Saturday, July 28, 2012

Where the mixing is

Me and A put in on the west channel of the Snohomish River, a couple miles up from salt water.  This is all new terrain for A and an area I have paddled in only two or three times before.  This is the Snohomish Estuary, an area where salt water and fresh water mix.  Currents change directions with the tides - and the changes are often counter-intuitive.  The morning clouds have broke leaving a sunny afternoon.  Low tide was about 6am and the afternoon and evening high tide for today is separated by a low tide that barely drops at all.  We should not see any great changes in current during the trip.

As we put the canoe in the river, there are seven osprey soaring overhead with a whistling chorus that is as striking as their flying.  The estuary is one of the best places that I've been for seeing osprey.  Then we head up river a mile to Dead Man Slough where we explore a half dozen abandoned boats.

this hulk is a 50+ ft fishing boat

  Then we paddle off toward Spencer Island.  The island had once been farmed, but the county has purchased the southern section and torn down the dikes that kept the water out to return it to estuary.  It is here that the trip always takes a wilder feel.  It is easy to look at the sparse swamp forest, dead snags and stressed evergreens and imagine that you are much farther away.  These are the ghostly forests that one thinks of as being geography of the farther north. With the moderately high tides we will be able to paddle the interior of the island both through old farm drainage channels and where the former fields are flooded.  We try to enter where I've gone in the past, but drift logs have made the entry more difficult then necessary.  We continue farther north.  We see more osprey.

We find a better and completely open access a 1/2 mile down the channel.  The tide is flooding the island, so at this time all currents are "in".  The opening takes out out into a broad wetland with cattails, reeds and grasses where the thin trees are distant from us.  We head south up the island until finding another channel which, fighting the flood current, brings us east into the middle channel of the river.

Undecided on which way to go, we cross the river and explore a backwater which has ten or so discarded floating dock sections in it just waiting to drift off and become shoreline debris.

After a break, A opts for circling Otter Island.  Otter Island was never diked and it is more heavily treed than other areas in the estuary.  Rounding it takes us briefly into the east channel of the river before returning to the center channel.  We see some birds we don't recognize.

Eastern Kingbird

Bohemian Waxwing

We spot an inlet on Otter Island and decide to explore.  For some reason I did not enter this opening when I was here before.  It is narrow, treed and brush lined, with tight turns and short views.  It is delightful.  We spot two does, which move off rather unhurried.  The inlet keeps going for a few hundred yards before it is blocked by a log.  On the return we surprise a 4-point buck still in velvet.

We cross the channel to retrace our route up the slough to the south end of the island.  A spots a black animal as it we startle it from a nap in the sun.  She says. "otter", but get a better look as it dives into the water and then returns to land.  "Not big enough for an otter, it's a mink."  We go back and look at the sunning spot that it spent some time creating - clipped plants - almost like a flattened bird nest.

Now we have been out long enough to fall into the rhythm of a long trip.  I think about telling A how glad I am that she is coming out canoeing with me so often before I move east across the country, but I don't...I just keep thinking it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Further Exploration is Required

Me and A set out again.  She is agitated with the rumble of life today.  I am not much less agitated with it myself.  A strange thing that I have discovered about canoeing, a thing that no other activity that I have tried does, is that canoeing washes all of the loose and unimportant stuff of life from the skin of the soul.  It doesn't leave you shiny, it leaves you level headed.  If I am not careful, I could very well become a constant nomad. 

After our last trip I looked on a map and found a place that we could put in on the Duwamish that was not much more than a couple hundred yards from where we turned around 2 days ago.  We will start there and continue upriver.  Arriving at that bend in the river, we do the 100 yard portage to the water.  It is not only a good place to put a canoe in, but it might be the best shoreline that I have dropped my canoe in the Seattle area - a low sloping sand beach with an active osprey nest on a pole nearby.


We both remark, immediately, that the river character at this point is completely different than anything we saw the other day.  Gone are the industrial surroundings and with it the unsightly shitty looking sea walls of tires, odd pieces of metal and discarded concrete.  This section of river is remarkably free of debris with just a few exceptions.  The current is steady but not overly grim.  We move upstream at a mile and a half per hour, maybe a bit more.  We only have to bear down in a few short sections of faster water.  I tell A that it will break down to 2/3 - 1/3.  2/3 of our time will be spent going up, 1/3 coming down.  I teach A the draw and stationary draw strokes...just a few minutes of that and I let it go.  It just needs to soak in.

This part of the river meanders.  There is always a bend ahead and we steer for the insides of turns as we ascend in order to take advantage of the slowest water.  The river is 50 yards wide in most places with a bank that is 6 to 10 feet high.  We spot a few green-backed herons, many kingfishers, a most curious raccoon, and one bald eagle.

We find a drainage entering the river as we get to the city of Renton.  This might be the remains of the Black River.  The Black River drained Lake Washington before the Montlake Ship Canal was opened in 1916.  That lowered the lake 10 feet and the shallow Black ceased to flow.  We nose up into it aways on the return.  There is a pearlescent tinge to the water that we wonder about.  There should be a good deal of rainwater runoff from all sorts of terrain and industry finding this spot.  We don't drink it.

Looking for Lunch

We see not a single boat on the water, again.   As we take out and portage the canoe, we both comment about how much better we feel.  We've not dodge our issues - the canoe has returned us to level ground.  We have a peace with the world the is healthy in all ways.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Clearing of the mind

I have been grinding away, moving, packing and selling our home.  That done I dove into a beadwork marathon.  My head is full.  I grouch at my poor wife on the phone, my brain not able to organize dates.  This morning I toss out a canoe trip to my friend A and she bites.

Having sold my canoe storage facility, I have the canoe resting atop the car, so a short drive to someplace that I rarely paddle in is the plan.  We load up and head to up the lake to the Samammish Slough.  We get there and find that the keys to the padlock that I have on the canoe are at home.  I am a creature of methodical process, and with my process disheveled the process breaks  (A is messing with my old Stanley tape measure about this time and I point out to her that it is 32 years old - case in point).  We head back for the keys as I announce that we weren't supposed to paddle there today anyway.  We head to the Duwamish River instead.

The Duwamish is one of the nations filthiest rivers and a marker for the oddness of Seattle, a city that generally thinks itself to be greener than thou, but ignores the vile grossness of its underside, as long as not too many people are looking at it.  We start in the area called South Park.  There are few places to launch a canoe on the Duwamish as most of its banks are private and heavily industrial properties.  There are four Superfund sites on the river.

Tire Wall

I guide the canoe near the shore as we head upriver.  The tide is down and it is an almost archaeological experience as we attempt to identify various man made debris.  We pass through the remains of the 14th Street drawbridge to the site of Boeing Plant II, a factory building that ran right to the water.  Only a low brick wall and a sign announcing it as a future wildlife site stand above the seawall.  The seawalls on the river are arbitrary combinations of this and that - metal here, busted concrete there, metal stacked on concrete, wood over rock...  The strangest of seawalls are the tire walls.  Hundreds of old tires piled up, held in place by pilings or who knows what.  It all seems to be a construction from pre-clean water days.  None of the former geniuses that ran things ever intended for anyone to see this.

Boeing Plant II/Superfund site

A little over a mile up we get to the "turn around point", a round dredged area in a natural bend in the river that was made for barges to be spun around in.  The river begins to improve from here as the industrial areas fall behind.  There are primordial ooze logs in the silty mud banks.  We start to see the first of many kingfishers, a couple of great blue herons.  A spots a green backed heron.  We are above the tide level and there is a current to paddle against.  A points out that the water is becoming clearer.  Debris is less frequent, but still an exercise in deciding its origins.  We find a metal hulled speedboat in the mud and a crushed trimaran on the opposite shore.  At one spot there is such a cornucopia of things in the bank that it must be an old dump.

Interior of an old wooden barge

A bit over four miles up we get to the "rapids".  It's not much of a rapid, just a short spurt of fast water.  We give it a try and almost beat the current but not quite.  We decide it to be a good spot to turn back.

The air goes calm and balmy as we head down.  The tide has risen and the river current goes slack within a mile.  We are paddling. We are into the rhythm of an all day paddle even if it isn't that long.  It's automatic.  It just goes on, not grueling, never dull.  The mind has a place to go.  A baby osprey sings at us from a nesting box on the right hand bank.