Sunday, September 27, 2009


I get up early and put in at the south lagoon before sunrise. Something in the back of my mind, imprinted long ago, always tells me that a small amount of self imposed torture will have disproportionate benefits.It is calm and not dark, but the world is in shadow. I head up the east channel of the burial island, preferring not to come out into open sky too quickly, but I really didn't think about it... direction by hunch. As I near the north end of the east marsh, a beaver swims across my path towing a branch. It doesn't seem to notice me until I am 10 yards away and it dives with a slap of the tail sending water 4 feet in the air. I continue on to a distance where it might feel safe, I pour a cup of coffee and then I sit still and watch. While I wait, there is a splash closer to my left and a moment later a second beaver surfaces. I decide I had better look all around, and there is number 3, just 50 yards behind my left shoulder. 1 and 2 continue to the lodge, but 3 swims a big wide S, watching me carefully. This leads my eye to number 4, which is motionless in the water. I figure out that I am interfering with their business, so I move back 20 yards. The sun comes up. A kingfisher flies overhead chattering all the way. 3 has now moved off toward the lodge and I see it no more. 4, however, continues to swim slowly back and fourth. Twice it dives with a slap of the tail, even though I haven't moved. 4 seems to be the guard beaver. After I back off another 50 yards, it watches for a few minutes and then disappears. I wait 10 minutes and with no more sign of beaver, paddle off across the bay. A 4 man shell rows by at speed heading into the sun. The coxswain, perhaps the wife of one of the rowers tells how beautiful the morning is by the expression on her face, which is brilliantly lit by the new sun. She glows golden. If it was my wife and I were rowing, I would stop and watch her and damned be to the other three in the boat. I find geese, ducks and coots on the north side of the bay. A redtail hawk lands in a tall alder tree. There are lone coots around. The eagles are probably still eating salmon. Independent coots, the rebels, are eagle food during the winter.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Twenty Questions

Just as I'm putting in on the big lake, a guy comes up and starts a conversation. I had no aims when I left the house and had decided to let the canoe find it's way and already I was going in an unexpected direction. He asked if there was a reason that I used a canoe instead of a kayak. I replied that it was somewhat intangible and gave the surface answers that satisfy most people, but he didn't buy it. He asked then if I was from the upper midwest and I answered, Minnesota. "There, he said, "you've been imprinted." He was as right as anything and I know that my subtle Minnesota-Norwegian smile appeared, briefly, but even this perceptive fellow most likely missed it. Those smiles are not classified as such in dictionaries as they don't resemble smiles. They are only recognizable in relation to the previous facial expression. Very often, my canoe trips bring back the memories of Boyscouts paddling up the Ottertail River, crossing Round Lake and continuing up to a beaver dam that seemed far larger than I would have thought possible. Before returning we would take a short swim in the beautifully named lake, "Ice-crackin". Anyway, we exchanged names and shook hands and I headed north. It took 15 minutes to get my head back into my canoe, but it was all worthwhile.
Soon, I spotted a lone horned grebe that was catching small fish on almost every dive. As I rounded the point into Union Bay, a flock of canada geese in v-formation materialized from gap in the trees. As I reached the east marsh, an eagle coasted down and set on a log boom to my right. Ducks scattered, but this eagle has probably been eating salmon bits as there is a run of coho right now. A green backed heron sits on a branch protruding from the "workbench beaver lodge". More grebes near the cut, and I continue through Portage Bay and down Lake Union.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Can Tell

I woke up early this morning. It was dark and I was in bed, but I was already in my canoe. Fall is here. It will be unusually warm today, maybe 15 or 20 degrees above normal. The thermometer will say summer. The simplest and easiest measurement will lead one astray, as simple and easy information often does, in all things. It is fall and while at the scientific level there are dozens of measurements that say so, it is the qualitative that tells me so. The light has changed. Gone is the harsh washed out scenery of summer days when my photographs were all about the parlor tricks of nature; early light or dramatic clouds that filter rays and cast shadows. The fall light brings deep rich tones and long shadows. In fall, my photographs are about composition first, and keeping the shots with good light. The air has changed as well. The nights are longer, cooler and damper and day seems to struggle to return summer's warmth. The longer nights bring unplanned but orchestrated smells and flavors. It's not of showy flowers, but of the hidden deepness that sustains life. Summer air was tinned spices while fall is fresh cardamom seeds crushed this very second under my rolling pin. Winter will change all that, deadening the spices, but it will bring its own beauty in an even trade. Observations - the lily pads are browning at the edges. They show a summer's wear with chunks missing and deep tears. A flock of 100 coots has returned to the bay. Cormorants are sitting on the new dirtbergs that have hit the surface in mid-bay. I spot two green backed herons, some great blue herons, wood ducks, and two horned grebes.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The canoe takes me.

From the canoe ...
My country has gone insane. Religious and political ideology combined with greed and hateful speech. It's awful, it's maddening and I am ashamed and saddened.
In my canoe, the wind is behind me, coming over ten miles of lake under a low thick overcast. My canoe is completely sane. It is purposeful, even if I am not. It takes me. (the period drops in on that sentence of its own accord...) My canoe drifts, it rocks on waves, if floats, it carries load, but mostly, it takes me, and, I let it.
The big lake, all rock walled and with two long floating bridges turns ordinary wind waves into chop. I stay a couple hundred yards from shore, as I move north, for easier paddling. I am on my knees until I reach Union Bay, the boat is more stable in that position. But no waves come over the gunwales and the only real thrill is when a yacht sends a large wake my way. It adds with the wind waves and I ride a couple chest high waves. Along the south shore of Union Bay the air smells green, the wind blowing it across the east marsh. It is the smell of fresh cut grass, only cleaner and more natural to the taste. It has many more flavors than a lawn. Three pied billed grebes are to my left. Their talent is to sink, not dive, without trace into the water, and they demonstrate for me as usual. I stop at the big beaver lodge, which is covered in summer vegetation so that no casual visitor would recognize it. The lake is down 15 inches or so from early summer. Of notice, cormorants have begun to return. They seem to be the first birds of the returning fall. I circle the bay, pass through the cut, the next bay, and down Lake Union, just going where my canoe takes me.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

September 2, 2009 Lake Ozette

My last day. I'm up at 6:30, make coffee and oatmeal and tear down camp. I'm in the boat in 45 minutes. One of the guys that was camping here comes over to talk. He is impressed at how fast I can take down and pack. They're going to Allens Bay and I recommend that they think about camping at Birkestol Point, because it is that much better than Allens Bay. I head out on very calm water, stopping to explore the forest a bit when I spot an old man made stone jetty. The area was settled by scandanavians although most of them left before the first road was put in (1926). The rainforest takes back anything that is left to stand, so most homesteader structures near the lake have disappeared completely, other than the stone jetty and some fence posts made out of old timber railroad rails. You can recognize where they cleared land by the stands of 80-100 year old trees, which also do their part to bury any remaining signs of homesteads.

I spot a deer. Deer around here are not tame, but since they are not hunted they are not afraid of people. I walk to within about 20 yards for a photo and then leave it in peace. Back in the canoe I paddle up and around the North End and head back south to Swan Bay and my car.

September 1, 2009 Lake Ozette

A second party came into the bay last night. They camp a hundred yards away. This spot wouldn't get busy until there were 4 or 5 parties, it's a pretty big area for camping. We exchanged greetings from a distance and I imagine they are enjoying the solitude as much as I am.
Up at 6:30. The waves began crashing on the beach and have woken me up. I take a look and they are all of two inches high. A clue as to how silent it has been at night. I'm in no hurry, so I sit around and drink my ersatz coffee. 2 stellars jays are checking me out and a woodpecker is working over a branch to my right. It is overcast and dim, so I can't see any colors on the birds. I paddle a 1/2 mile south to the Ericson's Bay trail. It is a two mile hike to the ocean and comes out about 6 miles north of the Allen's Bay trail. I have no doubt that both of these trails were put in by homesteaders who brought supplies in from the ocean. Most of them had moved away before the first road arrived. I spot an electric insulator in a large cedar on the way and a winch that looks like it would've been ideal for pulling wire near the shore.This is the Sand Point area. Probably the most heavily used beach for about 20 miles in either direction. Since the beach is three miles from the parking lot (if you don't have a boat), and the parking lot is already a fairly remote spot, it stays very nice indeed.

August 31, 2009 Lake Ozette

I've already started to lose track of days. I can never trust my watch, it resets itself in my pocket from time to time.
I make bannock for breakfast, with strawberry preserves and coffee. I discover that my soap is not here, so I use sand to scrub the cooking oil out of the pan... and I will smell bad by the end of the trip. I will paddle to Allen's Bay, maybe a mile, to see if the Allen's Bay trail still exists. The trail is on old maps, but not on new or NPS maps. As soon as I round Birkestol Point, I can hear the roar of the ocean surf. Upon landing, the trail is easy to find - the first place I look, in fact. It is not at all hard to follow, but it is not at all easy to walk. (Photo - the best of the Allen's Bay trail). There is dew on the plants, the remains of an old board walk are broken and suspect at best and there are frequent downfalls to clamber over or under. This is rainforest and one must remember to walk like an eskimo - baby steps with feet under your weight because any wood is slick as ice. I've learned not to turn my nose up at using a stout hiking staff when walking in the coastal forests. This is a very bad place to break a leg, especially when alone. My brimmed hat shields my face from brush. I wear my rain jacket, but my boots and wool pants are soaked by the time I get to the ocean at Kayostia Beach. It is beautiful and no one is here as it is several miles of shore walking from any other beach access. It was entirely worth the effort.

There is a memorial here for a Norwegian ship that sank in 1903. Only two of the crew survived.
I don't know, but they may have walked out on the same trail. The rest are buried here.

I walk back to my canoe. It is dryer this time because someone has already wiped all of the dew off of the leaves.
Back at the bay, the NPS patrol boat comes speeding into the bay. We wave at each other and they leave me to myself. Allen's Bay is a bit grim as a campsite, so I paddle north along the west shore towards Ericson's Bay, I'm pretty sure there will be a better spot for camp.

August 30, 2009 Lake Ozette

It was a very quiet night. I heard exactly four airliners and later, one small critter padded around the campsite for awhile. Up at 6:30 to a thick overcast and almost no wind. Oatmeal, coffee, load canoe, head south. I follow the east shore past Preachers Point where there is a private house (maybe only 10 private houses - grandfathered in when the lake became National Park land). I head into the bay at the south end, named - South End, but stop on a point to explore the forest a bit. A deer has left tracks on shore. It's old growth forest and fairly easy to walk in.
It is exceedingly still here. There is a fantastic echo in this bay and a play with it for awhile. Then I paddle on to Birkestol Point (on the left of the photo - it appears to be touching Baby Island). I see no one. I am done paddling by noon, and I find that the forest behind my campsite is impenetrable, and I am a pretty good burrower in such stuff. So, I read a lot. Saw an osprey, several kingfishers, some teal, some mergansers and a Stellars Jay.

Photo - looking north out of the south end

August 29, 2009 Lake Ozette

I'm about to bust. My wife tells me to go. She can see that I am too excited to do anything else. I finish up an art submittal and load my gear and canoe in the car.
Four hours later I am at Swan Bay on Lake Ozette.
It takes me less than ten minutes to get the canoe in the water. I only paddle 1/2 mile, to Benson's Point and make camp. I am alone.
In the photo - Garden Island