Saturday, February 26, 2011

Frozen bogstuff

The setting: It is a cold and gray day with a raw east wind.

I put in at the east end of the ancient portage, but only because I realized as I did my portage to the lake that I take out there, but almost never begin from that spot, and one should do things differently as much as possible.

The frozen north channel, #1 island to the right

Today is designed for continuing my map project. Cold weather over the last couple days has frozen the boggy parts in the marsh. This will make it easier to set up my plane table and take sights from places where my feet might be more likely to punch through. It is #2 island that I want to have outlined completely while catching the south side of the large #1 island.

With the east wind, I am exposed to the full rawness of the wind. I grew up in cold weather, colder than this, but still, this is cold. Exposed finger tips sting along with my ears.

#2 island - this is a well used beaver canal with a major feeding zone 10 yards to the right

After a couple of hours of map work, paddling back and forth to spots, setting up flags, taking sights, getting back into the canoe, and doing it over again, I head down to the south lagoons. There, as I pass the workbench lodge, I spot a pair of woodducks. I've been wondering where they had gone to, it had been many trips since I last saw one.

Like the north channel, the south lagoon is frozen, but not impassable if one wants to work at it. But, everything in the marsh seems to be laying low, conserving energy and waiting out the cold. I think that I should do the same.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A son of the northland

I will, forever, no matter where I should find myself living, be a son of the northland.

I wake to an inch of snow, a cold day with the sun leaving not long after it climbs over the horizon. The day becomes gray, but snow has a way of making the gray better.

I meet a couple of people as I make the 2 mile portage to the dead lake. They are nice meetings, as they almost always are. Snow flurries come as I begin the 400 foot descent, down steep hills and over the freeway bridge towards the shipyards. The flurries raise my emotions and the portage is effortless as skating on a frozen lake.

male common merganser

On the dead lake, I pass my wayward friend, the Speedwell, a flat black fishing vessel of indeterminable age. Then, I have a headwind to work against all of the way up the lake. Rounding the point, I can pause for a cup of coffee before heading through to Union Bay.

There, I run up the west islands. Birds are nearby everywhere, the cold weather and chance of storm bringing them out to feed longer, bringing them to the shore. Eight great blue herons are at the gap between #1 island and the main shore. Sandpipers are running along the north shore. I find a beaver in a live trap. It escapes while I watch. It is scared and I don't know if beaver can exhibit anger, but it looks damn angry. I shoot video of it as it enters the water and dives with a big slap of the tail. The only sound recorded being the splash followed by my whispered voice, "thank you". I watch it's wake, a vee spreading out behind it, as it hightails it to the west lodge.

castor canadensis houdini

There has been meaning and purpose to the trip, and everything else is unimportant.

the wind up

the wind up


Monday, February 21, 2011

Blog #266

It's a gray day, a cool day with a south wind that, with the lack of sun, combines to make the day feel appropriately winter like. I start from the Harrison portage after extinguishing a beach fire from last night that someone has left burning. There are the usuals on my way north, buffleheads, goldeneyes, and common mergansers. An eagle sits in a tree 1/2 way to Potlatch Point. Nothing special, yet everything special.

one merganser and six goldeneyes

From near the big lodge, in the east marsh, I head straight over NW to #2 island to continue working on my map. I work my way down the channel, plotting the main shore and the west sides of #2 Island and Birch Island.

a beaver scent mound - a territorial marker

At my last tripod set, which is in about 6 inches of water, I find the heavy musky odor of castoreum coming off of a scent mound next to my beached canoe. I also discover that thrashing about in the blackberries has ripped open my left boot. I don't have the fire to keep working, don't feel like fighting the wind to work the far sides of the islands. It's best to go home and ink in the work that I've done.

As I get to the shipping channel on my way out, I spot a gomer doing 20 or 25 knots across the bay, coming my way. It is a 7 knot no wake zone...all of it. He slows down when I point my camera in his direction, recording his registration number, WN 6020 RL. He waves sheepishly as he passes. He does not read lips. I don't know who he thinks I am, but he drives very slowly through the cut.

On the portage, a cyclist stops and we talk for 15 minutes. It is a fine exchange, it puts a spring back in my step, reminds me that others are interested in my project, for no particularly good reason that I can come up with at this time.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Where is Keg Island?

It's a day to work on my map, sunny, calm enough and crisp. Even during the mile portage I'm working out the survey, where to put flags, where to pace off distances, where to flag as I paddle into my start point. It always goes best if you have the game thought out a few steps ahead.

A woman rolls down her car window and with a huge smile says, "have a fun day!" Stuff like that always brings the day up just a notch.

The plane table (a drawing board mounted to an old camera tripod).
The aluminum gadget is a home-made alidade for sighting.

I put in off of a mud bank in the westernmost of the south lagoons. It is calm with sunlight shimmering on the trees. A pair of ringnecked ducks are with me. I've grown to really like the design of the males head, quite a bit. Even with the traffic noise, this little spot seems serene.

The west beaver lodge, about 20 feet in diameter

I start my survey work just southwest of the west beaver lodge. I flagged many of the points and little islands as I paddled in so that I can just do a bunch of plane table work from shore. But, after a couple hours, I find a huge error in the work, something that can't be reconciled as much as I try. I start over with a fresh sheet of paper.

This time it goes smooth. Points line up when sighted on from several positions, it would be an efficient job if I hadn't shot two hours. The little islands near the lodge need names. Where I found and removed the rusty keg becomes Keg Island. To the north is North Keg Island and to the west is West Keg Island. The hundreds of UW rowers that pass by will never know this.

While shooting sights off of Keg Island, I notice that there is a lot of slag in the soil. Someone, sometime ago has dumped the bi-product of a furnace or smelting operation here. Next time I hear someone bitch about the EPA, I'll have half a mind to shove a jagged hunk of slag up their ass. I also find a discarded syringe, but as a bonus gift for answering all of today's questions, I find a fine beaver skull with its incisors and molars still in place (that's all that they have). Their incisors definitely look up to cutting down a tree and the molars with their s-shaped pattern of enamel look like they could grind rock to dust.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Required Paddling

There's too much for me to do today, but a quick trip to the west end of #1 island is necessary. On my last trip out, it appeared that the great blue herons were about to congregate. For two years running, they have collected in a heavy concentration on #1 island, about 2 dozen in just 50 to 75 yards of shoreline.

I take the shortest portage down to the south lagoon. There is a stiff and cold wind out of the south although the precise direction is never clear in this spot. The wind curls and passes over and around the hills of Seattle to get here, so it can finally arrive from unlikely directions. It will be a short trip, that is for sure, as any paddling into the wind will be hard work indeed.

This is the osprey tree, although no osprey sits in it anymore, ever since the osprey perch fell off in a wind storm. But, it is a good landmark with a name that stuck. It's been standing dead for a long time and can be seen from a long distance.

When I get up to the west lodge I find 15 Canada geese milling about on it. Crazy time for the geese, they seem to be staking out turf even though they won't nest until May.

crazy time for geese

A few more yards and I reach #1 island finding only four herons which fly off well before they should. Nervous, I suppose. Maybe they congregated during the weekend when I was away, or its possible that it hasn't happened or is happening somewhere else. Nothing to do but come back again.

I grind my way back south so that I can paddle a little while longer in the lee of the beaver forests. Not much happens other than a quick chat with a man who was exploring the rougher edges of the marsh by foot. We both agreed that it was a fine day.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The huldre and heavy metal

I woke up in the middle of the night, deep in the darkness with thoughts of the huldre, one of the hidden people of Norwegian folklore. The huldre appears to young men as a beautiful maiden and lures them away never to be seen again. One can tell if a woman is a huldre by looking at her back where she will either have a tail or appear as a burned out log. Hidden people inhabit all the Earth and cultures that are still connected to nature know them by many names and forms and shapes that best fit their geography.

There's no reason that I can't find a huldre in the marsh, except that I am no longer a young man. Age and wisdom, such as it is, keeps my course and prevents me from the sideways wandering that makes one easy prey to the charms of the huldre. There is, in Norwegian folklore, a story of a boy who escaped after being lured by the huldre into a den of hidden people. He rode away on bronze skis. It is, of course, only a story.

I start out from where I ended yesterday, my tracks in the mud still fresh. There are few ducks in the south lagoon these days, perhaps the feeding is better to the north. But, it is still a fine bird day with redwing blackbirds trilling more than I can recently remember. In the east channel of the burial island, I watch one feed on the moss of a leaning alder tree. An eagle sits on the northern ugly sculpture and an immature eagle is in the burial island tree that the resident eagles perch in, although it sits on a different branch and looks out of place.

As I move north up the east shore, another eagle crosses my bow to take a spot in an evergreen on shore. It's whistling chirp makes me look again and I find its mate nearby.

The NE lagoon is empty except for a Steller's jay and a northern flicker that is busy hammering away at the top of a street lamp. The dead goose that I found here is gone now and good raccoon tracks are all around.

At the north point I stop and point out the eagles and the two nests to some bird watchers. As I describe what to watch for when an eagle hunts they ignore me...because, as I turn and look over my shoulder, they are watching an eagle hunt.

The annual great blue heron congregation seems to be just starting. There are no herons down on #1 island, the usual spot, but there are at least ten standing on the top of a nearby building.

At the small island near the west lodge, I retrieve the old rusty barrel that I had set up to drain a few days back. I was going to tow it to the main shore, but I find that I can lift it into the canoe, although it is very top heavy. It weighs more than my canoe and sits quite high. I have looked at this thing for a couple years and it is most satisfying to remove it.

The wind comes up strong as I return to the canoe. The 3/8 of a mile to the east end of the ancient portage is an arm breaker.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Fee

At the end of the Harrison portage, the end that meets the lake, I find calm and clear winter water under high clouds, a gray day with a horizon rim of orange and yellow from the north, through the east and down to the south.

In the clear water, just 3 feet from shore, I find an old iron water tank. I find these every so often all around in the lake, but this one, I find it hard to believe that people have let it stay for so long. It's jagged rusted open side must have scratched and cut countless swimmers and waders. I can't budge it by brute force, but a drift board from the shore lets me work Archimedes on it. I get it loose and roll it to dump the gravel and sand contents and then drag it ashore for the Park folk to haul away. It is a very good start to the day, my entrance fee paid in advance.

The big lake is nothing but normal today. Buffleheads, goldeyes and a few common mergansers are seen as I head north. These are the diving ducks - ducks that do not mind so much the fortified seawalls of the wealthy neighbors. Their food is in the depths. There is no place here for the the dabbling ducks, the redwing's just a hint of what nature could be.

I round the point into the bay and decide that the point needs a name, so often is it on my journeys. It is, now, Potlatch Point. Until the 1850's there was a Duwamish potlatch house somewhere nearby. Perhaps as approval, a beaver swims toward me precisely at this moment. It is pretty big and it dives and passes under me. I follow it, hoping to get a tail slap, but it won't comply. Probably because it is alone and it knows exactly what I am, which makes one of us.

northern pintail

The Canada geese are entering the rambunctious period, honking, flapping wings, posturing, more honking. It's entertaining as hell and although it has real purpose, from the human eye it is total lunacy.

I head north to #1 island to check for the heron congregation, but it is not yet. At Broken Island, I scare four snipe from a single spot.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Today, I head out just to make my rounds, just to keep track of the goings on in the marsh. I have a couple of brief chats with folk as I make the two mile portage down to Portage Bay. There, I take in as much of the "natural" shoreline as the shallow water will allow. All of the beaver lodges seem to tower in the low winter waters. I find several clear beaver trails east of the Portage Bay lodge.

Once in Union Bay, I head north, getting out on one of the tiny islands near the west lodge. There is an old metal barrel here, been here for years, and I'm tired of it. I roll it and stand it on end so the water inside can run out of a small hole. I'll move it on the next trip. A piece of firmness under my right foot disappears as I fetch my camera from the canoe. I go thigh deep. Now my pants need to be washed as much as I do.

The west lodge

The alders 50 ft south of here, on the main shore, are getting a workout. The beaver have cut two large ones and are working on two more. It is a natural clear-cut of sorts. I find it nice to see them taking on such big projects. I hear two eagles whistle/chirping at each other 200 yards south.

Back in the canoe, I find and pull a very old truck tire from the water. It is model T vintage, 3 feet in diameter and skinny like a motorcycle tire. It's possible that it has been in the water for 80 years or so. These old tires are strange to handle. They feel organic, with a gumminess to the touch. They are pre-nylon/rayon/dacron, so the cord fibers have rotted leaving a limp circular mass. This one dumps a quart or two of swamp water into the canoe as I wrestle it. (Brand - United States Tire)

When I reach the north point, I decide to head home across the bay. The sun comes out, brilliant and warm on my south facing side, even warmer feeling with a cold breeze from the north. The contrast in temperature is invigorating, somehow.

#1 island

There has been nothing remarkable about the trip, unless one finds the shear beauty of the marsh and all that goes on there remarkable.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Red Jacket

I've returned from a trip to my home state where I savored the best winter in 30 years. Knee deep snow, freshened almost daily to maintain its brilliant whiteness combined with an equally white cold, crisp and dry, the slightest wind stinging the skin. I walked my favorite hikes through the gray deciduous forest and along the banks of a frozen over Mississippi River.

Thoughts come fast as I run the Harrison portage. Each step a thought, each ten steps a change in theme.

My friend, Richard, writes of "losing the light" in a fine story that merges his father and their experiences in the outdoors. It is a rich metaphor for so many things. When I arrived in Minnesota, my dad handed me his old red wool jacket. It's RCMP red, really red. He's had it for forty years and I wondered what had become of it. I've wanted it for some time, but would never go so far as to ask. How did he know? It fit perfectly and I wear it today. It will get worn many more days. "Losing the light" brings that all to mind. Losing the light.

So much has happened in the ten days that I have been off the water. I don't know what any of those things are, I just know, and I am here often enough to recognize them when I see them. I set out on the big lake calm under gray skies. The hills that rim the lake have little color left in them, the greens giving way. A thin mist falls at times from the sky, although fall may be the wrong word. A thin mist occupies the air. There are some common mergansers, some western grebes and many goldeneyes, the latter two, birds that come here more often in bad weather.

At the big lodge I retrieve a tire from a foot of water. It is an arm breaker releasing it from the bottom with the mud that has packed its entirety. Turning into the east channel of the burial island I find a pair each of northern pintails and green winged teal. The channel is very shallow today and choked with deadfall from nearby alders. I take and hour and cut and haul wood clear of the channel with a rope and saw that I packed today.

Work done, I head north to seek out the changes that I know have happened, for they are not here. I am rewarded spotting a merlin on the north shore. Change 1 - the 75 foot long dirtberg that laid off of the north point has sunk. Change 2 - the "chop top tree", a landmark in my maps of the bay, has been cut down. It was ugly as hell, the owners long ago having butchered its limbs so that it was nothing more than a 20 foot tall stump.

I get out in the NE lagoon to check animal tracks, finding many good raccoon prints and good beaver sign. I find a second dead goose that scavengers have just started to eat. I cast some raccoon tracks but ruin the casting when I lift it some ten minutes too soon.

As I cross the bay to my exit, I spot an eagle to the left, then two more and finally a fourth. They are disturbing the coots and ducks something fierce, but there is no hunt going on here. They are circling and whistling and interested only in each other. I've seen this before and I believe it is a territorial discussion. When eagles moved into the south nest I noticed that the north nest pair changed its hunting and eating perches. All this commotion is occurring just about where the imaginary dividing line is between the north and south nests.

As I portage home, a woman stops and tells me that they have my postcard from this project. She says her husband wants to go out with me sometime. I tell her that I'm up for it.