Thursday, April 30, 2009

For Sarmila

This morning I started by reading Sarmila's blog. Sarmila is one my followers and she had sent me a comment that I forgot to reply to. Her blog turned out to be beautiful poetry and I got all inspired and went down to the lake early.
I hope she will post more poetry.

I start in the south lagoon. The nesting geese near that spot have goslings, which means that their nest has been there much longer than I thought. It is very peaceful and calm this morning. Rounding the first corner I catch a spicy fragrance from some plant that I do not know. I head across the bay to the north point. I have just built a plane table for making simple maps and I will draw several bearings from there.
Buffleheads are still around and common mergansers in groups of 20ish are in sight. After drawing my bearings, I get too close to shore and start picking up trash - compulsion, but a useful compulsion. I load up 30 gallons (the size of my basket) - FYI - 30 gallons is a half canoe load by my reckoning. Mother Nature rewards me by putting a big flatbacked turtle just ten feet away. It was 18 inches across the back and it dives when I reach for my camera. As I paddle on, two honking canada geese come from behind, just 3 feet off the water and they miss the bow of the canoe by that same amount. That was f'in cool.

Before dumping my plastic garbage, I lay it out for a photo. Tennis balls, bottles, combs, Bic lighters, bottle caps, lids, straws - lots of them, rope, a flip-flop and lots of unrecognizable bits. Again, the haul came from no more than 30 feet of shoreline.

That makes 130 gallons of small plastic and 7 canoe-loads of big stuff. It's the small stuff that really disturbs me. I fear that there is far far more of that then I imagine. What have we done?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Someplace Different

I put in today on the NE corner of Mercer Island. I paddle south and across the half mile wide channel towards the entrance of the Mercer Slough. I haven't been here in several years. There is a lack of birds that I am not used to. The lake is deep and almost all of the shoreline is developed with houses, lawns and shrubbery - you know, non-native stuff. I notice only a few ducks until I reach the mouth of the slough. There, I see a couple herons right off. I move up the slough, still there is a lack of bird life. The shoreline is brushy, often with invasive blackberries. In fact, it is so brushy that I can not see the actual edge of the water in most places. I do see herons, maybe one every 200-300 yards and after a 1/2 mile, I see beaver sign. It could be that there is a large marsh area on both sides of the slough - the slough not being the only habitat. It could also be that there is a thin oily sheen over the entire slough, probably runoff from busy roads in the area. I do see a couple kingfishers, a stellars jay, some geese, a couple hawks and six goslings (the first I've seen this spring) and it is an enjoyable and casual paddle. Returning to the put-in I cruise the Mercer shoreline wondering at a few monstrous yachts that, ridiculously large, must be greatly enjoyed by the neighbors, blotting out the sun as they do. If someone gave me one of those, I could buy 2000+ canoes like my own. A person could run one hell of an after-school canoe program with that kind of dough. I notice a nice bronze statue of three Native Americans sandwiched between a couple massive houses - perhaps it commemorates sustainable living.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Opportunity is Another Word for "Problem"

It is in the mid 50's and sunny with a 10mph wind out of the north. I have no chores today, or I should say, I have given myself no chores today. I start out paddling in all of the nooks and crannies of the marsh east of the burial island. I'll not be able to go here when the lake level drops during the summer. Redwing blackbirds and great blue herons are my companions in the marsh, but it is by my choice and not theirs. I sit for a spell and see if anything wanders in. It doesn't. I continue by paddling my 34 inch wide canoe into any long opening in which it will fit and work my way along until it becomes a 28 inch opening. Then I back out. I spot gorgeous auburn colored duck that I am not familiar with (it was a cinnamon teal, maybe in for the summer). An unbelievably beautiful duck. Opportunity knocks... I find and haul out two car tires along with 8 tennisballs. Now I have to paddle to the dump site across the bay. The wind isn't so bad. Scattered buffleheads, common mergansers still around in groups of 12 or 20. Then, Downwind back to the put-in.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Winnie the Pooh is Dead

Today, I found Winnie the Pooh floating face down amongst the cattails. Oh well...

Before leaving the East channel of the burial island I spot 2 hooded mergansers, 4 geese (1 nesting), 2 herons, Redwing blackbird, some swallows and I surprise a snipe while fetching some foam debris. A kingfisher strikes behind me while I'm preparing for a photo. The cattails look like Pronto Pups that have been rolled in feathers right after being removed from the deep fat fryer. I head North across the bay to the lunch counter. Scattered buffleheads and scaup in the bay, but the duck count is way lower than in midwinter. Some Common Mergansers are near the lunch counter. At the NE lagoon, kingfishers are working, several heron around, the #1 goose nest is well. Inside the lagoon I watch a heron hunting in the shadows, its head held out horizontally, walking very very slowly and steady so as not to disturb the water. Then I head to the north shore to pick plastic out of the cattails. I find an especially rich plastic soup spot and work it for 90 minutes.

Everytime it starts to look somewhat clean, a deeper scoop into the water brings more shit to the surface. I end up collecting 50+ gallons today. I get hungry and I paddle towards home. Oh yeah, it is another day where I see a great blue heron about every hundred yards of shoreline.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Invention is the Mother of Necessity

50F cloudy weather has returned and I once again have the bay to myself. Aside from coots, common mergansers seem to be the most plentiful ducks in the bay. I see them in near the N shore and along the W islands. There may be a couple hundred of them in the bay. Buffleheads are more scarce and I see a just a few scaup plus the ringneck duck that seems to have settled here. One eagle perches at the entrance to the NE lagoon. Today is a trash picking day. I finally got around to building my trash net, a piece of 1 inch chicken wire on a 15 inch diameter hoop mounted to a 6 foot long wood stick. Very high tech. I've already removed the big garbage - the foam and buoys, so I am working down the size chain. The net lets me scoop debris from edges of the marsh. The most recognizable junk that I get is the 30-40 tennis balls. Unfortunately, so much plastic isn't recognizable, it's just small chunks of colored junk, fist sized hunks of packing foam and yucky plastic bag pieces. I leave so much behind, I just can't reach it or sift it all out. I tell myself that it is something you just keep doing and someday you'll realize that it made a difference. I make two trips and fill a 40 gallon garbage can to the brim with shit (the best word in the english language for it).
Happy Earthday - 39 years old and ignored for only 30 of them.
Everyday is Earthday, Fuck George W. Bush and his friends.

Monday, April 20, 2009


About 70F and sunny. Probably a two drowning day for the Seattle area. Made the mistake of paddling in Union Bay in the afternoon. After 6 months of having the area almost to myself, this is no fun. Rental canoes weaving drunkenly about the bay with unlifejacketed college kids in 45 degree water. I even got run into once.

HOWEVER, I counted a 58 common mergansers in a flock at the mouth of the NE lagoon. I haven't seen that many in a tight group before. I'm also pretty sure that the widgeons, northern shovelers and teal are gone for the season (I knew something was missing). The buffleheads and mergansers should leave soon. Turtles are out sunning. Mid-afternoon is just not a ideal time for wildlife action when it is nice. Must try to be less lazy and get out earlier.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

In a River

S joined me today. It was warm and mostly cloudy. We put in at the top of the lake and paddled over to the mouth of the Sammamish River. The current is light as it has not rained much lately. The river's current depends on rain runoff in Lake Sammamish, 13 miles upstream. The water is high and we can paddle easily where it is usually only a few inches deep. S comments that there is less bird life here than in Union Bay. The river banks up here have not been eco-restored, unlike the "natural" edges of the bay. While there is a lot of open space, massive blackberry patches have pushed out the native plants that would support diverse bird life. Still, it is pleasant to paddle in the river. The banks can also be good for finding animal tracks, but not today because the water is so high.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nesting Time

I write from the canoe today. The day has a hazy sun, it is 50F and getting warmer. Art and a sprained ankle have kept me out of the water for a week.
I put in at the south lagoon and paddle out through the east channel of the burial island.
A heron sits high in the last tall tree on the right, where I haven't seen a heron perch before. Frogs are singing to the left. It has been a long time since I heard frogs.
The first lily pads have reached the surface. They are still scattered, red-brown and only 2 or 3 inches in diameter.
Red Wing Blackbirds are singing from the top of the low brush and the tops of the cattails.
The #2 goose nest is well. The goose sits very still and curled up on the nest. Through my binoculars I see it is watching me. I move on.
Many geese are along the shore in pairs - they haven't built their nests, yet.
Out in the bay, the ducks are fewer and more scattered. Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, Scaup and Coots are present.
In the NE lagoon, I can see that the lake is very high. Nest sites from last May are well underwater. No eagles - but there goes one now, behind me to a perch high in a tree. I think it is the big female.
Goose nest #1 is fine. I spot a 3rd on an old barge section on the N shore. A fourth is in the N channel on the island. The aggressive posture of the mate tips off it's presence.
A 5th uncompleted nest is on another of the west islands.
Taking out, I find a 6th goose nest right across the narrow channel from the landing.
As I paddled close to shore today, I figure that I saw a great blue heron just about every 100 yards.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Low Tide

For a few days, I was afraid that I had missed spring. It is about 45F with an inconsequential breeze and an occasional light rain. The clouds are low and thick. I set out from Elliot Bay almost at low tide to go to a shoreline clay deposit and collect some flat silt-stones for an art project. I made the mistake a week ago of going at high tide and finding the deposit underwater. I get my stones this time although I do I have to wade some. Most of the time I am 200 yards from shore and paddling in 2 feet of water. I spot some peach colored blobs on the bottom as I a paddle. Finally stopping, they turn out to be moon snails. I'd only seen the shells and did not realize that they had so much flesh on the outside. They are big. Many goldeneyes are around mixed with a few buffleheads. On the return, I spot an eagle sitting on four mile rock. At different times, four different seals have surfaced and watched me pass. Seals always remind me of something supernatural. They seem to be passive, expressionless and always watching from a distant with large bottomless eyes. I think of the sulkie (see John Sayles fine movie, "The Secret of Roan Inish".

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Comfort Plants

I walked my canoe to Lake Union. It is 50F with a wind out of the south. I will have the wind at my back most of the time today. I see the nutrea trapper in the south end of Portage Bay. He has set so many traps that a nutrea could leap from trap to trap, if a nutrea could leap. Passing the fish hatchery, I see the fish feeding man feeding the little salmon. It is windy, ducks are scarce. Some kayaks are out. I see a second goose nest today. It is on one of the beaver lodges and the mate chases me away. Near the burial island I stop in the cattails. Cattails are a comfort plant for me in the same way that people have comfort foods. Todays wind makes the reeds rustle. A soft white object to my left turns out to be an egg from last year that has gone as soft as an empty balloon. I find this out when I poke it with my paddle and the yoke spills out. I spent a lot of summer days at my grandma's. She lived on a big lake that was great for swimming in the summer and great for skating in the winter, if someone kept a patch of ice clear. Across the road from her house was a large swamp with lots of frogs, turtles and the others that should've been there. When bored, I could spend several hours pinching, poking and smashing cattail heads, watching the down spill out until it blew away or, more often, found it's way into my ears, eyes and mouth. Grandma's house might, at times, be an insane asylum, but the swamp could always be depended upon to be a place where you could be alone. Even now, it cradles my canoe, blocks the wind and reflects the warmth of the sun upon me. Other boats pass by, but no one comes near. I just sit here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Big Calm Water

I walk the canoe down to Lake Washington. It is very calm and already in the upper 60's. Today, I cross the lake. It is a 2 mile crossing. Aside from a grebe, there are few birds out here. The lake is deep, so only fish eating birds have much to do out here. It is so calm that floating objects can be seen a long way off. I spot a feather from more than 100 yards and stop to take photos of it when I get "there". Once across, I paddle under "the bridge that I rarely mention" with only 60 feet of headroom to spare. Then it is straight back towards Union Bay. This stretch is a hit zone for canoes, but there are so few motorboats out today that it is quite pleasant. I notice that on both ends of the floating "bridge that I rarely mention" are areas of floating debris. I'm sure that these patches form because of the "bridge that I rarely mention's" design. Mostly it is woody debris, but I pick up 10 tennis balls. In the bay, the birds seem to be relaxing today, not much happening. The U is renting a lot of canoes to people that don't think life jackets are necessary when the water is 45F. Some day they are going to get sooo sued for letting people have the option - it's just a drowning waiting to happen. I tell some frat boys to put the jackets on and they oblige me, because I have my Forest Circus hat on. They take them off when they think they are out of sight. I collect a garbage bag worth of junk and walk home.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Saltwater Day

I set out on the sound today to pick up some silt-stone rocks (for an art project) from a spot on the shore where a spongy clay deposit rises. I set out from Elliot Bay. It is 50F with sun and a very slight breeze. There are quite a few goldeneyes and buffleheads near shore today. A couple of bald eagles are cruising the 60 foot high bluffs that form the shore here. I can hear the rattling chatter of kingfishers. It takes about an hour to get to the clay deposit and it hits me that I have only been here on foot at low tide. Only a handful of silt-stones are above the waterline. I put back in and continue north up the shore. As I approach the West Point Lighthouse, a flock of 30 brandts (geese) round the point and come straight towards me with their wings set in a down facing arc as they prepare to land. They takeoff again and head north as I approach. A large sailboat regatta is slowly passing south. They are moving slower than I am with every inch of their sail up. North of the point, the brandts take to the air again as I near. I can see them until they are a few miles north - they are just passing through on their way to the arctic. I turn around when I reach the entrance to the ship canal. I spot a pair of red-breasted mergansers. They are the prettiest of the mergansers and the ones that I see least often. There are some scaup and some grebes about also. As I near 4 mile rock (photo), I spot a common loon and four surf scoters.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring is near

It rained hard and snowed some last night. Today the sun comes and goes and the early 35F temperature climbs to 50F by the time I get into the water. It is calm and most pleasant. The lake is as high as I have seen it. I paddle deeper into the marsh than I normally can do. Cattails are coming up now, the lily pads that were almost to the surface have disappeared with the rising water. There are still quite a few common mergansers on the lake. Buffleheads, widgeons and coots are still here. I see a few ring-necked ducks and some scaups and quite a few heron. Song birds are now very active in the cattails. I paddle by the goose nest that I saw a week or so ago. It is still the only nest that I have seen so far and while I am taking a photo, the mate comes over with a clear aim of making me leave. The dirtberg has only two small patches above the surface, maybe 4 feet in diameter each, and it hasn't moved. I spend some time above it. It is a bit of a time capsule, having brought a few pieces of junk to within reach of the surface. I find an old pop can pull tab and an early non-aluminum pull-tab Budweiser can. A pretty exciting day. I just look forward and paddle, feeling the rhythm and listening to the sound of my paddle as it dips into and exits the water.