Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wrong Turn

Astronomically winter.I made a wrong turn on my portage to the lake,
and this took me past a man who asked, "how's the fishing?"
A tired joke for me, except that this man read me right,
and said it with a big wiseacre grin,
which brought a laugh up and out of me,
and I realized that I was fishing

Monday, December 28, 2009

Always Carry a Spare

I set out on the big lake. It is calm, so calm that I can see bird feathers in the water from a hundred yards. I think that I should photograph some of them, white delicates on dark blue, but there'll be a better one farther along. And yes, I know that is a trick of the mind that lets me continue on. Just at the entry to Union Bay, I spy two otters along the shore. When I get too close they retreat into the rocks that form the seawall and I leave as they won't come out until I am gone. Coming to the east marsh, there are buffleheads and common mergansers, both beautiful in black and white, with the former being small and stubby and the later being large and sleek. At the big beaver lodge, I turn north and head out across the bay to the north point. The ducks seem to be fairly scattered today and not in the tight flocks that I normally see. At the north marsh, I get the hankering to haul out a tire. I get a second one just feet from my dump site. It's not time to go home, so I return to the north marsh and get a big truck tire. They are a big and heavy project compared to a car tire and I can't lift them from inside the canoe, so it makes sense to use the calm day. As I turn toward home, I surprise a heron from just 15 feet. Actually, anytime you surprise a heron from that distance, it is a surprise for both parties involved.

Friday, December 25, 2009


I race over my portage to the lake. I can't get there in time for the predawn shadow, the last minutes of syrupy darkness, but I can still get there before the sun comes up. Ice has once again set up in the south lagoon. It is no more than a 1/4 inch thick, so I bust through it to get into the east channel of the burial island. There is little ice in the channel and what is here is the thin feather patterns of a barely forming freeze. It is like the frost on a window, except bigger. I'm probably to late too spot beaver in the east marsh, but they would hear me coming through the ice long before I could see them anyway. The sun rises while I am in the east marsh, first peeping through frost covered cattails before rising orange into an almost clear sky. Redwing blackbirds begin to trill back and forth at each other. I head across the bay, straight for the railroad island, a marsh island formed around pilings from a rail pier that long ago dissolved. Ducks to the side of me take wing from one of the dirtbergs. I am too far off to be the cause and I spot an eagle, which seems to just be warming up for a later hunt. It lands on a boathouse. Just as I reach the railroad island, the eagle passes having circled around behind me. It lands in a tree at the mouth of the NE lagoon. I stop in the branches of the island's eagle perch. I have made a truly crappy thermos of coffee today. It reminds me of my dad's duck hunting brew from 40 years ago... it might actually be left-overs. A red tailed hawk overlooks the north marsh. I just sit, for a long time. It is cold and it is also a beautiful morning. Edging along #2 island, I scare up 3 snipe. There are always snipe here - something the birdwatchers rarely see because they stay on dry land. Near Marsh Island, I pause and explore the submerged debris field. It is definitely old building remains. There are bricks, wire and other fixtures, plus the old bathtubs that I have noted before. I recover a crushed copper tea kettle. The rest I leave for an archaeologist that is starving for a project.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Portage Bay - no beaver tracks worth casting on the lodge. There is a mix of coots, cormorants, widgeons and a few ringnecks in the south end of the bay. The day is a light haze of high clouds with some blue sky and calm air with a temperature in the 40's. Just before entering the cut, on my way to Union Bay, I pass 3 goldeneyes (a male and 2 females). Geese are in the cut and a hooded merganser meets me at the far end. There is no boat traffic of any sort. The man sitting on the south edge of Broken Island is a heron in my binoculars. As I near, the man moves to the far side of that marshy high spot and finally, flies away. A kingfisher greets me at Birch Island. As I paddle the edge of #2 Island, I flush a snipe - then a second snipe - and as my canoe scrapes against the cattails, a high pitched squeal, a third takes to air. I cross the channel to #1 Island and a 4th snipe darts off, and they do fly like darts. A red tailed hawk sits in a birch on the north shore and I paddle away to the east. Rounding the north point, I come across a flock of 200 coots and ducks. I stop and they move off at their own leisure. I stop in the center of the north marsh to pick out some trash and slip off a log, filling one of my new rubber boots with stinky swamp water. A fifth snipe takes off. Returning, a kingfisher waits on the east point of #1 Island while a heron owns the west point, until I get too near. I retrieve a car tire from the north side of Broken Island. It is both a target of opportunity and an excuse to make the trip last 10 minutes longer. But, the best part of the trip was meeting an older woman as I portaged to the lake. She told me that she canoed as a camp guide near Lake Itasca in Minnesota. And I told her the name of the lake, Many Point, because I went to camp there also. So, we traded canoe stories, because some people find that they have a canoe in their heart.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hanging Weather

I put in at the east end of the ancient portage. If this was a hot day, people would say that the weather was just hanging in the air. But, it is cold. Still, the weather is just hanging in the air. It is calm and gray, and maybe 45 degrees. Flocks of coots and ducks are north of me forming dense patches of black specks in the water. It seems that they have no interest in flight, except that once in awhile a few get up to rejoin the main flock when it has drifted off out of safe range. I head up the east side of the west islands passing, the Rock Pile, Broken Island, Birch Island, Number Two and Number One. The names are mine alone. A hawk sits in the osprey tree just north of Number One. In the NE lagoon, I get out and explore the wetland that once was Yesler Creek. New knee length rubber boots makes exploring the marsh much more fun. I share the lagoon with one heron that is busy hunting 75 yards away. Leaving the lagoon, I spot 3 trumpeter swans on the easternmost of the dirtbergs. I close to 100 yards so that I can hear their honking without disturbing them. Crossing the middle of the bay, a flock of ducks overtakes me and I turn to see an eagle beginning an afternoon hunt. It goes for a flock to the west and circles over what might be a coot or pied billed grebe. The eagle is determined, but I doubt that a kill is in order - whatever it has forced to dive is exceptionally skillful at staying under. A second eagle is on a branch just above the south nest. I wonder if they will shift from the north nest that they have been using to this south one.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

And Paddling Away

I struggle awake this morning and read enough news to show me that the ruling class is every bit as incompetent and misguided as it was in 1914. So, I take my canoe to the big lake and instead of heading north like I planned, I find myself heading away, paddling away, paddling away to the northeast, out into the big lake where no one is. It is gray and misting on the two mile crossing with a raw north wind. Open water crossings, especially in inclement weather and cold water, play head games with me. The far shore never seems to get closer and the near shore doesn't become more distant, until, in an instance, and never in the middle of the crossing, the shore I am heading for suddenly starts to near and where I came from has become small. I spot 10 western grebes on the way. Returning, I head west, straight across. It is a bit shorter crossing. There is a flock of 60 to 70 western grebes hunkered down near the midpoint. My guess is that the weather out on the salt water has sent them here today. Both eagles are at high points in the east marsh, which provides the only real color on such a gray day. The cattails have begun to take on the color and appearance of a cornfield in late fall, golden tan and shaggy. There is just a little ice left in the south lagoon and it breaks like the safety glass in an automobile when I paddle into it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Paddling Away

I start in the south lagoon. There is still ice here and a thin layer of fog forms on it. After two warm days with rain the ice is deceptively weak. It pops and cracks as I scoot the canoe across it. Once in the canoe, I find that I can break through 2 inch thick ice. Unseen flaws have formed in the ice during the rain. The canoe rides up on the thicker ice and then a crack zips out like a thin black bolt of lightning, the canoe sags and settles into the water. I cannot round the burial island. Instead I play with blocks of ice for a while, and then, move off. Yesterday, I toiled all day on a problem that I could not solve. Today, I need to paddle away. I need to paddle away until I wanted to paddle back. I circle Marsh Island once, noting buffleheads, bathtubs and nurse logs and then head through the cut. It is very calm with greasy clouds, clouds that the sun comes through as a yellow oily smear. I head straight through Portage Bay and follow the west side of Lake Union. Then into the Fremont canal. It was once a thin creek that dropped twelve feet in about a half mile to Salmon Bay. That was over a hundred years ago. Salmon Bay is busy with Kvichak launching a new boat. There are two large cranes and a tug to handle the job. The tug wash nearly blows me into a moored boat as I pass. I stop at Fishermans Terminal for lunch and I am ready to return. I have paddled away enough. At Kvichak, the boat is less than halfway out of the shed. There are scaups in the canal. I don't know why they prefer here, but they do. I rarely see them in other parts of the waterway. I head down Lake Union and take out at a place that is 200 yards south of my normal spot. The view is all different. Such a difference for such a small distance, but all the buildings and boats are a different scale from here.

Monday, December 14, 2009


The thaw is on, but the ice in the south lagoon where I put in is still 3 or 4 inches thick. Ducks are back in the open water although most are still out in the main bay. A heavy mist starts and it cuts the visibility to about a mile. There is a dreamy effect to the view. I see no swans, yet. Most of the ducks are near the north marsh. The widgeons provide a constant squeaky whistle, which seems a rather ridiculous call for a duck. Next time I get to design a duck I will keep that in mind. In the north marsh, I find myself sitting and watching, waiting for something that may never happen. The ducks take to air and an eagle comes into view flying east to west across the bay. It takes a half-hearted dive at one duck, but continues on until disappearing into the gray. And then, all returns to what it was. The flock is spread wide so that the opposite ends are beyond the limits of my peripheral vision. I like this, not because the ducks are infinite, but because for the moment they seem to be so.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ice Games

Cold weather, cold enough to form good thick ice comes so rarely to my home. I put in at Portage Bay and play with ice, never getting more than 200 yards from my start. I break, cut and position sheets of ice on old pilings in the bay and when done with that, I find that I can stick even larger sheets into the mud that forms the bottom. I balance them carefully, as vertical as possible so that they will survive as long as possible. The sun begins to break down the ice, our weather not cold enough to keep it in suspended animation, soon the big sheets have a spider web of flaws running through them, which only serves to send the sunlight off in a thousand directions. Some of them will make it to sunset.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


It is still cold, maybe about 20 degrees this morning, but sunny and just a light north wind. I put in on the big lake and I am rewarded by three river otters just 10 yards off of the shore. At first I though they might be muskrats, but one climbed up onto the lower rung of a ladder on a dock to eat a small fish. They seemed to be heading south and they disappeared before I had the canoe in the water. Paddling north, the sun bakes my back while the north wind stings the tips of my ears with cold. Ice has spread in Union Bay. The east marsh is frozen firm and there is ice forming on the marsh edges that face the big lake. The ice is over an inch thick just 3 or 4 feet in from the edge. I spend a couple hours cutting large slabs of ice and balancing them on the rotting pilings that are found in the area. Sometime during the day they will pick up the sunlight from just the right angle and give someone something to wonder about. While carrying ice to a pylon, a splash happens to my right. I think for a second that someone has thrown a rock, then a kingfisher springs up out of the water. There are three swans in the bay. I see them from a distance and don't bother to get closer, so it is possible that there could be some immature grays - they blend in with the background from this distance.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ice Crackin'

It is still cold and the ice has thickened. I start in Portage Bay by balancing over the canoe and scooting with one foot for the first 10 yards until the canoe settles through thinner ice into the water. Straight away, I head through the cut into a calm Union Bay with one eagle circling and brilliantly lit by the low winter sun over an unseen coot. This time the coot gets away and the eagle flies off low across the bay, and almost as if it is throwing a tantrum, it scatters a hundred ducks without showing any real interest at all. I crunch through the edge of the growing ice in the south lagoon. This is not like the ice last year, which froze during snowfall. That was weak and airy stuff and I paddled through it for most of the two weeks it was present. This ice is skater's ice, window ice - it is clear and dense, almost as clear as window glass. A half inch of it is hard to bust through with the canoe and 3/4 of an inch supports the boat completely. There will be no passage around the burial island, so I head north across the bay after talking with a kayaker who is enjoying the weather as much as I am. The swan from two days back is nowhere to be seen, but the view is one of my favorites - deep blue water with its horizon defined by a thin golden band of cattails, higher brush, and finally blue sky. Ice is forming in the west islands and along the north shore, so, it has definitely been cold and calm at night. There is a constant whistle/squeak of widgeons in mid bay.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

One Swan

It has been seasonably cold, not that it is always like this, but at some time during all winters, it is. I start at the south lagoon, which is partly frozen. The ice is only 5/8 inch at the thickest, so the canoe moves through with out too much difficulty. The ducks that like to winter in this patch of water have had to move elsewhere. These are dabblers mostly, mallards, widgeons, northern shovelers and so forth. I pick sheets of ice up and look through it like window glass. It is good smooth ice and would make good skating if it were a few inches thick. Exiting the east channel of the burial island, an eagle flies by heading north. A second one follows soon, but swings around back to the south and lands at the old nest that I spotted last year. Perhaps that nest will be used this year. As soon as I get to the north edge of the marsh I spot a swan 3/4 of a mile across the bay, and as I coast a few yards, a bald eagle appears just 10 yards to my right sitting on a log in the water. I am downwind and it is obviously eating a fish. I head across the bay and let the boat drift into the NE lagoon where a heron stands watch. Then, west past the swan - there is only one, I thought that I might find some immature gray swans. The grays are harder to spot from a distance. All of the birds are focused and behaving as if a storm is approaching. I return using the shelter of the west islands. The wind has been coming up since I started. It is cold enough that I wear gloves for the first time this season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Part 2 - DD8 and DD9

Dry Dock #8 (just barely in view on the left) and Dry Dock #9

You can't see much from land, but this is where the big boats go,
the ocean going, the working class, the boats that know the harsh difference between the lore of the sea and - the reality of the sea.
Each year, one or two don't return. The ones that do might come here.
Re-fitted, re-painted, re-worked, re-launched.
Paint is chipped, broken metal cut off, new metal welded on.
DD8 is where the Wawona, 165 feet of wooden schooner,
rotting in the water, was erased.

Unrepairable, un-seaworthy, uneconomical.
I saw the tops of her decks in DD8 on her last day.

Part 1, 1850

Unable to reconcile the nature of Union Bay and the industry of Lake Union, which for your information are separated by one mile of water, I split today's journal into two parts.

I put in on the big lake and decide to make this 1850 day. Settlers arrived here, permanently, during that decade. It is in the mid 30's with not one cloud anywhere and with a light cold wind out of the north. There is a small chop on the lake so that the surface is a dark blue green with black static running through it. Mt. Baker is clearly visible, snow and glaciers all white, on the north horizon, eighty miles away. There are buffleheads and canada geese along the shore, a cormorant or two, and four common mergansers. The common mergansers, a very large and pretty duck, have just arrived recently in the lake (this year). The 1850 skyline is about 100 feet higher, Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars, maples, and alders replacing the rooftops. The lake is 10 feet deeper and it drains by a river 10 miles south, a river that no longer exists. It is steep where I put in, so that shoreline hasn't changed much, but in many places, where there are now houses, there is instead a quarter mile of shallow water and marsh. The Duwamish live all up and down this and other nearby lakes and along the rivers. Smoke, on a cold day like this, would be the most obvious marker of their village locations. At the opening to Union Bay, a potlatch house stands on the south shore while the point forming the north side is a tangle of forest. Exposed to winds during storms, there would be some massive trees lying on the ground there making land passage difficult. This bay is considered a rather well-to-do village site. In the NE corner of the bay is a longhouse, 2 more are a mile north from the current north shore, that mile being open water and marsh. Another stands near the smokestack that marks the University steam plant. The south shore is a good 1/4 mile south of its current location, and the largest island, the burial island, is the only island in the bay and it is much smaller than it is today. The Duwamish place their dead in boxes and place the boxes in trees on this island. Since then, it has been misused by the settlers and their descendents. This would be fine weather for hunting waterfowl, which would be present in much larger numbers than it is today.
I stop and talk with two bird watching friends on the north shore. The eagles are not out right now, but there are two red-tailed hawks. I am informed that one of them has learned to hunt coots and ducks like the eagles do. One catches a mouse while we watch. The eagles show up as we stand, but they do not go to hunting directly. As I paddle down the west islands, both eagles land on a drift log 30 yards away. They have a dead seagull there. One picks at it, but I get the idea that they would prefer coot and the gull is considered leftovers. I continue on through the cut, which can't be done in 1850, because the cut won't exist until 1916. Instead, there is a well used and ancient portage of maybe 200 yards that takes one into Portage Bay. I continue on into Lake Union, a far too nice day to be inside.