Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Taking the Neighbor Kid

J calls the night before.  I'd offered him a trip and our schedules finally connect.  We do the portage to the aptly named Portage Bay, although we are not using the portage that the bay is named for.  It is a cool wintery day and while the wind is calm when we leave the house, it is coming up by the time we meet the water.  We spend some time before canoeing admiring a very large alder that the beaver have cut during the last month. It is more than two feet across at the base, neatly cut in a cone a foot from the ground.  Since they've taken it down they have removed almost all of the bark from 60 foot of tree.  It is beautifully patterned with teeth marks over the entire length.

I show J the work trails that the beaver leave on the lodges when they do fall home repairs - the 3 or 4 obvious trenches leading from the water to the top of the lodge.  It is how you know beaver live in the lodge even if you haven't seen them.  Then we head over towards the bank burrow, but the shallow water keeps us well away.  this winter the Corps of Engineers has lowered the water an extra 3 or 4 inches, which makes a big difference in marsh paddling.

Wind is still rising as we aim for the 'crossing under place'.  We head up the west islands and stop briefly to look for tracks at one of the muddy shoreline spots.  Lots of fresh raccoon.  Then we make rounds through my usual places in the north end, then cut south across the bay after I make J promise not to tip us over in the under 50 degree water.  We get out again in the east marsh where J teaches me a few things about mushrooms.  He's spotted edible oyster mushrooms here, but I notice that while he's pointing stuff out they aren't so different from some poisonous ones.

In the south lagoons we find some northern shovelers, green winged teal and a northern pintail.  Before taking out, we stop and chat with 3-Stars and compare notes with what he's been seeing.  It is windy.  The day has become raw.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


It is quite calm, so much so that I can spot shed feathers on the top of the water from a couple hundred feet away.  As I cross the mouth of the bay from Portage Point to Wilson's Point, two kayakers pass by just far enough away that a greeting would be a disturbance rather than a pleasantry.  So, we all stay silent.  They cut a route straight across the widest part of the bay, deliberate and purposeful as if they are en route to someplace.  I paddle the shorelines, the edges of the landscape where most things are and most things happen, and I watch for something, anything, different.  It seems as if I, too, am en route to someplace.  But, unlike the kayakers I don't know where my someplace will be.  I may even paddle right past my someplace without recognizing it.  It may just be that my someplace is always someplace ahead of me.  I find this uncertainty comforting.

Near the West Lodge, I stop to check the mud for tracks.  I find beaver, raccoon, duck and some small mammal with sharp little claws.  By the Workbench Lodge my ear catches a bird call that isn't quite in my memory.  I paddle on, but catching a glimpse of it through the brush, I double back.  A pileated woodpecker comes bobbing up in its stubby winged flight pattern from a dead birch.  It is where I do not expect to see it.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Winter has arrived in my marsh and frost and the first skimming of ice greet me at the water's edge.  I spend little time here in the shade of Portage Bay but instead head through the 'crossing under place' to meet the sun in Union Bay.  It is calm.

Across from Birch Island I spot 4 raccoons.  I was just about to coast the east side of the cattails in hope of flushing a snipe or two, but the sighting of a mother raccoon and her 3 kits drew me over.  They are as curious about me as I am about them.  We watch each other for nearly a half hour.  When the canoe drifts too close, they walk back into the cattails.  When I back away a few feet, they return.  They stand on hind legs trying to catch my scent in an almost windless day.  One plays with an old skinless tennis ball.

I paddle north 75 yards and pause to write, just after flushing a snipe, in my notebook.  I look back towards Birch Island and see something swimming across the gap.  It is too small for an otter and not serpentine enough in motion either.  Fortunately, I see it exit the is a mink.  I have traveled less than 400 yards in this bay and already I have seen 4 raccoons, a mink, a snipe, a cackler goose (a mallard-sized Canada goose subspecies I am told).  I could go home right now and it would be considered a most excellent day.

This is the season in the marsh that few know about.

On #1 island I find a kill sight where an eagle has dismembered what probably was a coot.  I find my bird expert friend, C, near North Point and she points out 2 swans that have come in with the cold (they usually only come here on the coldest of days) and warns me to watch for a bittern that she has seen recently.  As we chat, I pull a 1950's whitewall tire from the cold water.  They always look better propped up in the center of my canoe than in the lake.

I continue my rounds, checking the wild parts of the bay for change.  I feel the winter cold in my feet, which is to be expected, but the calm makes the trip comfortable.  The migratories are present, the teal, the common mergansers, hooded mergansers, widgeons, gadwalls, northern shovelers, and coot.  Winter is back.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I paddle up the big lake in a following wind and foot high waves.  It is a grey day, but beautiful in its fallness.  The moisture haze that dims the far shoreline still shows the golds and yellows and reds of autumn foliage.

I pass...well, no one actually "passes" a flock of buffleheads.  Rather, they get up and circle forward when I'm 50 yards away.  They do this once or twice until they finally get up and circle back behind. But, yes, that happens.

male bufflehead
At Potlatch point I spot a male common merganser, the first I've seen this fall.  And, I wonder if the remaining mate from the south eagle nest is still around.  I have not seen that bird for quite some time.  I see two scaups among the buffleheads, coots and gadwalls, and a wary pied billed grebe nearby.  I head straight to the big beaver lodge, and as I get near, the whistle of an eagle comes.  I quickly spot it in the tall alder that overlooks that lodge.

I have a new project that puts me in the forest and shortens the number of days that I spend in my canoe.  I am still a visitor with that forest project, although it is gradually taking on a homey feeling as I continue to work it.  But this, here, kneeling before the world with a well worn paddle in my hands - a religious symbol for myself if there ever was one...this is where I am.

Postscript -
I stop for a long talk with 3-Stars who helps me identify a small gull that I saw in the big lake (Bonaparte's gull).  On the portage home, I run into P. a climate scientist grad student that I met while making a collaborative piece about climate change.  I see several of the "regulars" as I walk and I go a block out of my way to talk to the old man with the crutch and tiny lap dog.  We always have a fun chat and I haven't seen him in some time.  I tell him how the eagles pick out which coot to attack when they are hunting - It's the one talking on the cell phone.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Soul food

I hem and haw my way into motion having a project that I should work on but knowing that my soul needs to visit the marsh.  A minor head cold slowing me down sends me to the lake with the canoe in hand, walking the Harrison portage and paddling in a light chop caused by a low SE wind over the big lake.  A brilliant fall sun warms my back when the clouds move aside.

I spy pied billed, eared and western grebes, buffleheads and Canada geese.  Nothing great in numbers, just present and accounted for, everything important.

In the NE lagoon, I get out and check for tracks finding only one set, which may be from a opossum as one toe is unusually splayed out to the side, but it still might be a raccoon.  The other tracks were erased in last nights heavy rain.  The beaver aren't feeding inside the lagoon either.  Instead, it appears that they are working the edge of the swamp just outside the entrance.  Some of the cattails here are still green to the tip, which is odd as most cattails go brown at the end in early September.  This little lagoon is protected from wind and a bit warmer, and it may always be like that....I haven't paid enought attention...the difference between science and art, yet they can compliment each other so wonderfully.

As I cross the north shore, I notice that there seem to be fewer ducks in the bay than I would expect.  But, this may just be my memory not registering.  I'll worry about it in a month if more don't show up.  Just as I set my notebook down and take a stroke with the paddle, an otter appears near the tip of #1 island.  It's wet head is shining in the sunlight as it dips under a drift log, surfaces, and disappears around the point.

Near Broken Island, an eagle perches watching either me or the 500 coots that float halfway over to Marsh Island.

I take out in the south lagoons spotting a solitary northern pintail as I unload the canoe.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Bailey Peninsula aka Seward Park

I meet J. on the west side of the big lake near Seward Park.  The park is a forested peninsula and a favorite to canoe by because it is one of very few places in the city where one can paddle under big trees.  This is the first time that J. and I have met in person.  Within a minute of putting in, we spot several beaver just south of us.  Eventually, we count five and get two good tail slaps.  They are all solidly "medium" sized beaver.  No matter what happens, the trip will now fall into the good category.

We coast along the shoreline, taking in redwing blackbird trills, widgeons, gadwalls, some Clark's grebes, and watching the lake bottom through unusually clear water.  J tells me of seeing a beaver not long ago sitting on a float near the shore and when we get over to it we can see that it is covered with the remains of beaver feeding - trimmed branches and cattails strewn all over it.

We talk art, we talk plants and trees, J being botanically skilled and me being botanically challenged.  We talk about floating trash, how people see and use the water, development etc.  We are of like mind.  We are confused by the same stuff.

It begins to rain and rain hard for a half hour as we stop in at another park just a half mile south of the peninsula.  We briefly walk the park while the canoe collects rain water.  J points out trees to me...his tree eyes are about the same as my bird eyes.  Blue sky is coming and the rain tapers off as we get back in the canoe. 

We return the way we came, only facing the opposite direction. 

We find a pair of the strange ducks below near the fish hatchery.  Large duck/small goose sized, it is probably a domesticated muscovy duck on the lam.

I believe this is an escaped muscovy duck

Friday, October 21, 2011

The First Buffleheads

I put in at the south lagoon hoping for the arrival of the buffleheads.  As I finish the ritual of getting ready, a guy paddles up in a shiny red canoe.  He rams it onto the gravel beach, gets out and drags it free of the water.  The brief exchange of "hi" and "hey" is all of the conversation.  While we are traveling in the same craft, we are of two different minds.  I lift my canoe by the gunwale, for even though my canoe has long since ceased to be a thing of beauty with the scratches of 500 trips on the outside, splotches of mud inside, and pink and tan foam glued down where my knees are when I am paddling in that posture, I lift my canoe and set it in a half foot of water, and then finish loading my ever heavier field pack.  I set one foot in the center of the canoe, grab the gunwales with my hands and push off with the other leg gliding scooter-like out into the marsh.  I drop to my knees and go away.  My well-worn canoe has taken me to countless discoveries and adventures...his canoe is just a boat...he treats his canoe like I treat my car.

It is a sprinkling grey day.  Some cattails have gone yellow and some remain green.  The lotus pads are brown and torn at the edges and only the centers of the leaves try to stay on the surface.  There is a cool and growing south wind.  It is an archetypical fall day in the marsh.  It matches all of my memories.
willow gnawed by beaver - in case you were wondering
 I leave the east marsh and head cross bay to the north point.  It is hard to see ducks at any distance due to the chop in the water, but every once in awhile, I read motion out there.  At mid-bay, I spot a dozen buffleheads, the first ones of the fall.  And, I drift with that, and I then catch the nasal wheezing of widgeons, who have finally arrived in force - I spotted a lone widgeon some 2 weeks ago in the south lagoon.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not yet

Harrison Portage...The city has removed the invasive plants from the put-in....this is just about everything except for the trees.

As I start north, a seagull some 100 yards ahead plunges straight into the water from 15 feet up.  It climbs back up and circles for a few minutes, hoping for a second chance at its prey.

I pass a small Clark's grebe.

At the mouth of Union Bay, there are three western grebes, necks laid back along their bodies.  Most birds are resting when they hold that pose, but the western grebe will often paddle across the surface in with its neck down on its back.  It looks quite strange.

I break my paddling briefly as I head up towards the NE corner of the bay and when I do I hear the whistling of bald eagles.  I find them on the diodar cedar that they prefer as a perch on this shoreline.  It is probably the north nest pair.  I have not seen them in perhaps 2 months, and I assume they were following a salmon run.

In the NE lagoon, I check for tracks in the usual spots and find raccoon and rat and something in between in size that I don't recognize.  It has rained hard recently, so the blackboard is pretty clean.

I run across the north shore and down the western islands thinking that this is one of the nicest days that I have seen in some time.  It is almost clear, low sky fall sun, blue sky, the yellowing of cattails and leaves, the shattering of summers lily pads, with a cool wind from the northeast, a long sleeve day.

I check with 3-stars in the south lagoon, as usual.

The migratory ducks have not arrived yet.  I imagine that they have started on their way.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


A while back, my friend, L, who was visiting from our home state, asked me while we were out walking, " Do you ever think about what a beautiful place this is?"
I may have taken 10 seconds to answer, which is a very long silence if you think about it.  When I looked her in the face, I probably had on my dumb question expression, but not because it was a dumb question, more that I was caught off guard.  In fact, the simple question deserved thought and the ten second pause was one of gears turning in my head.
I answered, "Yes, I do."

As I walk the Harrison Portage, I wonder if all those people hurrying by in their cars on some schedule that may or may not be their own ever think about how beautiful this place is.

C, T and MP come riding up the switchbacks as I sit pause to write in my notebook.  It has been a long time and they stop for a good talk.  T even comes up with some good ideas for an art project of mine, his creativity probably unrecognized by most and untapped by himself, for that matter.  The portage pays for itself, yet again.  I thank him for clearing that creative tangle for me as they head off.

The big lake has that oddball chop going, a clunky chaotic wave that I can reconcile mathematically, but not in a natural common sense manner.  It has something to do with the unnatural in the lake, I suppose.  The chop labors the paddling, each stroke requiring a different amount of correction to maintain course.

Calm returns at Potlatch Point, as it usually does.  With the onset of fall, the lake is low and I glide towards the Big Lodge over the sandy bottom that lies just 2 or 3 feet down.

I catch linseed oil scent
my paddle, hand carved
my paddle, well used
oiled after its last trip
the scent now in my hands
I will carry the trip with me 
long into the evening

Signs -
I spot the some fresh peeled tree limbs in the water.  The beaver are switching foods with the season from green plants to inner bark of trees.
I see the first widgeons of the fall, a pair in the south lagoon.
I flush a green-backed heron from the base of the workbench lodge.  It might be the last green-backed heron that I see until next spring.
I find a lot of beaver scat on the east tip of Marsh Island.  It looks like rotting balls of chipboard.  There is more here than I have ever seen in one spot.
I find the leftovers of a crayfish claw nearby.  A sign of raccoons or otter.

I stop and talk with 3-Stars, mostly to check on his well being, but also to see if he has observed anything that I have not.  Then I continue on to the bottom of Portage Bay.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Free Lunch

It rains.  I am glad that we have gotten this summer thing out of our system.
It's been several months since M and I have seen each other.  Former workmates, we are now restricted to being canoe is better, at least for me...he still works "there".  We don't rush off to the lake as I normally would, instead, M, S and I all catch up some.  There is so much.

We head to Portage Bay.  It rains hard enough that I stop once to bail a half gallon of water out of the canoe well before we get to the lake. 
At least it is warm. 
I do the math in my head.
50% of our canoe time has been in the rain.
On the Yakima, it rained on us for 24 hours straight.  That was in terrain that is classified as arid.

M has not seen the beaver bank burrow on the west side of the bay, so we work our way in through the shallows...really only 3 or 4 inches of water on a foot of soupy mud.  A clear beaver channel can be seen in the lotus pads where the repeated swimming and dragging of branches opens a path.  These lanes are also slightly deeper for the same reason.  We paddle in on the lane and up to the burrow.  M spots a raccoon in the cattails.

We head next through the 'crossing under place' and clockwise around the bay, stopping at most of the beaver lodges, examining the marsh wren nests.  The beaver are just beginning to do fall home repairs.  It has been a while since M was out here, so I point out where the cattail berg drifted to, and when we get to it, where it drifted from. 
It rains the whole time...heavy rarely, misting often. 
There is a fresh breeze. 
When we paddle into it it feels on the face, it just feels...not really a word for it.

I introduce M to 3-Stars. 
We trade pied billed grebe stories. 
3-Stars might be the only one I know that can match me in pied billed grebe stories. 
I suppose it is not such an important bird to others.
We know.

Now I give M the choice, "where to?"
It has been a long time.
I have no reason to stop now.
The south end of the dead lake is the result.
We cross Portage Bay with nothing to note except that,
for the very first time ever,
the policeman in the police boat waves to us.

The dead lake presents a head wind.
Mist and wind on wet skin.

M takes care of the Portage home.
His head down, he finds a $20 bill.
Lunch at the Canterbury...the name sounds grand
It is a pub decorated in some time that no one is familiar with, but the food is good.
S comments that the Portage pays for itself.
I feel it an honor that someone should spend so much time with me in the canoe.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A New Paddle

I met SB at the east end of the ancient portage on a morning that was nicer than I expected to find.  Wind and rain had woken me during the night, the trees still well leafed calling out the wind speed.  By dawn, the wind was down, the rain had stopped, and the air was wonderfully fresh.

SB had purchased one of my canoe paddles in an Artist Trust auction several months ago, a deal that came with a canoe trip.  I offered him a trade for a custom paddle, which he took me up on.  I carved one in 1/4-sawn ash with a map of Lake Pend Oreille, his home turf.  Today would be the first time it met water.

one side
and the other
We stopped first to talk with 3-Stars, and then we continue into the south lagoon on a beaver oriented mission, SB remarking at the enormous size of the Workbench Lodge, I pointing out the canal network created by the Hidden Lodge Colony and the collection of scent mounds that divides territory between them and the Big Lodge Colony.  We cut across the bay with a stiff tailwind breeze and find a Clark's grebe near the south railroad island, a bird that is not normally found right here and probably came in to hide out from the night wind storm. 

As we continue, I talk about the landfills, the ten foot lowering of the lake level...all the weird things that man does to "improve" stuff...and how the natural environment continues to push back and put things back to equilibrium.  I watch his new paddle.  I got the length just right.  It's clean.  He likes it.  I tell him how to wipe some boiled linseed oil on it...each or every other trip for the first dozen or so, then when it needs it, and how the shaft will get smoother to the touch the more it is used (the opposite of what happens with a varnished paddle). 

He enjoys the trip.  I suppose that I enjoy it as much as he does.  I invite him to go out next time he is back here, "...don't forget your paddle."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The first fall bird

I put in at the bottom of the Harrison Portage where a lone pied billed grebe dives while I load my canoe.  As I paddle downwind and up lake, a duck sized bird floats a 150 yards ahead.

There are no buffleheads, the season when the bay is decorated by thousands of the most beautiful of waterfowl is not yet here.  There are no geese at this time either, so change is in the game, fall is just here.

The duck sized bird dives sleekly and elegantly in a manner that shows it can only be a grebe.  Too small for the "western", it is probably a Clark's.  It flies off as I near, wasting no effort gathering altitude and following a path as near perfectly straight as I have ever seen any bird fly, never more than 2 feet above the water until my eye can no longer resolve it against the steel gray water.  This bird is fall.  It is a recent arrival.

At Potlatch Point, something dark and about the size of the palm of my hand watches me approach.  It surfaces twice and then is gone. 

I head back into the big dead end of the east marsh only to find that the Corps of Engineers must be trying to reach new record low lake levels.  The final 50 yards is too shallow, the water perhaps 4 inches lower than I have ever seen it. 

As I leave the south lagoon, 3-Stars calls me over for a chat.  We watch a competency-challenged yatchsman fumble his "ship" into some state of mooringness for the pre-football-game act of drunken piracy and high-fiving while we discuss the recent and far more interesting natural events of the marsh.  We are now on a first name basis.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wildlife tour

Today I am guiding a wildlife tour through the north end of Union Bay.  The plan is to head north from the canoe rental dock and then east across the top of the bay into Yesler Swamp.  But, a plan is only a plan.

east channel of the burial island
The great noisy bridge is closed today, so I head down to the marsh early to enjoy the relative quiet, which is only interrupted by occasional airplanes.  It is windy and possibly too windy for beginners.  The bay doesn't get large waves until the wind is at ridiculous levels, but canoes do get blown around, especially in the hands of the inexperienced.

Cattails are turning yellow, although perhaps it is more that the green is fading away rather than a donning of fall colors.  Fall is not so much about a coming of color as it is about a leaving of color.  In the wind, the cattails rustle creating a most comforting sound.  I stop south of the sedge meadow, the low water making it seem to much like work to enter that spot.  The wind eddies here in the east side of the burial island and it pushes the canoe one direction, and then back, and then it spins me, and it does it some more.  I sit and wait to see where the wind will leave me and which direction it will decide I should face, but it seems as indecisive as I am, and if I add up the distance I have traveled in those few minutes, it comes to zero.  I am where I started.

Coot - the favorite winter food for bald eagles
I meet up with the tour as planned and we discuss the trip.  It seems pretty windy and I am concerned about the crosswind stretch.  It's not that there is any danger, it's just that people could end up going in circles if they cannot get a handle on the canoe.  But, the man in charge (not really me) wants to do it.  So we do. But, the schedule, now I am not very good at schedules.  There are things to see and I will point them out, and we will fall behind the clock.  This is the cost of going somewhere with me and my canoe.

I point out beaver canals in the cattail islands, and at the marsh wren nesting spot, I stop everyone and announce, "let's see if we can find a nest".  I part the cattails with my paddle and there one is (the male builds 15 to 20 - only one gets used).  Even I am surprised.  We stop at the west lodge to talk about beaver colony social stuff and what to watch for to see if a lodge is begin used (home repair work in Oct-Nov).  When we get over to north point, I find some scent on one of the territorial scent mounds and everyone gets a sniff.  Then over to the railroad islands for a little history lesson and into Yesler Swamp for a rest and some Q and A.  One canoe has two people who teach nature classes to kids...they have pretty good questions.  When we leave they stay behind to search the mud banks for animal tracks, which I am sure they will find unless the last nights rain washed them out (I forgot to mention that the rain might have done that).  Everyone has turned out to be fairly good at canoe handling and the trip has gone well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Summer no more

I put in at the nameless lagoon and head north, crossing the ship canal as a huge barge is pushed my way.  Today is a dry run for an upcoming wildlife swamp tour and I need to see what can be seen.  Summer vegetation is still thick and so this is not the best time of year to view wildlife and wildlife signs.  Unfortunately, the ideal time for that is between late fall and early spring when the water is dangerously cold and not a good combination with beginning canoe skills.

Coots appear to be returning, there are quite a few near the west tip of #1 island.  I spot a green-winged teal in the mix as well.  Cormorants have been back for almost two weeks and there are more ducks out in mid-bay than there have been for several months.  It is no longer summer.

3-Stars waves me over as I get near my exit point.  He confirms my observation about the new beaver lodge on the east end of Marsh Island.  He has seen the beaver swimming to it several times.  We both laugh about the amount of castoreum that the beaver have sprayed there.  As usual, we chat about wildlife and the marsh for more than a half hour.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


S declared a few days back that we will go canoeing today, so we do.

She hasn't decided where to go, so, as we start our portage, I ask, "industrial or nature?"
S replies, "industrial, we haven't done that in awhile."
So we turn left at the end of the block and head up and over the hill to the dead lake.  The Lady Washington, a replica of a 1840's sailing ship is in and that is our first stop.  We sit a few moments under the bowsprit and I field a few questions about sailing ship was something I memorized when I was 10 years old.  Sometimes, I can pull that stuff out.

Then we head up lake and out the ship canal toward Ballard. This takes us through Foss Tugboats and puts us under numerous fishing boats of various purposes...crab boats, seine pursers....  Work boats fascinate me...they do stuff, they have purpose.  I see my canoe as a work boat.  It certainly shows the wear of a work boat.  It seems to have a purpose.

It is a sunny warm day and being at the end of a summer without warm sunny days, it brings all shapes and sizes of visitors to the water.  We bounce in wakes and keep our eyes on the motor boats knowing that the level of seamanship is inversely proportional to the amount of horsepower in the vessel.  Back at the dead lake, every possible rental kayak seems to be on the water.  It is like canoeing on the midway at the state fair...weird, but okay if you don't have to do it all of the time.

We head for the south end of Portage Bay to take out.  The last 15 minutes of the trip is remarkably peaceful as we exit the ship channel and paddle towards the shallows.

The two of us very much enjoy the two  mile portage up the hill to our house.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I use the Harrison Portage and talk with a swimmer when I get to the big lake.  She will swim up lake 3/4 of a mile and back.  Perhaps I am dawdling (I am, a bit), but by the time I am kneeling in my canoe, she is a surprisingly long ways out.  I won't catch up with her until the turn around point.

I think of Smoke Farm while I make my way up lake.  This is good because it tells me that I am transitioning from this project to that.  Mostly, I think about why the farm works so well.  It has something to do with the terrain, but it has everything to do with the people that meet there.  It adds up to more than one.

At Portage Point, I cross over and up the built east shoreline, but I stop in the middle of the channel.  The skyline of the burial island has changed.  It is a minor change that no one would notice, except with my familiarity, it stands out, almost alarmingly so.  I can see a snag that I never saw before, so a tree has come down somewhere in there.  The eagle perch tree stands just a few yards north of the new shape, and an eagle comes in to land as I watch.

In the NE lagoon, the recently exposed muddy shoreline is full of animal tracks (the only advantage that I can see for the Corps of Engineers lowering of the water).  I find and cast a somewhat small beaver hind print.  And, I get to just sit for a spell as the plaster sets up.  A tiny woodpecker comes and works over a willow tree a few yards from me.

Near Broken Island, I find a 3/4 full 55 gallon drum floating in the lotus pads.  It does not belong here.  I tow it to the closest boat ramp, as it should weigh about 280 lbs and I will need to roll it out of the water.  I dread running into the guy that runs the ramp.  We've had words before.  And, when I finally get the beast to the ramp (full barrels do not tow easily) the guy is there.  I just go about rolling the pig up the ramp.  Either he doesn't recognize me, or he realizes the value in the action.  He asks where I found it, and I point (out of breath).  He asks what I will do with it and I tell him that I will leave it out of the way for the groundskeepers to figure out. He asks what's in it and I tell him that I know enough not to open and sniff such things.. He understands that.  He goes back his work and I do my job and go.

Note to self: In the last week, the light quality has changed dramatically from washed out summer to intense fall.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

New Guy in the Boat

P, an evening person by nature, arrives at the house at 6am.  And, we begin the portage.
Marsh Wren Nest
I met P, recently at a Smoke Farm event.  He had never been canoeing and, by chance, lived just a few blocks from me.  It was arranged.  The plan for a 6am start is to get to the water early enough to find beaver out swimming around.  It has always worked.  Today it doesn't.  We not only don't see the usual 6 or 8 that I might find as the evening feeding winds down, we don't see one.  We don't see one in the little lagoon that belongs to the Workbench Lodge, so we head over to the lodge itself and, there, we don't see a single one returning to home.  So, we head to the hidden lodge where we find zero, and up the east channel of the burial island, where I give P a good sniff of a scent mound, which he declares to be bad (in winter when they eat tree bark, the scent is pleasant, but I must agree that mid-summer castoreum is fairly rank).  I show him the new muskrat lodge and then we head over to the Big Lodge, where we find no beaver and actually little sign of recent activity.  By now, we can forget about finding beaver.  It is too late in the morning.

But, a green backed heron rises up - all dinosaurish and gawkiness.  It settles behind the lodge and we circle round to view it perched, where it is a deceptively small and graceful looking bird.  Then it unfolds itself into something ill proportioned and flies off.

We cross the bay to take a short walk to see the north eagle nest.  We discuss the reality of Seattle's eco-imagination while looking over Yesler's pilings next to the former Seattle dump site.  I have a low opinion of the founding fathers who for some reason thought that it was a good idea to dump any and all garbage, refuse and debris in the water.  Following the north shore, we spot three very small raccoons running along the shore.

We stop again near the West Lodge.  P is up and out of the canoe and before I can get out he has declared the felled alder trees on the shore to be cool.  In fact, they have continued to work on some of the trees, although not with such vigor as in the winter when they have nothing else to eat.

We continue on, paddling without break into and through Portage Bay and down the dead lake passing the shipyards. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Waiting Time

S and I walk down to south lagoon on a cloudy and windy day.

To look at it one would think that it is a cold one, but it is not, and a sweat is breaking under a bit too much shirt for the weather.  

The water is low, and it seems as low as it ever gets during the winter, when the dam guys bring it all the way down.  I must admit that while I do understand the need for extra water in the summer, I do not understand their timing.  We go through the east channel of the burial island, noting which beaver scent mounds have been freshly splashed, and then down the big dead end.  A trail of bubbles runs ahead of us and the new resident muskrat surfaces once before moving off.  There is a new muskrat lodge in here, a conical pile of cattails and other plants built up on a bit of bog stuff.  It's a bit of a mess, but it's a house and it's the only muskrat house that I've seen, although I do see muskrats every so often.

We are in no hurry to go anywhere or do anything, so we stop here and there and just look at what is around us.  Then we cross the bay to the NE lagoon.  And we sit there for awhile and look at what is around us.  Then we come out and crab our way along the north shore, a moderate south wind always trying to push us sideways.  Near the north point we inspect what appears to be one of the temporary islands that rise up in winter - dense peat layers buoyed by trapped swamp gas.  But, this is a raft of bog stuff some 8 x 15 feet.  When we get close we can see that it undulates with the waves.

It is near the end of a very brief summer and not much is happening.  This year's brood of ducks is mostly able to fly, except for the latest of hatchings.  This year's geese are flying well and can not be easily recognized from their elders.  Otherwise, it is a time of waiting - waiting for the return of birds from the north.

Friday, August 26, 2011

No more hoopla

What I notice most this morning is the silence from the redwing blackbirds and marsh wrens.  Since April their voices have been an almost constant in the marsh, but for the last 2 weeks they seemed to have gone still.  I suppose, their mates chosen, nests built, eggs laid and hatched, they are just getting on with it - the big hoopla having subsided.  I put in from a lesser used spot on the burial island.  A few of the scent mounds have been freshly splashed and as I exit the east marsh, I find a male redwing blackbird picking bugs off of the lotus pads and silently confirming his existence.  The water is very low now, and the canoe moves laboriously, the physics of a bow wave meeting a shallow bottom with no place to dissipate.

immature sora rail
Along the north shore I find an immature sora rail, a bird I've never seen before.  It is walking close to shore on the lotus pads and does not hurry away when I stop to watch.

I continue on to the south end of the dead lake.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I stop first to herd ducks. I spot a mother following two ducklings as I move down the open channel between the dense floors of lily and lotus pads.  I catch four more ducklings lagging behind to my right, stumbling through the jumble of giant green leaves, the mother stopping to look back at a them.  I pull up and wait, although I finally get impatient with the last two, who are dawdlers for sure.  I nose the canoe into the pads behind them and they pick it up some, all swimming off together.

It is a warm, cloudy and windy day with a sense of coming rain.  I start in the dead lake and paddle downwind, my paddling more for correcting my heading than for power.

Changing weather seems to cause me to think of changes in general, changes in my life.  But here, I'd rather just look at what is now.  

The cattails are not yet tipped in yellow.
The late arriving lotus and lily pads have come in just as vigorous as always...just late.
The birch trees seem to be just a bit more yellow than I remember, but there is no proof of this.
The Hidden Lodge (beaver) is truly living up to the name that I have given it.

The water level is low but I can still get into the dead end in the east marsh.  In unison, I surprise a muskrat, a green backed heron, and a heard but unseen great blue heron as I enter.  With the low water, the mud bottom of the beaver forest is finally exposed.

I sit still in the canoe for quite some time.  The canoe does not rest but instead drifts with the wind that penetrates the marsh, first one direction and then back, and then with a little twist.  I find my way by going along for the ride.  I feel like sleeping.

I lay down, by shoulders on the gunwales, my feet up on the center thwart, my head on the blade of my paddle.  I no longer want to sleep, but I do not want to move.  I am waiting for the rain.

The rain comes.  I can go.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The duldrums

I get a late start, walking the harrison portage, setting out in what is mid-day heat for the northwest. As I pass the swimming beach, the lifeguard bullhorns me to stay 25 yards outside of the swim zone. She has good depth perception...I am only 4 canoe lengths outside...21 and 1/3 yards, or so.

The birds are napping, and not much is going on except for people playing in the water. It amazes me that more people don't drown, really. At the north end of Union Bay a man paddles a rental canoe while his 6 year old son trails a stick in the water, his head hanging over the gunwale, his eyes watching the patterns in the water. It is the best thing I see today. Even on a great day, it would rate pretty high up there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 10, 2011

I get K into the canoe this morning and we head straight away out to the seals on the large rock to the north.
Then, we tour the bay. K and JP, our hosts, don't have a boat other than a tiny dingy, so they don't get this view often, and when they do, they don't get it from the intimacy of a canoe. K enjoys seeing the houses of the neighbors from the water and knowing what is down those winding drives that head into the woods from the road. Oddly enough, we don't see the otters, which have been so present over the last couple days.

Later -
I take S out for a tour up to the seal site on the northern rock.

Then, we head south to the seal beaching site near Active Pass, just to prove to myself that there are seals in both spots at the same time.

Early afternoon -
Finally, I get JP to join me. We are both solidly built old guys, not fat, but tall and sturdy, although JP is 4 inches taller. This is a bit much for my 16 ft. canoe (If the two of us paddled together regularly, we would be using a 17 or 18 footer). So, I don't say anything until after the tour is done, but it is a twitchy ride for me, as I am use to paddling solo or with flyweights like S. We follow the shore closely and I avoid the half mile open crossing to the seal rock. We do go down to admire the boatbuilders shed. JP would like to have one of the builders jolly boats - the boatbuilder specializes in making replicas of Bligh's jolly boat. After the Bounty mutiny, Bligh sailed his overloaded jolly boat over 1000 miles of ocean losing only one of his remaining crew.
Then, we head up north and into a little inlet that finally has enough water to let us pass.

August 9, 2011

Galiano Island
I slip out by 7am to an overcast sky with a glow of an earlier sunrise in the east, where I can see through the islands. My trips alone are always so different than when I share the canoe. With the occasional bowman, I steer the canoe to see the sites, to see the sights. Alone, I have no agenda and seem not to care about getting anywhere other than where I am.

This morning, I ease along the edges of the rocks at the lowest of the day's tides. I spot a few river otters with ease on the calm waters. 2 guillemots, well scattered from each other are in the bay. On the larger island at the north end of the bay are 2 dozen seals, again mostly mothers and pups. I begin to disturb them from about a hundred yards, so I watch them from that distance.

Returning, I circle around the rocks in some pattern that might end up as a figure eight, or not. A mink runs along the edge of one island.

Afternoon -
I paddle up past the government dock and back, edging along the shore in a bit of mid-day wind. When I return, I spot the 3 small otters at the most substantial of of the rocks. They leave a trail of wet splashes as they exit the water and clamber up over the sandstone and into the brush.
I get out on the far side of the rock to explore. This side marks the passage into the government dock and I find a few pieces of fiberglass boat hull in the water. I collect 3 specimens - a thin slab of sandstone, a bent iron fitting, and a deer leg bone. On the south tip of the island I find a sand patch with otter tracks all through it - with the signature esses of the tail sweep.

Evening -
S and I head out for a quick paddle. I stop first at the big rock and send her up to the sand patch to see the array of otter tracks. Then we head across bay to look at two seals that are beached alone on another rock and to look at a beautiful old classic cabin that sits on the far side of the bay.

It is a fine example of form and function, particularly at an age when so many people insist on building waterfront homes that make a statement... primarily about their outsized egos.

August 8, 2011

Galiano Island
It is barely a hundred yard portage down the hill from our friend's house to the Whalers Bay. 12-year old B joins me for a pre-breakfast circle of the bay. Both the tide and wind are low. Gossip Island, to the east, cuts the bay off from the great expanse of the Salish Sea. There are several rock islets in the bay that for the most part, nearly disappear in high tide. They make the bay an uninviting place for large vessels while create interesting places to visit for with canoe.

We scare an immature bald eagle from the nearest island and then swing north to explore a couple of inlets. As we return we find 3 young river otters watching us. They appear to be this year's pups, now separate from their parents, but still staying together as a set.

Near mid-day
S and I head out for a bit more extensive paddle. We drop down into the tidal cove where the government dock is. Farthest in is a boat builder who, from the dory that he has moored in the cove, is a true craftsman. His open air work shed is worth envy. Then we come back out and round the point to continue south towards Active Pass. Here, exposed to the Salish Sea, there is some wind and, with the tide rising, a bit of tidal chop, which at this spot is no more than some waves that are larger than they should be, considering the wind. Twenty-some seals are beached on an island - mostly females and recent pups and adolescents.

We get up to Sturdies Bay, where the ferry docks before turning back. 2 otters exit the water and run up onto the first band of grass, occasionally stopping to roll in the dirt. After we pass the seals we spot a trio of young otters, which may be the same ones that I saw in the morning.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Settling of the marsh

The morning is an overcast of marine gray clouds, the effect of living so near the ocean. I do the Harrison portage still sleepy enough to leave my best paddle at home, but conditioned enough to routine that my extra paddle is in the bottom of the canoe.

My spare paddle is a good paddle by store-bought standards, but as my skills at paddle carving steadily improve, it is no where near what I can make in my hands. The T-grip works well in whitewater and at afternoon tea parties, but it lacks all of the grace that lives in a hand smoothed pear shaped grip, a form that rests in the palm as if it was an extension of the hand. I am a person that is attuned to the marriage of man and simple tools, which is why I make canoe paddles instead of canoes. The direct connection between myself and the environment is in the paddle. I build them with a great amount of thought.

I pause briefly at the Big Lodge for no reason other than it seems a shame not to stop and admire this beaver built island. Two kingfishers get up and leave as I near, but not so much for me as much as it is feeding time. While I sit, a cluck-cluck to my left and I see the dinosaurish flight of a green backed heron. It settles in the beaver forest, which with the water down a foot, I can no longer enter. But, that lower water level also means that the marsh if fixed for the season. Which takes me to my second stop, the open water in the SE corner of the east marsh. This open patch is marks the origin of the cattail berg that I have tracked since May in 2010. One could still measure the size of that berg by tracing the open water, if one wanted to. Last year, it settled in the NE corner, blocking off a long open channel that was 70 feet across. This April, it moved again, opening the NE channel, before lodging itself in the NW corner, blocking the other entrance. A good piece of it calved off (I actually watched that happen) and that finally settled a mile north in the mouth of Ravenna Creek. The original route into the dead end in the east marsh has also closed enough so that a canoe will not pass. That too will remain so for the season.

Just over the bow of the canoe, I spot a bumblebee pollinating an invasive plant.

beaver trail - east marsh

The marsh is awake, but not hurried.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Paddling in the mourning

It is the first day in over 3 months where I cannot enter the beaver forest. The water has dropped a few inches this week, the narrow gaps that I had squeezed through are even thinner, the shallow spots where I just cleared beaver felled trees are now land bridges. I can come back in nine months.

I stop among the lotus pads - something I more often complain about because they restrict my paddling during the summer, but today the pads are alive, or I should say, today I notice how alive the pads are. Bees move among the blossoms and rest on the pads themselves, dragonflies are all around, and something stirs under the pads as I move. I don't mind them much today.

The surviving female adult eagle from the south nest flies by. Her mate was killed yesterday by a vehicle on the stupid bridge that passes through this beautiful area, a dead scar, an obscene gesture of progress. I have no response to it other than my own verbal obscenities. So, the sunny warm day has a certain somberness to it. I saw their eaglet in a tree two days ago... "so it goes".

Monday, August 1, 2011

Coming out party for a bald eagle

I put in on Portage Bay to clear skies, brilliant sun and a east wind.

Coming up the inside of the West Islands, I find ducks sunning themselves, collecting the warmth of a new day after the damp of night. There is one male wood duck in the mix and he is just getting his beautiful breeding colors back after the dullness of nesting season. A bald eagle comes in and perches above alders 1, 2 and 3. I've surveyed the alders, hence the names. They were felled last fall by the West Lodge beaver colony. This has not disturbed the eagle's nature experience one bit, nor mine for that matter.

"Sedge meadow" - the planned SR520 bridge will wipe this away

In the NE lagoon, a wall of green has completely hidden the North Lodge. No one would know it is there unless they have seen it before. I decide that this lagoon would be a fine place to hide from the world.

The wind is picking up. I should start my crossing of the bay.

As I enter the sedge meadow, a Virginia Rail (above) stops me for a few moments while it complains about the intrusion. But, with it positioned in such good sunlight, I stay and watch it for a while.

there is an immature bald eagle in this photo

In the east marsh, I spot a raptor settling to a perch above the big dead end. It turns out to be a very young bald eagle and has probably left the nest not too many days ago.