Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New paddle day...and goose butts

It is completely clouded over in a watercolor wash of blues with no definition, no hard lines, except where the sun backlights two fingers worth of the eastern horizon.

(below - a new paddle - Alaskan yellow cedar, a joy to carve, and so light in the hands)
There is some N wind in the big lake, but the bay is calm, protected by a ridge from the north, and it is a place to stop for coffee without losing distance. I come up the east shore in quiet hearing only the dip of the paddle and the zip of its feathered and submerged return. There is no movement until two eagles whistle and I slowly come up out of my daze. I stop and they stop. I don't know why, but they will whistle wildly when I pass by, but the second I stop to watch, they go silent. The two eagles are sitting in a flat topped diodor cedar, where I often see eagles. When I drift too close one gets up and flies to a new perch a quarter mile south. Then the second follows. I hear the whistle of greeting when they meet up again. Neither of these two were large enough to be from the north nest. Whether they are passing through or nest somewhere nearby, I don't know.
I continue towards the railroad island, my original destination for a coffee break. A third eagle sits on the perch there, and it takes wing when I am way too far away to be the cause. It begins a circling hunt over something in the north marsh, giving up soon and returning. I steer clear of the railroad island so as not to disturb the eagle. It is probably one of the north nest residents. This is their turf.

I head towards something white floating off of the north point. I saw it from quite some distance and it turns out to be a down comforter. I squeeze water from half of it, tie it to the canoe and drag it to shore where I can drain it.

There are many teal in the channel of #1 island. They are new arrivals, along with the new pair of eagles. I flush a green backed heron also. It won't be long before it leaves for the winter.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

the signal

It's not so much that the colors of the marsh are changing. They are, but it is the light that signals the new season, the horn of plenty season for a marsh that seldom freezes.
It is a haven for waterfowl and soon it will host a couple thousand birds from places far away.
It is the light that signals this and it would have been a fine day to be in the water as the sun rose, but even so, it is good. The air is clear without the humidity of winter or the evaporation of summer and now the sun is swinging a low arc and taking much longer to find its high point in the sky.
Harsh light, strong contrast, long shadows - it is the sun of an arctic summer, it is the sun of my fall.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Waiting for the migration

Dark clouds to the west and cool air has yielded to a perfectly fine day, partly cloudy with beautiful cumulus clouds. I paddle up from my usual big lake starting point in the calmest of winds from the NE. It is just enough to ripple the surface of the water, just enough to remove the mirror image of the sky.

I pick seven tennis balls from the water near the bridge and then head into the bay. There seems to be no migratory bird additions since my last visit here, but I know, or perhaps I sense, that an eagle is near. I follow the east shore and watch the tree tops and favorite perches, but I find no eagle. Then, high overhead, in the NE corner of the bay, comes the eagle circling. It is catching good air and only rarely does it flap its wings. It is there, as I thought, as I sensed.

I move past the bony knockdown tree that is the Railroad Island perch. The strong fall light of today strikes the bare wood harshly and makes it appear just that much more like bone. Cormorants were here on my last visit, but as coot hunting season begins for the eagles, the cormorants will find safer places to reside.

All is calm in the NE lagoon, as it always has been. Coots and turtles are sunning and a female mallard dabbles under the edges of lily pads just a few yards from my right shoulder. It is the sound that your fingers make if you wiggle them quickly on the surface of the water. The mud banks aren't exposed yet, the water still at a mid-height. It won't be long until I pull out the high rubber boots and begin hunting for animal tracks.

As I leave, a second eagle circles. With both in the air, I can tell, by the enormous size of the female, that these are the resident pair from the NE nest.

Friday, September 17, 2010

With Brenda

There is mist and just a bit of rain in the air today, but it is very calm and so putting in on bigger waters is a good option. Brenda and I put the canoe in at the bottom of the deep ravine on the north side of Elliot Bay and paddle west, staying close to the salt water shoreline. She comments on how clear the water is, the bottom visible from 8 or 10 feet, if not more. A big roller wake comes past once or twice from far out boats. They have to stay out from these shallow waters and the trip is quiet. The tide is high and as we paddle along the shore of Discovery Park, the boulders that are present are, for the most part, well submerged. We spot 3 osprey in the trees. They should be getting ready for a long migration to South America. Maybe the current salmon run has brought them here. We stop briefly at the lighthouse, where I recover a huge block of foam and toss it over the fence where it won't blow away and a groundskeeper can get at it.

We talk about nature, and art, which is what we really have in common.
Then, we continue north and into the ship canal, where we spot a kingfisher and then a 4th osprey as we pass under the railroad bridge. The lock is just beginning to close, but the lockmaster hails us and opens the doors again, and we race up against the current. I've never had them hold the doors for us before. It is a short ride today at high tide, no more than 6 or 8 feet. As usual, we're sent out first, a safety issue with toy ship drivers sharing the concrete enclosure. Now we are in industrial waters with tugboats and fishing fleet. Being in the midst of working boats such as a large fishing fleet is just as visually stimulating as remote wilderness. We stop briefly so that Brenda can take close-up photographs of the bumper on the bow of a large tug, and then head into Fishermen's Terminal, which is where we begin the mile long portage back to Elliot Bay. But first, fish and chips at the best fish and chips stand in town.

It starts raining in earnest when we get back to the water and the last half mile of the trip is soggy. It is a warm day, and it just doesn't matter. Nothing much matters on a day like this other than making sure to experience it.
(this trip was on September 16)

Monday, September 13, 2010

There is a good south wind today, even the clouds are moving, something that rarely happens in this part of the country, unlike the midwest where I grew up. There, clouds race across the sky and one could lay on their back an be fully entertained as they changed shapes while speeding by.

I am pushed north up Lake Union, at first it is gentle, but once out of the shelter of the shoreline hills, I spend as much time holding course as I do paddling, making the same speed either way. The waves are small enough and nothing is urgent or hurried. It is just a free ride. Rounding the point into Portage Bay I make an upwind leg, but since this bay is well protected by a ridge, it is an easy paddle, hugging the artificial shoreline of houseboats.
Over in Union Bay, I head down into the south lagoon, which is not as protected from the wind as one might think. Here, that stiff south wind comes in swirls and varied directions as it forces its way through gaps in hills and forest. A gust swings the bow, I correct, and the next puff swings the canoe the other direction or pushes me sideways, and I correct.

I stop in the east channel of the burial island to listen to the wind in the tall alders, a long shoosh with the underneath rattle of ten thousand leaves striking other leaves. It dominates the city sounds and is good for the soul.

I return to the lagoon, my all too short sleep from last night catching up with me. The canoe is pushed by the wind into the lily pads and I lay back and doze.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

It's coming

It is gray and breezy and the lake beckons as a place where the thoughts that fight for space in my mind can find room to leave, or rearrange themselves.

Enough coots are now on the lake that I can say that there is a flock, although many more are to come. The ones that are here are barely enough to keep the bald eagles fed during the coming winter. A male wood duck shows that the ducks have now regained their colors and I look forward to the many migratory ducks that will come to the bay.
To my left, a bee moves in and out of the last of the lily blossoms. Soon the lilies will brown and sink away and soon I will be able to paddle up close to the cattails.

A homeless guy who has been living out of his rowboat eases up. We talk and talk and talk. He does much the same down here as I do, he watches nature. He eats a lot of fish, which I don't do. While we chat, a great blue heron catches a large bluegill. It takes a few seconds for the bird to get its head back out of the water. The fish is a bit bigger than my hand. It takes a few minutes for the heron to kill or stun the fish, then it takes a couple more to maneuver it into its mouth, at which point it looks ridiculously large, but it goes in, and from 70 yards away we can see it pass down the throat. Amazing.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


S and I portage down to the aptly named Portage Bay, although we do not get there by the ancient portage, which has long ago been covered by road and houses. We come down through the heavily wooded ravine that founders of the city preserved. We don't talk much on this walk. It is our 23rd wedding anniversary. It seems that all that needs to be said is being said without words. We just hold hands as the portage goes on.
The morning's gray has given way to a beautiful day with patchy sky and just a little more wind than is ideal. We pass through the crossing under place and circle the bay, noticing that the ducks have regained their colors. Cormorants, recent arrivals, are in the eagle perch on the railroad island. We cross the bay so that S can see where the floating cattail island has finally set as the water level of the lake drops.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Bridge

I portage west, up and over the hill and down to Lake Union. It is gray and there is a mist in the air. I think that the grayness might remove the distractions from the day's paddling.

As I cross the bridge over the freeway, a woman runs past and she reminds me of a dream that I had last night or last week - dreams are so often not fixed in time. In my dream, I am running. Not jogging nor in a panicked sprint, but a fluid powerful run where I can feel the traction between my feet and the earth.
I wonder what my last dream will be. Will it be running, or paddling, or will I dream of something that I never took the time to do?

The bridge always reminds me of my former career. So often, most of the time, in fact, cars here are jammed up in traffic. I wonder if the people in them ever thought that they would spend so much time stuck in traffic. They go with the flow. Did they ever imagine when they were young that they would grow up to go with the flow?
I put in and I paddle north and then east and then south, around into the big lake until until my paddling begins to take me away from my house.