Monday, September 26, 2011

Free Lunch

It rains.  I am glad that we have gotten this summer thing out of our system.
It's been several months since M and I have seen each other.  Former workmates, we are now restricted to being canoe is better, at least for me...he still works "there".  We don't rush off to the lake as I normally would, instead, M, S and I all catch up some.  There is so much.

We head to Portage Bay.  It rains hard enough that I stop once to bail a half gallon of water out of the canoe well before we get to the lake. 
At least it is warm. 
I do the math in my head.
50% of our canoe time has been in the rain.
On the Yakima, it rained on us for 24 hours straight.  That was in terrain that is classified as arid.

M has not seen the beaver bank burrow on the west side of the bay, so we work our way in through the shallows...really only 3 or 4 inches of water on a foot of soupy mud.  A clear beaver channel can be seen in the lotus pads where the repeated swimming and dragging of branches opens a path.  These lanes are also slightly deeper for the same reason.  We paddle in on the lane and up to the burrow.  M spots a raccoon in the cattails.

We head next through the 'crossing under place' and clockwise around the bay, stopping at most of the beaver lodges, examining the marsh wren nests.  The beaver are just beginning to do fall home repairs.  It has been a while since M was out here, so I point out where the cattail berg drifted to, and when we get to it, where it drifted from. 
It rains the whole time...heavy rarely, misting often. 
There is a fresh breeze. 
When we paddle into it it feels on the face, it just feels...not really a word for it.

I introduce M to 3-Stars. 
We trade pied billed grebe stories. 
3-Stars might be the only one I know that can match me in pied billed grebe stories. 
I suppose it is not such an important bird to others.
We know.

Now I give M the choice, "where to?"
It has been a long time.
I have no reason to stop now.
The south end of the dead lake is the result.
We cross Portage Bay with nothing to note except that,
for the very first time ever,
the policeman in the police boat waves to us.

The dead lake presents a head wind.
Mist and wind on wet skin.

M takes care of the Portage home.
His head down, he finds a $20 bill.
Lunch at the Canterbury...the name sounds grand
It is a pub decorated in some time that no one is familiar with, but the food is good.
S comments that the Portage pays for itself.
I feel it an honor that someone should spend so much time with me in the canoe.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A New Paddle

I met SB at the east end of the ancient portage on a morning that was nicer than I expected to find.  Wind and rain had woken me during the night, the trees still well leafed calling out the wind speed.  By dawn, the wind was down, the rain had stopped, and the air was wonderfully fresh.

SB had purchased one of my canoe paddles in an Artist Trust auction several months ago, a deal that came with a canoe trip.  I offered him a trade for a custom paddle, which he took me up on.  I carved one in 1/4-sawn ash with a map of Lake Pend Oreille, his home turf.  Today would be the first time it met water.

one side
and the other
We stopped first to talk with 3-Stars, and then we continue into the south lagoon on a beaver oriented mission, SB remarking at the enormous size of the Workbench Lodge, I pointing out the canal network created by the Hidden Lodge Colony and the collection of scent mounds that divides territory between them and the Big Lodge Colony.  We cut across the bay with a stiff tailwind breeze and find a Clark's grebe near the south railroad island, a bird that is not normally found right here and probably came in to hide out from the night wind storm. 

As we continue, I talk about the landfills, the ten foot lowering of the lake level...all the weird things that man does to "improve" stuff...and how the natural environment continues to push back and put things back to equilibrium.  I watch his new paddle.  I got the length just right.  It's clean.  He likes it.  I tell him how to wipe some boiled linseed oil on it...each or every other trip for the first dozen or so, then when it needs it, and how the shaft will get smoother to the touch the more it is used (the opposite of what happens with a varnished paddle). 

He enjoys the trip.  I suppose that I enjoy it as much as he does.  I invite him to go out next time he is back here, "...don't forget your paddle."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The first fall bird

I put in at the bottom of the Harrison Portage where a lone pied billed grebe dives while I load my canoe.  As I paddle downwind and up lake, a duck sized bird floats a 150 yards ahead.

There are no buffleheads, the season when the bay is decorated by thousands of the most beautiful of waterfowl is not yet here.  There are no geese at this time either, so change is in the game, fall is just here.

The duck sized bird dives sleekly and elegantly in a manner that shows it can only be a grebe.  Too small for the "western", it is probably a Clark's.  It flies off as I near, wasting no effort gathering altitude and following a path as near perfectly straight as I have ever seen any bird fly, never more than 2 feet above the water until my eye can no longer resolve it against the steel gray water.  This bird is fall.  It is a recent arrival.

At Potlatch Point, something dark and about the size of the palm of my hand watches me approach.  It surfaces twice and then is gone. 

I head back into the big dead end of the east marsh only to find that the Corps of Engineers must be trying to reach new record low lake levels.  The final 50 yards is too shallow, the water perhaps 4 inches lower than I have ever seen it. 

As I leave the south lagoon, 3-Stars calls me over for a chat.  We watch a competency-challenged yatchsman fumble his "ship" into some state of mooringness for the pre-football-game act of drunken piracy and high-fiving while we discuss the recent and far more interesting natural events of the marsh.  We are now on a first name basis.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wildlife tour

Today I am guiding a wildlife tour through the north end of Union Bay.  The plan is to head north from the canoe rental dock and then east across the top of the bay into Yesler Swamp.  But, a plan is only a plan.

east channel of the burial island
The great noisy bridge is closed today, so I head down to the marsh early to enjoy the relative quiet, which is only interrupted by occasional airplanes.  It is windy and possibly too windy for beginners.  The bay doesn't get large waves until the wind is at ridiculous levels, but canoes do get blown around, especially in the hands of the inexperienced.

Cattails are turning yellow, although perhaps it is more that the green is fading away rather than a donning of fall colors.  Fall is not so much about a coming of color as it is about a leaving of color.  In the wind, the cattails rustle creating a most comforting sound.  I stop south of the sedge meadow, the low water making it seem to much like work to enter that spot.  The wind eddies here in the east side of the burial island and it pushes the canoe one direction, and then back, and then it spins me, and it does it some more.  I sit and wait to see where the wind will leave me and which direction it will decide I should face, but it seems as indecisive as I am, and if I add up the distance I have traveled in those few minutes, it comes to zero.  I am where I started.

Coot - the favorite winter food for bald eagles
I meet up with the tour as planned and we discuss the trip.  It seems pretty windy and I am concerned about the crosswind stretch.  It's not that there is any danger, it's just that people could end up going in circles if they cannot get a handle on the canoe.  But, the man in charge (not really me) wants to do it.  So we do. But, the schedule, now I am not very good at schedules.  There are things to see and I will point them out, and we will fall behind the clock.  This is the cost of going somewhere with me and my canoe.

I point out beaver canals in the cattail islands, and at the marsh wren nesting spot, I stop everyone and announce, "let's see if we can find a nest".  I part the cattails with my paddle and there one is (the male builds 15 to 20 - only one gets used).  Even I am surprised.  We stop at the west lodge to talk about beaver colony social stuff and what to watch for to see if a lodge is begin used (home repair work in Oct-Nov).  When we get over to north point, I find some scent on one of the territorial scent mounds and everyone gets a sniff.  Then over to the railroad islands for a little history lesson and into Yesler Swamp for a rest and some Q and A.  One canoe has two people who teach nature classes to kids...they have pretty good questions.  When we leave they stay behind to search the mud banks for animal tracks, which I am sure they will find unless the last nights rain washed them out (I forgot to mention that the rain might have done that).  Everyone has turned out to be fairly good at canoe handling and the trip has gone well.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Summer no more

I put in at the nameless lagoon and head north, crossing the ship canal as a huge barge is pushed my way.  Today is a dry run for an upcoming wildlife swamp tour and I need to see what can be seen.  Summer vegetation is still thick and so this is not the best time of year to view wildlife and wildlife signs.  Unfortunately, the ideal time for that is between late fall and early spring when the water is dangerously cold and not a good combination with beginning canoe skills.

Coots appear to be returning, there are quite a few near the west tip of #1 island.  I spot a green-winged teal in the mix as well.  Cormorants have been back for almost two weeks and there are more ducks out in mid-bay than there have been for several months.  It is no longer summer.

3-Stars waves me over as I get near my exit point.  He confirms my observation about the new beaver lodge on the east end of Marsh Island.  He has seen the beaver swimming to it several times.  We both laugh about the amount of castoreum that the beaver have sprayed there.  As usual, we chat about wildlife and the marsh for more than a half hour.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


S declared a few days back that we will go canoeing today, so we do.

She hasn't decided where to go, so, as we start our portage, I ask, "industrial or nature?"
S replies, "industrial, we haven't done that in awhile."
So we turn left at the end of the block and head up and over the hill to the dead lake.  The Lady Washington, a replica of a 1840's sailing ship is in and that is our first stop.  We sit a few moments under the bowsprit and I field a few questions about sailing ship was something I memorized when I was 10 years old.  Sometimes, I can pull that stuff out.

Then we head up lake and out the ship canal toward Ballard. This takes us through Foss Tugboats and puts us under numerous fishing boats of various purposes...crab boats, seine pursers....  Work boats fascinate me...they do stuff, they have purpose.  I see my canoe as a work boat.  It certainly shows the wear of a work boat.  It seems to have a purpose.

It is a sunny warm day and being at the end of a summer without warm sunny days, it brings all shapes and sizes of visitors to the water.  We bounce in wakes and keep our eyes on the motor boats knowing that the level of seamanship is inversely proportional to the amount of horsepower in the vessel.  Back at the dead lake, every possible rental kayak seems to be on the water.  It is like canoeing on the midway at the state fair...weird, but okay if you don't have to do it all of the time.

We head for the south end of Portage Bay to take out.  The last 15 minutes of the trip is remarkably peaceful as we exit the ship channel and paddle towards the shallows.

The two of us very much enjoy the two  mile portage up the hill to our house.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I use the Harrison Portage and talk with a swimmer when I get to the big lake.  She will swim up lake 3/4 of a mile and back.  Perhaps I am dawdling (I am, a bit), but by the time I am kneeling in my canoe, she is a surprisingly long ways out.  I won't catch up with her until the turn around point.

I think of Smoke Farm while I make my way up lake.  This is good because it tells me that I am transitioning from this project to that.  Mostly, I think about why the farm works so well.  It has something to do with the terrain, but it has everything to do with the people that meet there.  It adds up to more than one.

At Portage Point, I cross over and up the built east shoreline, but I stop in the middle of the channel.  The skyline of the burial island has changed.  It is a minor change that no one would notice, except with my familiarity, it stands out, almost alarmingly so.  I can see a snag that I never saw before, so a tree has come down somewhere in there.  The eagle perch tree stands just a few yards north of the new shape, and an eagle comes in to land as I watch.

In the NE lagoon, the recently exposed muddy shoreline is full of animal tracks (the only advantage that I can see for the Corps of Engineers lowering of the water).  I find and cast a somewhat small beaver hind print.  And, I get to just sit for a spell as the plaster sets up.  A tiny woodpecker comes and works over a willow tree a few yards from me.

Near Broken Island, I find a 3/4 full 55 gallon drum floating in the lotus pads.  It does not belong here.  I tow it to the closest boat ramp, as it should weigh about 280 lbs and I will need to roll it out of the water.  I dread running into the guy that runs the ramp.  We've had words before.  And, when I finally get the beast to the ramp (full barrels do not tow easily) the guy is there.  I just go about rolling the pig up the ramp.  Either he doesn't recognize me, or he realizes the value in the action.  He asks where I found it, and I point (out of breath).  He asks what I will do with it and I tell him that I will leave it out of the way for the groundskeepers to figure out. He asks what's in it and I tell him that I know enough not to open and sniff such things.. He understands that.  He goes back his work and I do my job and go.

Note to self: In the last week, the light quality has changed dramatically from washed out summer to intense fall.