Monday, February 27, 2012


Coming up the big lake, it is golden eyes with an occasional bufflehead.  There is a light chilly wind to my face and a bright warm sun on my back.  At Potlatch Point, a flock of 1 dozen waits.  It is half and half, buffleheads and golden eyes.  I turn the corner into the bay and it is buffleheads.

At the big lodge, I notice that the lake is 2 or 3 inches higher than it has been all winter.  These 2 or 3 inches are a world of difference for a trip to this marsh.  That extra low level this winter has barred me from a few of my favorite places to find something unexpected.  I paddle into the east marsh's big dead end, a pathway through the cattails that reconfigured itself last summer and one that has been too shallow for me since November.  As I prepare to sit a time between the cattails with the sun warming all, the first marsh wren of spring sings out its raygun buzzes and zaps.  I hear whistling and catch the south nest eagles through the trees near their familiar basket home.  It is a rhythmic and repeating pattern of whistling.  Something is being said.

There are no cattail shoots, yet.  The marsh is at its deadest, the only green from mosses and willow shoots, which stay green all winter.  But this deadness, if you know the marsh, is just a warning of the explosion of green that will come when the time is right.  No other environment on earth produces so much green stuff as does a marsh.

I stop and check in with my friend, 3-Stars.  We talk birds and beaver and the folly of the planned bridge.  It is always interesting, it is always a refreshing talk.

On my portage home, just 4 blocks from the house, whistling draws my eyes high to the top of a tall evergreen to find an eagle.  One other person is watching and as he walks my way I look once more and spot a second eagle just two feet lower that neither of us had seen.  "A" and I have one of those delightful conversations that portaging a canoe through the city seems to create.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Dead Lake

I set out in the dead lake with my recurring vision of exploring the little box canyons between the docks and houseboats and finding something interesting.  I don't know why I convince myself from time to time that this is possible.  It is the working boat shipyards that provide anything of interest on the dead lake.  The little bits of shoreline hold nothing much more than the remnants of the city.  The dead lake deserves the name that I have given it.

Dry Dock 9 lowered for the tug, Sam B

There is a cold wind from the south, but the cold comes from the flushing moisture carried through with the steady sprinkle that falls all day.

Calm comes, oddly enough, in the crossing under place.  With little boat traffic on such a raw day, the narrow cut is not only out of the wind, but smooth.  I stop here and watch the traffic rattle across the steel deck of the draw bridge.  It is a railroad sound - tunk...tu-tunk...  The police boat comes by.  We have passed a hundred times.  Today is the first time I can remember them waving to me.  There is a light breeze, however, as I find myself drifting in one direction and then the other.  But, it leaves me physically in no place that I already hadn't been to.

I paddle close to 3-Stars boat, which I can't see into (he lives in Mitt Romney's "safety net" - under a bridge).  I stop when I hear him cough.  We talk birds and animals for a 1/2 hour.  A large beaver from the workbench lodge had come up right up to the boat the other day while it was feeding on blackberry vines.  He reports that someone has seen a pair of golden eagles on the far side of the big lake.  He pulls out the bird book that someone gave him and we go over several wrens that he has seen nearby.

I move on when I get chilled and head for a take out in the south lagoon.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


CM, a local artist, joins me today.  I have been using the canoe to meet people over the past year, inviting people that I have recently met or met only through Facebook, to come out and take a short trip through the marsh.  CM is one of the Facebook people, so this is our first face to face meeting.  I don't worry about

CM and the canoe (on the portage cart)
getting along though.  I have found that anyone willing to go along with me in the canoe, particularly anyone that has not met me before, will be good company...I know they will have a sense of adventure.

It is raining lightly when we meet at my house to begin the portage.  As we start the walk, we chat briefly about which direction we should go.  We have water one to two miles away in 3 directions, but we need to make our decision by the end of the block.

We chat all of the way to Portage Bay.  The beaver colony there has made fine work of a very large cottonwood - 20  or 24 inches in diameter at the base.  It is a good introduction into beaverology.  The large Portage Bay lodge is just another 50 yards away.  We head across the bottom of the bay towards the beaver bank burrow, but the very low water stops us in the mud well short of being able to see the details. 

With that, it is through the crossing under place, CM's first trip through.  Then to the north end of the bay, stopping briefly near the West Lodge to check the mud for tracks - raccoon, geese, possibly a baby raccoon - hard to say, the rain having just messed the tracks enough for them to lose their crispness. 

We get out again (this is what canoes are so good for - jumping in and out of them) in the NE lagoon to walk the 200 yards over to the north eagle nest.  The Yesler Swamp restoration work is looking good, new plants flagged, and a new temporary trail added.

We cross the center of the bay, pass through the east marsh, the east channel of the burial island, stop and look good at the workbench lodge, which is piled high with new wood.  We spot a big patch on the south side of Marsh Island where the workbench colony is doing a lot of wood eating, always good to see.

I tell CM about the people I have met because I portage to and from the lake.  Almost as if by cue, we have a nice talk with a lady that lives along the way as she comes out to walk her dog.  She even has a bit of a canoe story - a canoe always brings canoe stories to the surface.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Feather Calm

It is a feather calm day - a day when I can spot a preened feather floating in the water from a hundred yards.  I start near the shipyards on the dead lake, preferring the necessity of the working boats as company instead of my usual put-in among the ever parked toy boats. 
My head down, looking at the water as I paddle, I watch the reflection of a bald eagle sweep by.
I pass a grey feathered bonnet, adrift on the surface, left behind by an eagle or a hawk, the remains of an unwary pigeon or coot.

female common golden eyes

I finish the dead lake and quickly pass through the almost as dead Portage Bay, and then through the crossing under place.  Then, I turn north up Union Bay's west islands.  The calm water is bordered all around by the dry tan of dead cattails.  A male bufflehead shows off to a female a hundred yards ahead.  The female, annoyed, flies my way, then arcs up and over number two island to a landing that I hear but cannot see.  The male goes off to pester two other females.  I find beaver sign on number two island and stop briefly to confirm that they have been going into the island's center as in the past - the canal that was here last winter is longer and deeper, the result of their dragging limbs back to the safety of open water.

beaver started this lodge last winter but never finished
 I circle the bay and then some.  I paddle far more than the journal alludes to.  I walk home the Harrison Portage having one nice long chat with L along the way.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

child of nature

I return to my canoe via the Harrison Portage.  Too long, much too long has passed since my last trip.  it has been almost 4 years since I could not remember my last day in the canoe.  But, the short term unfamiliarity gives me thought - while I have always enjoyed the outdoors, I have never been so much a child of nature as I am now.

There are golden eyes and buffleheads in the big lake and just a quarter mile north of the put in, a harbor seal and I share a second's worth of surprise.  It is tennis ball calm today -  I can see them from a few hundred yards.  It is also cloudy but sun comes through at times and in places.  The water is cold, but the air warm enough that my fingers return to comfort, once they are in the air.

Crows are making a racket when I near the swimming beach.  I move in closer to find a small hawk with a pigeon.  A couple with a small child also nears and asks me what it is.  I reply, "lunch."  But, I get out and have a nice chat.  The man has just returned from fishing in Alaska.  Like most people one meets in Alaska, he knows that everyone everywhere is a bit crazy in some way...just get over it and have a talk.

At the big lodge, red wing blackbirds are trilling and an eagle sits in silhouette over the south nest some 400 yards off.  I stop in the small patch of marsh that I call the sedge meadow.  I stand in my canoe and admire the spot.

Geese seem to be pairing up already.  They are getting noisy, but haven't reached full rambunctiousness, yet.  So, I head out into midbay to look the new dirtbergs over.  It still amazes me how the lake bottom rises up in the winter from gases trapped in the peat.  While I'm doing that, I spot a motor skiff heading in my direction.  I have to admit that I am always a bit suspicious of motorboats, but  someone hollers my name and I know it is 3-Stars with a friend.  The four of us (3-Stars has a blue-healer dog) sit and drift in mid bay for a half hour discussing the birds and animals that we see. 

It was an important day.