Saturday, July 28, 2012

Where the mixing is

Me and A put in on the west channel of the Snohomish River, a couple miles up from salt water.  This is all new terrain for A and an area I have paddled in only two or three times before.  This is the Snohomish Estuary, an area where salt water and fresh water mix.  Currents change directions with the tides - and the changes are often counter-intuitive.  The morning clouds have broke leaving a sunny afternoon.  Low tide was about 6am and the afternoon and evening high tide for today is separated by a low tide that barely drops at all.  We should not see any great changes in current during the trip.

As we put the canoe in the river, there are seven osprey soaring overhead with a whistling chorus that is as striking as their flying.  The estuary is one of the best places that I've been for seeing osprey.  Then we head up river a mile to Dead Man Slough where we explore a half dozen abandoned boats.

this hulk is a 50+ ft fishing boat

  Then we paddle off toward Spencer Island.  The island had once been farmed, but the county has purchased the southern section and torn down the dikes that kept the water out to return it to estuary.  It is here that the trip always takes a wilder feel.  It is easy to look at the sparse swamp forest, dead snags and stressed evergreens and imagine that you are much farther away.  These are the ghostly forests that one thinks of as being geography of the farther north. With the moderately high tides we will be able to paddle the interior of the island both through old farm drainage channels and where the former fields are flooded.  We try to enter where I've gone in the past, but drift logs have made the entry more difficult then necessary.  We continue farther north.  We see more osprey.

We find a better and completely open access a 1/2 mile down the channel.  The tide is flooding the island, so at this time all currents are "in".  The opening takes out out into a broad wetland with cattails, reeds and grasses where the thin trees are distant from us.  We head south up the island until finding another channel which, fighting the flood current, brings us east into the middle channel of the river.

Undecided on which way to go, we cross the river and explore a backwater which has ten or so discarded floating dock sections in it just waiting to drift off and become shoreline debris.

After a break, A opts for circling Otter Island.  Otter Island was never diked and it is more heavily treed than other areas in the estuary.  Rounding it takes us briefly into the east channel of the river before returning to the center channel.  We see some birds we don't recognize.

Eastern Kingbird

Bohemian Waxwing

We spot an inlet on Otter Island and decide to explore.  For some reason I did not enter this opening when I was here before.  It is narrow, treed and brush lined, with tight turns and short views.  It is delightful.  We spot two does, which move off rather unhurried.  The inlet keeps going for a few hundred yards before it is blocked by a log.  On the return we surprise a 4-point buck still in velvet.

We cross the channel to retrace our route up the slough to the south end of the island.  A spots a black animal as it we startle it from a nap in the sun.  She says. "otter", but get a better look as it dives into the water and then returns to land.  "Not big enough for an otter, it's a mink."  We go back and look at the sunning spot that it spent some time creating - clipped plants - almost like a flattened bird nest.

Now we have been out long enough to fall into the rhythm of a long trip.  I think about telling A how glad I am that she is coming out canoeing with me so often before I move east across the country, but I don't...I just keep thinking it.

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