Saturday, November 28, 2009

53rd Week Anniversary

It is one year and one week since I started keeping this journal, although I thought that today was the anniversary. It's not the year that is important though, instead, it is the fact that now I will begin to see the seasonal patterns of life in the marsh. I start in Portage Bay. It is in the 40's with a strong SW wind and it is overcast. I point out the beaver lodge to some little girls who wander by and one tells me that she once saw an eagle hunting a coot. Her description was accurate.
I pass east through the cut and let the wind blow me north while I write, passing a flock of coots along the way. The wind blows me through the channel between the west islands and shore. I am not sure if I will be paddling back across the bay or walking around it.
A western grebe and some buffleheads.
The birds are laying low today.
Into an inlet and out of the wind.
A heron and two more female buffleheads.
Cattails rustling in the wind. A comfort sound for fall. Whitecaps have formed in the bay. This means that the wind is near 25mph. Crossing in mid bay is not going to happen. The nice thing about the marsh is that there are always little inlets, just big enough for a canoe, to tuck into, completely out the wind. A short hard grind takes me to the lee of marsh island. Then east to the east marsh, where I spot one eagle, but can't watch it because I have to keep fighting the wind. I enter the east channel of the burial island finding a large flock of mallards seeking shelter, as I am. A tall golden tree, all others skeletal, swirls in the sky above.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lake Union

I walked up and over the hill to start in Lake Union. It's about 50F with a good south wind. The clouds have broken up for the first time in several days. It is still mostly cloudy, but at least there is some definition in the clouds. I round the south end of the lake. It is mostly just big plastic yachts with names like "Adventure" and "Wanderlust" until I get over to the Society for Wooden Boats. They have a great collection of usable wood craft. I sit in the protection of the Swiftsure, an old lightship. I once got to roam all around the inside that ship. A DeHavilland Beaver float plane chugs past and then turns and guns it's motor for a downwind takeoff. Then, once again, it is as quite as the middle of a city can get. I enter the lagoon on the SW corner. It used to be a rough spot, overgrown with pilings in the water. The Wawona's masts were stored here, floating in the water, for some time. The area is being redeveloped for a park. It looks pretty sanitary at this point and I hope it will return to something a little more natural as time passes. This lake is in bad need of some natural shoreline. I paddle north and poke into the gaps between marinas to see what the shoreline looks like. A seagull with a broken wing sits out the rest of its life on a bit of rocky shore. People walk by on the trail above, but they can't see this due to the steep bank. I continue north and then east into Portage Bay, which is noticably calmer in spirit than Lake Union. The day is too nice and so I go through the cut and pause on the far end in calm water.
The wind has sprinkled leaves on the water.
Willow, alder and birch and some I do not recognize.
The first sun in many days brings a calmness to Union Bay.
What seemed to be a gray fall is still vibrant with gold and red foliage rimming the water.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Home Repair

I put in at Portage Bay. There are some coots, some Canada geese and some buffleheads hanging out here. It is overcast, maybe 45F, with somewhat raw south wind.The beaver lodge that sits just 20 yards from the launch shows numerous signs of recent work. The beaver have left clear trails in four places leading from the water to the top of the lodge as they added branches to their structure. I look for good tracks, but find none as they seem to slip and slide in the mud just as much as I would have. I find a rusty half of a metal drum on nearby shore and haul it out with the canoe. I paddle north and just around the point into Lake Union for a short stop at Good Turn Park. I woke up last night thinking about the park. It is one of my favorites, a spot that is out of the way for both people on land and people on the water. In fact, it is more difficult to find from the water, so much so that I have never seen any other paddler use the park. But, more important for me is that I sense something good about the place. Maybe it is the name, Good Turn, which I think to be an excellent name for a park, but there is probably more. One time, I took my canoe out here - even though it means an extra half mile walk to home - and there were two boys playing here by themselves. It looked like cops and robbers to me. We didn't speak and I became just a temporary moving piece of landscape as the chase continued. I could see the creativity of the game and the ever changing rules. It was something kids should be allowed to do more often. I continue back east, and into the cut. Six Canada geese overtake me, low and silently as the wind carries any sound that they make away from my ears. I stop and admire the workings of their wings as they fly straight away from me. In the east channel of the burial island, I notice that the green has left the cattails and they are now a earthy golden color. A great blue heron gets up in protest of my arrival. Its blue gray colors, which I often take for granted, steal all of my attention.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I put in on portage bay in the early afternoon. Dark clouds are moving in from the west. Where I grew up one could expect a ferocious thunderstorm and high winds out of such clouds, but here it will most likely just be rain, and it is already windy. Some coots in Portage Bay. Exiting the cut I spot a common merganser. A big flock of coots is moving out in mid-bay, so I look for an eagle and find one in a semi-hover a few hundred yards north. It retreats to the paper birch on one of the islands to rest before continuing with the hunt. I don't circle the bay today, but hang closer to shore due to the weather. I see two nutria not far from the eagle's perch. The temperature drops and it starts to rain hard. I head down into the protection of the south lagoons where I eventually take out.
Today's photo courtesy of the dumping rainstorm that followed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I put in on the big lake. It is calm and unusually sunny. There is a smear at constant elevation through the clouds that rim most of the sky. Underneath one can see the first snows of the winter on the western faces of the Cascades. Above, in a few spots, cumulus clouds push through an invisible barrier, but not too high and not so high as the towering monster clouds that occur in the midwest. Only a few birds in the big lake, just some widely scattered grebes and cormorants. The white throat of the grebes is spotlit by the low bright sun. Once in Union Bay, there are many more buffleheads around and I spot a few green winged teal, which are probably moving through on their way to someplace a little further south of here. I just keep moving until I get to the south end of Portage Bay. Then I walk the canoe back up the hill.

Monday, November 9, 2009


It's raining, solid and steady. When it rains like this, people here tell visitors that it hardly ever rains like this, but it actually rains like this quite often. S says I am crazy to go out in it, but she says that mostly because she is supposed to say that. She knows that I will find something of great value out there today. I start in the south lagoon. There are six northern shovelers nearby. They are large and pretty in coloring with an unusually big and broad bill, hence the name. By the marsh island, a hooded merganser mixes in with a few wood ducks, which is pretty normal behavior for them. I spot a heron and wonder how much harder it is to hunt with the rain disturbing the surface of the water. I the main bay, there are buffleheads and a large flock of coots. When I near the bottom of the west islands, I notice the resident bald eagle pair tag team hunting. They pause for a moment in a paper birch on one of the islands, then back out to circling and swooping at an unseen bird in the water. I stop short of my intentions, so that they can use the paper birch if need be. They catch nothing on the second try, one eagle returns to the birch and one to the dirtberg out in mid-bay. On the third attempt, the male of the pair snatches a coot from the water and flies off. The female gets nothing and will have to keep hunting. I get into the NE lagoon and smell home heating oil. The old 6 foot pipe, which is listed as an overflow pipe, has a current coming out of it. I've never seen water actually flow out of this pipe, but the recent rain has probably created an "overflow" situation. Yuck that has collected in the pipe for some time is now being flushed. I head back south across the bay. Paddling in the east channel of the burial island, I drift off, aware that I am mentally off the material observation and finally going with the canoe. Beautiful fall leaves. No one anywhere. Sound muffled by raindrops. I ease up on a heron that is sleeping in a tree, a headless form because it has tucked it's head so deeply down onto it's chest between the edges of it's wings. It stays put while I pass. Taking out now makes no sense, so I paddle on and through the cut to the new launch at the south end of Portage Bay.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I start in the south lagoon. Heading up the east channel of the burial island the smell of newly exposed mud loaded with decaying vegetation is almost visible in the calm air. The lake is down a couple feet and the stuff that makes life is exposed. It is a good smell despite what it sounds like in print. Out of the protected channel, a stiff cold breeze comes out of the east. It will make waves in the big lake, but in the bay it takes a very strong wind to make the smallest whitecap. I head to the NE corner, which turns out to be well protected from the wind. A kingfisher occupies the eagle's lunch counter perch this morning. I can paddle the edges of the cattails now that the lily pads have died off. My trash cleaning efforts have paid off more than I could have imagined. There is very little new trash at the bog edge and it is mostly cans and bottles. Most of the plastic is stuff that I couldn't reach last year, and there isn't much of it. There are, however, a lot of tennis balls. While picking some trash near one of the west islands, 200 coots start thrashing the water and I turn to watch an eagle circle low over them three times. It is not a dedicated effort at hunting and the eagle flies off after giving them all a good scare. I head through the cut and down Lake Union.
(I forgot to mention that I scare up four snipe at four different places along the cattails. Three flew off at their amazing high speed and one ran quickly into protection of the reeds.)