Thursday, April 29, 2010

Moving Islands

I'm a curmudgeon today and I put in on the big lake and just want to go. I've just finished a new paddle for the Skagit River, but I dip another new paddle on this trip, one that I've made for the Elwha River. It looks like a ransom note, the legacy of a former senator from this state that held restoration of the Elwha hostage while making political deals.
The big lodge goose nest
The barge next to the big lodge is dredging lake bottom today. I think that it might be building a large boat slip for the landowner. I don't have anything polite to say about that. The goose nest on the south side of the lodge is doing well. (check the April 7th post for more details on this nest - the eggs should hatch about one week from now - about 26-28 days for Canada goose eggs)

I find a dead beaver floating in the water just north of the east marsh. It might be a 20 pounder, and I get a good look at the paws and tail.

As I turn the point towards the east channel of the burial island, I find my view partially blocked. Part of the marsh island has moved a good 30 or 40 feet out into the normal canoe channel. I circle the island and GPS the corners, but it is hard to see exactly what and how it has moved. Most of the shore edges seem to be about where they should be. It might be that the southern tip has split off and rotated out. The water is very high right now, apparently high enough to float the bog free of the lake bottom. It should be a fairly permanent change and it will be interested to see if where it all ends up.

I hear voices in the brushy shoreline of the burial island, and investigating find two guys on a geocache hunt. We chat a bit, but they aren't interested in anything except finding the little box. They have completely reinforced my opinion that it is a pointlessly weird activity. It doesn't teach navigation skills and the competition of finding the little boxes... aw, I told you, I am a curmudgeon today. I head through the Crossing Under Place and take out in Portage Bay. This weekend is opening boating day here, and the plastic toy ship mai-tai drinking fancy pants cigar smoking where's-the-brake-on-this-god-damned-thing "yachtsmen" are crudding up the place.
... told you, I am a curmudgeon today.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where the Garden Gnomes are

Portage Bay - before I can even get seated at my kneeling thwart, a young bald eagle sweeps by pursued by a blackbird. The eagle is just newly mature with brown feathers still mixed in with the white tail that is the signature of maturity. The wind bumps me up against the beaver lodge and I watch until the eagle decides to soar high over the 'Crossing Over Place'.
There are clouds today and it is windy. I believe it will rain later. The blue that shows between the clouds is a single color that we see when the weather blows the ocean moisture away. It is a blue that hurts ones eyes to look at too much, like a pure musical note that bears on the ear when held too long. If one makes a landscape painting with the sky done in this color, it might be judged to be a poor painting because no one ever remembers the sky being this pure color. Today, the clouds save me from madness, but at the cost of a couple downpours.

I find three pairs of northern shovelers near the west lodge. I usually only see one pair in any one place, so they may be preparing for migration. They do not seem to nest here.

With the very high water, I head up Ravenna Creek and find that I can go all of the way to "Where the Water Reappears", the name I have for the end of the culvert where this creek resurfaces after passing under a shopping center. It is lots of twisting, ducking and nudging to pass through low branches and fallen trees, but it is not especially difficult. It begins to rain hard and on the way out, two cinnamon teal are flushed and the male is truly the color of cinnamon. Another pair of northern shovelers wait at the mouth of the creek.
Garden Gnomes
It is straight across the bay to the north end of the east marsh. This area will be totally destroyed by a new bridge with an obsolete and unimaginative design, a bridge that will not only be obsolete twenty years from now, but will be obsolete on the day it is finished. So, I drag my canoe over the 30 feet of floating bog to one of the beaver canals that is just inches wider than my boat. Then, I pole and nudge the canoe into the center where I just sit and soak it all in for awhile. There are dozens of rounded tree stumps, little sculptures left by the beaver and they remind me of garden gnomes. I want to remember this place. No one else ever comes in here, they look at the little channels and can't imagine that they go anywhere, but they do, they go here and I sense something special in this place. It is mine, for now.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day

My portage begins without aim and I walk a hundred yards or two before deciding to head west instead of north or east. Either way the canoe will go in the water and I will go in the canoe. If all goes well, if I wonder at the beauty of it all in spite of man's mistakes, I may move another inch towards becoming a child of nature. It seems as good of a path as any, perhaps a path to some sort of enlightenment, but certainly better than many of the directions that one could take.
And some people think that I am just canoeing.

I cross Lake Union and paddle north into the wind until working across into and through the top of Portage Bay, through the Crossing Under Place and into Union Bay, the pearl. At Broken Island, the goose nest is all well and there is even a second nest on the west edge. The west lodge nest is totally abandoned now with all of the eggs gone. I spot a northern shoveler nearby and the first blossoms of the lily pads. I edge the north shore and the north marsh sneaking into the NE lagoon where a northern flicker sits in a willow tree that overlooks the goose nest that I found here earlier. It is fine although it is only 3 inches above water. It is calm in the lagoon and the trees that enclose the area are leafing out, enclosing the area even more.

I cut straight south across the bay, finding a new goose nest at the top of the east marsh. This is probably about the peak of goose nesting right now, there are few un-nested geese anywhere. It is a beautiful paddle in brilliant sunlit green as I finish up through the east channel of the burial island.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Church Alter

I set out into the big lake with light winds from the NW and clouds. Here, in the lee of the hills the water is quite calm while a cool breeze washes through me.

This is church, more than any other that I've experienced. I don't know if there is a god and, if so, I certainly don't believe that any god cares much about whether or not I believe. But, as I move ever closer to becoming a child of nature, a job title that I will never be qualified for, the presence of something greater is never more apparent than it is here in my canoe.

And here, in these altered waters, and if one just sees, they will witness how brutally altered they are, I still know that all of our constructions, destructions and improvements are temporary. Nature will undo them eventually, and eventually is little more than a breath for nature. So many of these alterations and so much of the progress only denies us from the wonder and pleasure of the creation.

The water is higher today, the highest that I've seen. I find a construction barge moored near the big lodge, but the lodge and goose nest are just fine. With this high water, I work my way a hundred yards farther into the east marsh than ever before. It is the stunted swamp forest of the beaver, a tangle of misshapen trees, rarely bigger than 4 or 5 inches in diameter, and it requires twisting, ducking and nudging to make headway. I hear the whistle of a bald eagle, but never see it.

On the west side of the east marsh, I find a new goose nest in construction. The female sitting firm and grabbing cattail spears from around her and tucking them under. The mate watches from 20 yards out.

In the small circle lagoon, I find a pair of northern shovelers. I thought they had gone north, but here they are.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Goosis Canadensis

Okay, I made that up. I get to the big lake after noon and set out in sunny sixty something degree weather with a very light wind. I don't particularly like days like this because it means that I will have to share the lake soon. All winter long, in the rain, cold and wind, I have had the lake to myself.
In Union Bay, I find one of the eagles high in an evergreen on the east shore. I am now aware that there are fewer ducks on the bay, although I'm not sure who exactly is missing, yet. The buffleheads are here with some scaups and widgeons. Coots are still around, but not as many as I remember. Common Mergansers are just beginning to group together. They will be the last to leave the bay, but not until they join up as a flock.

new nest in the NE lagoon

I paddle through the sneak opening into the NE lagoon and find the big female eagle, but unfortunately, I don't see it until it takes flight. The water level is the highest I have ever seen and the little island here is submerged except for a small patch that has a new goose nest on it. She holds her head low and absolutely motionless. I wonder if the eagle was interested in the nest. I've never seen them raid a goose nest, but they sure could if they wanted to.

Red wing blackbirds are sitting in the very tops of the old cattails today, showing off their beautiful shoulder bars.

There are a lot of turtles and I spot a hubcap sized snapper in the north marsh.

As I near #1 island, an eagle flies past and begins hunting something on the far end of the island. It gives up pretty quickly and I find a flock of coots when I get over there.

The west lodge goose nest has been raided. Two eggs are smashed and two, that may or may not be whole, are tumbled out of the nest.

I cut through Broken Island and flush a goose from its nest, a nest so well hidden that I did not see it. This is bad, so I hurry away as quick as possible so that the goose can return. I watch and they take their leisure is good that it is so warm today.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lontra canadensis

I set out from the south side of Elliot Bay in calm and sunny weather. The Salish Sea is big water and often too windy for an open canoe, so this day is a treat. The tide is falling and most of the trip will be in six feet of water or less. Two harlequin ducks, the most beautiful ducks of all, escort me almost to four mile rock, where the first goldeneye ducks take over. When I reach the shallow sand flats off of Discovery Park, I beach the canoe and make a quick walk-over to look for animal tracks. I've seen otter here before, but the tracks were poor on that day. It has to be a quick walk though, as with the falling tide my beached canoe rapidly moves away from the water.

Finding little, I wade with my canoe out into the sea until, about 200 yards from shore, I spot a river otter coming in. It has a small flat fish in its mouth and in the shallows it walks with its front legs only, letting the tail and hind legs float limply behind. Suddenly, it reverses direction and just as suddenly, an immature bald eagle sweeps in and makes a grab at the fish. So, the eagle harries the otter, but seagulls and crows harry the eagle, and soon the otter escapes with its catch into water deep enough to submerge. When that is done, it is time to drop the pencil and take the paddle as two more inches of water have left and the canoe is almost dragging bottom. I wade on to deeper water.

As I near West Point, I spot a wake in the water behind me, and soon, the head of the otter pops up. It passes me and I follow it, passing within 15 yards of 3 kayakers who are so busy chatting a storm that they don't see what I am so intensely following. It is not hard to follow as it leaves a trail of small bubbles even when there is no wake on the surface. Just on the north side of the point, the otter takes to the beach and clambers up into the rocks under the lighthouse and, disappears. I beach the canoe and find a nice set of tracks to cast in plaster. Nearby, I find a second, slightly smaller set and I make casts of them also.

Lontra canadensis - the North American river otter.

I have no inclination to return the way I came, so I continue north and then into the ship canal, passing through the locks and then portaging across Interbay from Fishermen's Terminal to Elliot Bay. I run into a newspaper reporter as I beach, and I tell him what I am up to, of course, and invite him to come out in the canoe - because only then is nothing lost in the translation.

Monday, April 12, 2010

An Unnamed Season

It seems inadequate to label this time of year, Spring. The astronomical three months from the day of equal dark and light to the lightest day of the year is too broad for what occurs now. Now is a time of rapid change in the marsh. (photo - the mouth of a beaver canal that leads into the marsh forest) 14 days ago, the first two nests were started by the Canada geese and 5 days ago, I spotted the first eggs in the big beaver lodge nest. 18 days ago, the first swallow returned to the bay, followed just a few days later by many more. Irises, cattails and lily pads are all coming up and today I saw the first two skunk cabbages with their big broad green leaves and yellow cores. I haven't seen northern shovelers for some time now, but they are the last to arrive in fall and the first to leave for parts north and I think they are long gone. Even the eagles have shifted their hunting patterns from coots to who knows what, and the scattering of ducks and coots all around the bay shows that they have little to worry about. Far too much happens in this 4 to 6 weeks for it to simply be a part of spring. Cultures that are more in tune with nature have different definitions for seasons. The reindeer peoples count eight seasons based on the behavior of the herds that they rely on. Their seasons are unequal in length with winter being five months long and the calving season a mere ten days.

No, I don't have name for this season, but it is here none the less.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Time of Rapid Change

The prediction of great wind and rain didn't come through and today there are heavy gray clouds above as I portage to Lake Union. I walk in a sun break, then I walk in a sun shower, and then the rain changes to sleet and back to rain again. So it goes all of the way to the lake and then some. But, it is a fresh day and it reminds me of the beginning of spring in the midwest with bright sun, wind, and a bit of snow that everyone knows is just a farewell for winter. Hardly a bird to be seen in Lake Union, the shoreline entirely dead at the hand of marinas, houseboats and shipyards. The worst runoff in the lake isn't pollutants anymore, it is people that have built there houses on water, and the effect is no different than paving a wetland. Only the deep water birds and swallows find sustenance here. Portage Bay is no different, but ah, Union Bay, the garden. And I paddle into the garden with many herons today, with the west lodge goose nest in good order, with a snipe trying unsuccessfully to hide from me. I circle the bay just to breath it all in, dry cattails, ducks, geese, but no eagles. It has been two weeks since I've seen them hunting and with the coots scattered carelessly about, it is likely that the eagles are eating something other than coot for the time being. I stop and examine the four scent mounds (photo) in the burial island channel. The castoreum of the beaver is clear on two of them and while it is not an unpleasant smell, it does not drive me mad with passion.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Easter Goose is in the House

It has been windy for several days and I am anxious to be back in my canoe. I start my portage to the big lake, think better of the wind, decide to head to the south lagoon, and decide to put in on the big lake after all. A good wind is blowing from the SSE, and while there are waves, I don't feel much of the wind once I'm on the water, but I can hear it singing in the trees. Once I leave the shallow cove where I put in, the waves grow to be one to two feet high. I stay within 100 yards of shore and while the wave echo from the fortified beach walls makes the paddling more difficult, the risk of a swim from here, in cold water, is more palatable. The bay is relatively calm and I head first to the big lodge to check on the goose nest. They have finally settled on a good protected spot high on the south side of the beaver lodge and the female is working some down into the structure as I approach. This spot will take in the warmth of the sun while the brush overhead and on either side will provide some shelter. The missing male comes honking from behind my shoulder as two geese fly into the area. He tags one on the butt in mid-flight and resumes his watch on me. OH! the female has just got up - she has eggs already - and she moves them around a bit and sits back down.
I head over to the railroad islands to check for nests, but find none and instead tow a drifting buoy out of the marsh and over to my preferred illegal dump site where it will be easily and properly disposed of. The west beaver lodge nest looks fine, although I can't see eggs and while I am there, a large otter swims by. It's quite likely the same that I have been seeing over the past couple weeks.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Spring Blusters

I paddle off from the west end of the 'crossing over place'. Paddling the same waters as often as I do, I notice that new meanings become attached to familiar places, meanings that are often only temporary. Today, the 'crossing under place', the unfortunate 1916 creation that drained ten feet of lake takes on a new meaning with its angled concrete walls and what is the most handsome of our local drawbridges. A strong wind propels me through the cut, as it is commonly called, and I feel that I am paddling through a doorway, crawling through an opening in the hedge, or tumbling down a rabbit hole. And I leave the stagnate Portage Bay, its life choked by houseboats, marinas and fortified lake shore... and I enter the gardenwith all its birds and cattail islands
and beaver and the stunted tangled forests they create
and otters and eagles
and the places that have names that only I know.