south.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dear Mr. Science, What's a Dirtberg?

After a few days of rain and wind, the day started in the upper 20's, calm and foggy. The fog cleared before I got into the canoe. I'm making a compass transit map today. So, from key spots around the bay, I stop and take compass bearings of other key spots (tips of islands, points, directions of shorelines, etc.) If possible, I get out and pace off distances between points. Then, if I have connected all of the dots, I can sit down and make a reasonably accurate map. This is exactly what the earlier explorers did - although, they were faster and more practiced than I. The birds are calm today. The wintering contingent is still here although there are more mergansers in the bay, which I think is a result of stormy weather. One eagle was back near its nest in the NE corner. There were a lot of people out today enjoying the weather, which is always good to see. The lake is full up or nearly so. Today's photo is taken from the center of one of the boggy west islands that I often refer to. In mid winter this is above water. And, there is one of the mysterious dirtbergs out in the bay today. Every once in a while, a big piece of bogstuff breaks off (from the bottom of the lake - not the edge) and drifts around in the lake. It's marked with a bright buoy, which is a good idea because the above water area is about 20 x 15 feet and just like an iceberg, most of the dirtberg is below water. Maybe I'll measure it later. Maybe no one has ever studied the physics of the dirtberg. Maybe I could get a PhD in messing about in canoes by writing a thesis on dirtbergs. Forunately, my canoe is unsinkable. I paddled south down Lake Washington to take-out. It was over 50F by that time. Several people stopped me to ask about my canoe-cart.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Ease in the Weather

Writing in the boat -
It's overcast and 45ish with a breeze from the SSE. I put in on Lake Washington. What color is this that the water seems when it is so overcast?
The wind is up more than I noticed when I walked my canoe to the water. I paddle north with a following wind and waves that are not yet a foot high. A quarter mile out from the floating bridge the wave echo becomes apparent and the regularity of the waves disappears and is replaced by a chaotic chop. In big winds this effect can create peaks and holes 6 feet high or deep. Three common mergansers (2F+1M) lead me for about 100 yards. They are beautiful in their peak mating colors. A horned grebe is off to my right, also very colorful. I stop and drift while drinking coffee. (Once in Union Bay, I begin to paddle to key points to take compass bearings for a sketch map. The eagles are both perched near the entrance to the NE lagoon, which is also close to their nest).
Paddling to the west islands I pass a super-dense flock of coots, maybe 100 in a solid mass. There are three common mergansers sitting on the diving board log. The starting and stopping of the compass work is leaving me chilled, so it is time to go. I collect a grocery bag full of garbage, about half of which is tennis balls.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Doin' arty stuff

Writing in the canoe today.
My sketch map experiment seemed to work, so today I am out getting some more compass bearings in Union Bay. I put in at the south lagoon. I head east to Madison Park point and north to Wilson Point. Then I follow the shore taking pairs of bearings at several locations. Now, I am drifting at the mouth of the NE lagoon. It is sunny, 50F and almost calm. What breeze there is is pushing me slowly into the lagoon. Lily pads are starting to push up - not yet at the surface though. Buffleheads are still around. It won't be long until they head north to the arctic coast. Time for a quick paddle to get me off the shore... I've seen no eagles yet. I did see 8 herons a the exit of the east channel at the burial island. Not too many other boats for such a nice day, although "the skipper" and his two children, Gilligan and Maryann, did throw a good wake at me when I crossed the shipping channel. I got out to look around in the lagoon and found the beaver track in the photo. The prints went deep enough into the soft mud that the tail smoothed the surface without erasing the tracks (the plastic camera case is about 8 inches long). I saw two killdeer, a kingfisher, a stellar's jay and a dunlin (I'm pretty sure). I also collected a 1/2 garbage can of junk. As I headed back, the wind picked up to almost 15mph, right in the face.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Great Plans

I had great plans to go out and write while floating in the bay. But, I didn't... as often happens, once I get a chance to move, I tend to just move. It was sunny and about 40 F with a 10-15 m wind out of the NW. I put in at the south lagoons and immediately an eagle flew over, circling and drifting south with the wind. It was finicky paddling with the wind at just the right direction to swing the canoe off line if I didn't pay attention. It was even windy among the west islands. A female hooded merganser sat on the divingboard log (photo) near the north shore. When I paddled downwind back to my put-in, I spotted two eagles near the burial island. They may have been hunting, or perhaps it was something territorial. There seemed to be a lot of eagle-flying-around today. I noticed that new cattails are starting to push up on the north shore. Some of them are 6 or 8 inches, but I think they grow pretty fast once they start. Since I used my cart today, I got in a couple miles of walking along with the canoe trip, so, my head is back on straight... or as straight as it ever gets. And, the swans are definitely gone.

Monday, March 9, 2009

More people should be out on days like this

It's mostly cloudy, windy and cold enough to snow, because it did. The thick dark clouds put a steel blue color on the bay. When the sun pops under at just the right angle, it spotlights the ducks and leaves the water dark. I head out through the east channel next to the burial island. There is still a few extra inches of water in the lake, so I paddle along the edge of the marsh, because you can't do that once the lily pads have come up in the spring. I see a dead beaver back 10 feet in the cattails. Scavengers have just started to nibble on it, so it has probably been less than a week. I cross the bay. I don't see the eagles and I do not find the last two swans - they are probably back up near Skagit Bay. Over by the west islands, I haul a large road construction barrel out of the water. Then, I spot both eagles in a tree on the west shore. The female flies over as I head towards them, she is enormous. Enjoying the blustery day and not ready to quite I head through the cut into Portage Bay and continue into Lake Union. The wind there is out of the west as I paddle south into the lake. The wind is stronger, the waves are bigger, but not yet white-capped. I paddle past the drydock where they are dismantling the Wawona, an old wooden bald-headed schooner. They never got the funds to restore her and she has been slowly rotting in the lake since before I moved here. I remember when she still had her masts up. It starts snowing. I take out and walk up over the hill to home.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Two Swans A O K

It's a cold sunny day with a light wind from the SE. My fingers hurt from the cold for the first half hour. The lake is up 6 inches from the winter low and moving about in the marsh is easier. The turtles are not out today, returning to wherever they go like groundhogs that have seen (or not) their shadows. I head ccw around Union Bay. A small yellow seaplane lands near me, an unusual occurrence on the bay. I'm not sure it is legal, but it doesn't matter as the airplane had no registration numbers - which is definitely not legal. Over in the NE lagoon, their is a medium sized hawk, but I can't ID it. As I leave the lagoon, one eagle flies in and perches by the lunch counter. I'm paddling west along the shore and scanning for stuff when I see the tail of an otter going under. It must have seen me and I stop to see where it will surface. It didn't see me, because it comes up just 10 feet away and rolls on its back to eat, then it sees me and it's gone. As I get past the north point, a herd of coots starts thrashing and a moment later the eagle comes from behind me and begins hunting a coot that has dove. This time, the coot makes a long underwater swim (for a bird without webbed feet) and comes up when the eagle is looking in a different direction. The coot makes its escape and the eagle circles stubbornly for a few minutes until it finally gives up. As I head back to the put-in, I see 7 herons together in the sun where I had seen so many last week. Geese are making noise again today also. The last two swans, both gray are still here. Today, I used my new paddle, an ottertail shape that I just finished. It feels good with a good balance and just about the right amount of dig.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Beaver and Vintage Garbage Day

After art-moping in the morning, I head down to Union Bay. I follow the shoreline closely, hoping to hear the river otters, but no. So, I pick some trash including a vintage Listerine bottle and this pre-1975 Pepsi can, which was in mint condition until I dropped a tire on it, and a bunch of tennis balls. I find it interesting how gentle the lake can be with some debris - that a 34+ year old can should survive, bobbing in the lake for so long. The day is mostly calm and sunny, mid 50's with some spectacular clouds. In fact, the birds are surprisingly calm - that is the adjective for the lake today, "calm". It is a good day for spotting wildlife. My first spot is something submerged, I see a faint vee shaped ripple on the surface as it swims under my canoe. Holding up for a moment I see a turtle's head pop up. There are many turtles out today, more than I have seen in 3 months. Only two gray swans are left in the bay today. Paddling the north shore, I spot a beaver gnawing on something at the shore. It has the big flat tail, so I know it is not a nutrea or muskrat (and is larger than any nutrea that I've seen). I talk to a bird watcher and we see the eagle pair fly over, they are not hunting here. Heron activity is back to normal, no big congragations like I've seen during the last week. Then, to celebrate the beaver sighting, I go haul a big heavy tire out of the marsh.