Monday, May 28, 2012


I put a morning plea out for someone to coax me out into the canoe.

My friend J from Eugene is in town and rings my house in the morning to take me up on my offer of a canoe trip.  It has been almost two years since we've seen each other.  Time in a canoe, with only the distractions that one should be distracted by, is second to none.  We do the portage down to the south lagoons.  Lotus and lily pads have begun to fill in the surface where the depth is just right (those plants grow best in water that is about 2 ft deep).  Migratory waterfowl have long since left the area.  Ducklings are hatched and swimming.  Goslings have already taken the coloring and patterns of adult Canada geese.  They are recognizable because they haven't reached full size, yet.

We circle around the burial island so that I can point out the numerous beaver scent mounds.  Then we edge along cattails, a mixture of old weathered spears of last year and the new green ones of this.  It takes a push with my foot to squeeze back into the big dead end.  That is proof of the ever moving cattail bog - the opening half of what it once was.  No one else will be back there, maybe no one for the whole summer, but we find a mother duck and ducklings, and a great blue heron back in the beaver forest.

We cross the bay to explore the north shore and while returning stop at Number 2 Island (which is now in capital letters because it does appear on Google Maps) where I show her a marsh wren nest.  A marsh wren comes out to sing to us, or at us as the case may be.

3-Stars and J
Our last stop is with 3-Stars, who when I call to him looks up and says, "Hey Scott, I got something for you."  He disappears into his boat and returns with a plastic cup.  Inside is a paper napkin and inside the napkin is a tiny blue-green egg with brown speckles.  He found it on the ground a day or two earlier and hung onto it for me.  I am very pleased to have such a specimen to add to my collection, but it is not so much the egg as much as it is something given to me by 3-Stars.  Our conversations about the life of the marsh have been running for some two years.  We share a passion.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thirty-five Years

My dad joins me on today's canoe trip.  He is always there in spirit, on most every trip, and most of the time his red wool jacket is on my back, but today he is there for real.  I select for him one of my hand-carved paddles, a birch one with a map of the Yakima River wrapping around the blade and handle.  We start the portage.  I have told him, in the past, how important the portage has become.  While the marsh remains my private experience, except on the rare occasions when I have someone with me, the portages often are all about meeting people.  We go only two blocks before we have a good full chat with a neighbor who tells me that she follows my blog.  I invite her to come out sometime.  One more block and we run into H and stop to talk with her.  I tell dad, "we're already at our quota and we still have a mile to go."

It has been at least 35 years since we shared a canoe.  I don't remember the last time, but I do remember several other trips.  I remember the Little Ottertail River, stopping at a huge beaver dam to swim in a lake called, Ice Crackin'.  I remember walking canoes up the shoreline of Many Point Lake so that we wouldn't have to fight the wind on the crossing.  I remember sleeping squeezed together under a canoe in a rainstorm next to the St. Croix River.  I remember, and it might have been the last time, a duck hunting trip in one of the tippiest canoes known to man.  But, I think that this is the first time that I have been in the stern.  That is the position of steering, it is the guide's position and this is the first time I have been the guide for us.

My canoe is a bit more tender than most and dad's balance is less than perfect since he had a stroke some 7 years ago.  He's not comfortable in the bow as we push off from shore. 
After 30 ft, he says, "that's enough, I'm done." 
I say, "What?"
We cruise another canoe length or two and he says, "let's keep going."
I had heard everything he said perfectly fine.

He trades his paddle for his camera.  I paddle alone most of the time and need no help to move or guide a canoe.  If anything, the canoe moves better with another person just sitting there anyway.  And, I enjoy playing the role of guide and having the bow person do whatever they prefer to do.  Dad takes photos of ducks and geese, and the beaver scent mounds.  It is a fine trip all through the east marsh.  I use my names for the places so that when he reads my blog, he'll have more than just a photo in his mind, but the real three dimensions of it all.

We take out near the ancient portage.  There is a daycare group there, and before we get out we are enlisted to retrieve a boat that the children have made.  We get little purple flowers in exchange.  They are fascinated by the canoe and batter us with questions and stories.  I think that this might be dad's favorite part of the trip.