I saw this wacky set-up at Golden Gardens today. I believe it belonged to an elder group of ladies who were having a beach day under careful watch of their nursing home caregiver. Regardless I admire someone who plans on getting so entrenched at the beach that they have to bring a Persian rug, twin end tables, and a stuffed zebra wearing a hat. Ballard is an amazing place and where downtown feels like an alt-country Universal Studios, the Shilshole Marina and Golden Gardens Beach crowd at noon on a Wednesday was a real mixed bag. Very close to this I saw maybe forty parents watching their forty plus children playing in a creek runoff into Puget Sound that was clearly marked as dangerous to one’s health. Everyone was having a really great time.
These photographs are from a four night backpacking trip in the North Cascades in August of 1993 and a ten-day trip with my Dad in the Sierra Nevadas the following August. They are scans of prints made after each of the trips.
So far this summer I’ve been spending most of my time catching up on my reading, playing softball, and exploring the city on a series of long walks. These are some photographs from the walks with more at this link to my Flickr page.
6.5 miles took me from Capitol Hill to Fremont. I stopped at Bruce Lee’s grave site in Lakeview Park, adjacent to Volunteer Park, and then at Gasworks after walking across the University Bridge and along Lake Union.
The next long walk was 8.6 miles to Alki Beach. Katlin joined me for this one, with the promise of a beer and burritos at the end of it. We started downtown and then headed south along the waterfront, and then on to the Elliot Bay Trail which takes pedestrians underneath the West Seattle Bridge and around to Alki Beach. We gorged ourselves on burritos and then waddled back to the catch the water taxi across Elliot Bay back to downtown Seattle.
The third long walk was 7.3 miles to the Ballard Locks. This time of the year the annual sockeye salmon run occurs and thousands of sockeye come in from Puget Sound into Lake Union and Washington via the fish ladders at the Ballard Locks. There were tons of the 3-5 lbs fish on view, making this fisherman giddy for the salmon fishing I’ll inevitably get into later this summer. I find the salmon fascinating animals. They might be my favorite animal of all. Their annual returning to spawn and die in the same creeks where they were born never fails to impress me, and I make a point every November of sharing it with my students during a short field trip to Ballard’s Carkeek Park to witness the Coho and silver salmon run there.
At the start of this year I embarked upon a futile effort to keep a daily, factual journal where I would document everything that would happen to me every single day. I told myself that I would record only the facts, leaving out any feelings or emotions connected to my daily experiences. My reasoning was that the facts always outlast the feelings and that the emotions tied to an experience are fleeting, and they inevitably change with the stacking of time and added experience.
The parameters I had set up for myself was destined for failure. I was spending a good hour a day writing in my moleskin notebook, one of two I purchased for the endeavor. It became obvious quickly that my minute to minute experiences, recorded in an objective writing style, were very boring. At least in comparison to my restrained minute to minute feelings on such experiences (which I didn’t allow myself to write about).
On top of the time commitment and boredom was my record of being a shoddy journal writer. By setting up the rules beforehand I figured I could avoid the emotional diatribes and drivel of past journaling efforts. I never was able to finish a journal. I was never able to sustain any effort to document in words a life that I would want to revisit in my later years. I have a pile of journals whose entries stretch back over twenty years and which contain more empty pages than full. And nothing really has changed. I don’t find journaling therapeutic. And my current-self’s memory of my experiences has always served as a more sincere reminder of my past than anything that I’ve written about it.
So with that said I’m returning to this blog with the stink of failure still emanating from this last analog journaling effort, and with the clarity of proper reflection driving me to stick with what I’m good at…photography. My photographs will undoubtedly serve as superior generators of the emotions I seek in revisiting my past experiences. And I believe they’ll be a more concise medium for sharing my experiences with others.
I’ve scattered among this post photographs from my spring break trip to California and a trip to the Oregon coast last weekend. In mid-April Katlin and I packed into my Mazda and set out on a road trip with our southern most destination being Big Sur, Ca. We had dinner with my brother, his wife Naomi, and my niece Dahlia in San Francisco. The next day we headed south and spent a night in Santa Cruz, then two in Big Sur, one in the Point Montara Lighthouse hostel, and a final California night among the redwoods in Jedidiah Smith State Park. Our last night was spent on the Oregon Coast in Neskowin, where I met Katlin’s wonderful mother and father. We managed to avoid any of the many disasters that can unhinge a long road trip on a budget and had an amazing time.
After spending a single night over spring break with Katlin’s parents in Neskowin, I was committed to making it back for Memorial Day weekend. Many of Katlin’s family were in town for Saturday when we arrived. Her cousin is a writer and was in the area for his book tour, her other cousin and his wife were there, her brother and sister and her family, grandma, and grandpa were all in the house for what turned into quite the party. We were greeted by the sounds of martini shakers and the smells of the bbq and a seafood bounty. Oysters, salmon, rockfish, prawns, and flank steak covered the protein end of things. The half gallon of Bulleit bourbon we brought as our offering to the festivities was emptied by the night’s end.
We spent Sunday mostly recovering. Katlin and I slept in my tent in the backyard and I’ve never slept that late in a tent in my life. The combination of soft grass, the sound from the creek running along the property, and a small distillery’s worth of bourbon & co. led to a very restful night. The beach was about a city block from her folks’ place and we spent a lot of time there. We threw the baseball back and forth and generally enjoyed the sea air’s muting of the seasonal allergies we both suffer from.
On Monday before our reluctant departure we took a drive over to Pacific City to climb on the dunes, eat lunch, and enjoy the unexpected sunshine. I had never seen a dory boat in action and these maniacs drive their 30+ foot long wooden hull boats right onto the beach where the truck and trailer await. Because the captain’s objective is to get the boats as far up into the shore as possible, they gun it through the last 30-40 meters before shore and hit the sand at full speed, horns blaring. With the amount of people on the beach on any given sunny day it can often lead to tragedy. I was told about an 8 year old girl being run over and killed a couple years prior and there is this story about a young surfer losing his arm to one of these.
After a climb up the dunes and a hamburger lunch we headed back to Seattle. This trip to Pacific City was short and sweet, a sort of pre-summer vacation that has me really looking forward to this coming Friday and the last day of classes. I’ve got big things planned for this summer and plan on sharing the adventures through photography and a sprinkling of commentary. The goal is write less but post more, and I think with the downtime ahead that’s very attainable.
Here are some 3×5 photographs I took at Cedar River Watershed on Tuesday March, 27th, 2012. These are of Chester Morse Lake, which is the dammed source of Seattle’s drinking water. It takes three weeks for each molecule of water to reach my tap on Capitol Hill from this beautiful lake. It was a lovely, cold day. The entire, heavily protected and gated watershed is pristine and the air and the water as clean as it gets. The tour was a special part my annual week spent at the Waskowitz Outdoor School.
From September 1995 to June 2000 I lived in Olympia, Washington while attending Evergreen State College. Olympia was boring and in those five years I logged thousands of miles and hundreds of hours driving I-5 between Olympia and Seattle. While the majority of the trip one spends in the underwhelming suburbs of Tacoma or south Seattle, I always looked forward to passing through the short stretch eight miles north of Olympia that wound along the bottom of the Nisqually Valley. Coming from the north or south the view is amazing. You cross the Nisqually River and catch the best snapshot of the journey looking five miles west over a delta whose horizon ends on the bottom of Puget Sound.
That two-mile or so stretch has additional meaning for me personally as it always makes me think of a friend that passed a little over ten years ago. The train tracks that cross over the freeway and river for years had a long NEXT tag on the bridge, the letters man-high. NEXT was my friend Nick and Nick was killed in a bike accident in 2001. Nick’s name would be left untouched on the bridge for years, and his life memorialized in Olympia’s alleys with murals and flowers. I saw Nick the week before his accident, running into him on my lunch break on Broadway in Seattle. We ate Mexican food together and promised to see each other soon, as he was living with a mutual old friend and ex-roommate of mine in Olympia. It was one of those great run-ins where you see someone who you want to stay close to, but distance and growing up have pulled your lives apart. You remember in reuniting that you get along before for a reason, and make plans to re-kindle old times with promised beers together in familiar settings. I never saw him again.
Regardless of it reminding me of a friend’s life cut-short, the Nisqually Valley absolutely fosters positive thoughts these days, and seems the only stretch on I-5 that will never change. It looks the same today as it did thirty years ago. All of the cities between Seattle and Olympia have morphed and changed through development (City of Dupont?) or neglect (Lakewood??), but almost all of Nisqually has been protected from development since 1974. That’s when the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Department purchased what was once the 1,500 acre Brown Farm and protected the land from any development, setting the groundwork for a much-needed habitat restoration. I’d always known that the land is protected, but had never in those hundreds of trips ever considered stopping and checking it out. And then 2009 happened. That year a federal and tribal habitat restoration project was implemented that removed a dike. This removal project subsequently restored the natural commingling of fresh and salt waters in the area that existed there before 1904. Salt water tides swept into the fresh water marsh for the first time in over a hundred years. The marsh was first drained by a man named Alson Lennon Brown who had built the five-mile long dike that blocked the tides and allowed him to maintain a pasture on his 1500 acre hog and dairy farm. Consequentially, Alson was the son of Amon Brown, a founding pioneer of Seattle. Amon was an original settler on the Seattle waterfront at what is now Spring Street, and an apparent friend to Princess Angeline, the daughter of Chief Seattle himself.
After fifteen years the Brown farm failed and the land continued to be used for agricultural purposes until after WWII, when there were a number of ideas kicked around regarding the land’s potential future use. These environmentally terrifying options included an oil refinery, landfill, and an aluminum mill. This beautiful and ecologically sensitive area barely avoided being turned into another doomed Duwamish/SuperFund Site. Thankfully some early environmentalists, pioneers themselves, stepped up and saw that this area was especially sensitive and necessary for the livelihood of many natural creatures that contribute to the bio-diversity of the Nisqually Valley and Puget Sound. So in 1974 the former Brown farm site and an additional 1000+ acres surrounding it were designated a protected wildlife refuge by the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife.
The land has remained protected since 1974 and in 2010 U.S. Fish & Wildlife completed the restoration of some 764 acres of the delta and in January 2011 opened up what brought me to the refuge, a board walk that offers amazing views of the finished restoration and dike removal, and that takes you a full mile out into the wetland. I had read about the project and with last Saturday’s beautiful weather took the opportunity to check it out. It was absolutely worth the trip and I was glad I arrived early as there were dozens of others out enjoying the refuge that day.
I took many photographs that reside on my photography page at Flickr and even managed to learn a thing or two from the many bird watchers out that day. I’d be meandering along the trail or boardwalk and a paparazzi-like storm would be gathered around with all their binoculars and mega-lens camera’s pointing at some heron/tern/eagle/hawk/goose/duck. I’d sort of sidle up and listen to them try to out do one another with tidbits about the rarity of what they were seeing or the health of the animal or its behaviors. The refuge did seem like a happy place for the migratory birds and the their habitats that it was protecting. There were lots of birds. And this definitely made the bird watchers happy and was entertaining from my standpoint as the outsider, just a guy with a point & shoot camera checking out the delta. At times it seemed ripe for a Christopher Guest parody a la Best In Show. It was a bit like a Star Trek convention for birds and those that love them.
Beyond the live comedy of watching people who are very nerdy about their hobbies coming together en masse, there was a more poignant moment when I overheard an older fella relating to his friend that he’d been bird watching almost his entire life and had come to terms with the fact that no one really cares more about his “bird list” (birds he’s seen and recorded) than himself, and that after he passed it wouldn’t mean anything at all. His kids would probably just toss it with the rest of his life’s work in his desk in the house he’d been living in for forty years. His friend said she felt the same way about all of her photography. But they both agreed that at least they were still out there and enjoying it while they were alive. The exchange reminded me of myself and my friends and our record collections, and the limitations inherent in having our life’s joy attached to physical objects. It made me consider that more and more in my life I find it’s the enjoyment I get through the act of doing, not particularly the amassing of accomplishments or material things. It’s a shift I’ve been going through over the last three or four years and I find myself working so that I can experience rather than gather. Spending my money on travel and experience rather than something that will simply sit in my apartment, or whose use is limited to when I am actually there. And that is likely the purpose of these writings and my photographs, to record and journal these experiences so that I can relive them down the road. I think most of us have had that existential 21st century moment of wondering what will happen to our online profiles when we die, and I think the only thing we are sure of is that they’ll die with us. And that’s okay with me because if I’m not using it all to relate to those far away (Facebook/Twitter) or relive the emotions of past trips and journeys (WordPress/Flickr), than it’s appropriate that they’ll end with me. But just in case when I’m an old man filling out my will and getting my estate in order or whatever is required of an old me, I’ll leave my passwords in there, bequeathed to whoever I think at the time will enjoy reliving some past memories that we may have shared together.
Click here or on the above photograph to see my meager collection of photographs I’ve been taking on my phone this past Fall/Winter. I’ll continue to add photos as I take them on to my Flickr album where these are stored. I have to admit I am a sucker for the Instamatic lens/filter effects and the way they
improve cheat the terrible quality of any photograph taken with my phone into looking a bit more interesting. While I still love my Lumix, the cell-phone photographs are more impulsive and less staged than nature and scenery photography, and provide a bit more “slice of my life”. They count more on and reflect my experiences, rather then just what I may be looking at.
I’m lucky to have an amazing place to escape in my Dad’s home at Bliss Landing, BC. Seattle has me down and summer idleness sent me north to spend time with him for a full week of fishing and exploring parts of British Columbia’s Inside Passage. In the week I was there I went farther north then I had ever been in my life. Gordon, friend of my Dad and accomplished float plane pilot, nailed it when he said I was gaining a “new latitude”. While wallowing in the unmatched calm of Bliss is tempting with the unreal view and mesmerizing quiet, pocked with the sounds of gulls and seals, it was the two nights we would camp on Dad’s boat, the Orca, that turned into the highlight of summer.
I arrived last Wednesday and while rolling down the final stretch of forest service road bringing you to the property I encountered Dad, driving his trusty golf cart (the preferred method of transportation on the property) towards the boat dock to set prawn traps. I was serendipitously earlier than expected and immediately parked the car, carted my bags back to the house, and joined him to set the traps.
Dad and his two prawn traps are easily the most successful prawning operation going at Bliss. Two years running he’s caught hundreds of prawns more than anyone else and last year was awarded a prize for his accomplishment: One case of wet cat food-the preferred bait for spot prawns. Prawn traps are set in deep water, around 350-400 feet, and when you buy line for prawn traps it only comes in 400 foot lengths. Setting the pots is as easy as shoving them overboard. Pulling them is a different story. My Dad has his own tried true spots for prawn catching noted on the Orca’s GPS. They’re all a bit risky and lie right in the path of the occasional tug boats dragging giant barges of felled logs from northern logging operations. We’ve tensely watched through binoculars as these barges slowly make their way south and over the water where our pots are. This happened in June when I was there and mercifully our pots were dodged by the tugs. Because of this hazard it seems no other non-commercial prawn fishermen will lay their pots at these spots.
Being a gambler and having experienced the grueling disappointment of pulling an empty prawn pot, Dad sticks to his risky spots and it seems to pay off every time. We pull the pots up by hand and it’s a workout as each prawn pot has a giant segment of tractor chain in it to properly weigh it down. You’re arms get tired so you start pulling with your legs and body’s momentum. Soon that gets tiring and you switch back to your arms. The whole time your hands are burning from gripping the heavy line and when all’s said and done you’re upper extremities feel like wet noodles hanging off your shoulders. I inevitably squat down on the coiled rope and wet buoy to count the prawns and send them into the bucket, my hands on fire and lungs out of breath. When we returned to pull the pots on Thursday morning they were full of 100+ prawns which I brought home. We remove the heads in the boat and I separated our catch into small, medium, and large prawns before freezing them in seawater to pop into my freezer at home and eat throughout this winter. I’ve said it before, they are like no prawn you will ever eat…they are wild from the freshest water and worth any effort to get them on the dinner plate.
Besides prawns we fished for delicious Dungeness crab. After dragging up a prawn pot, crab pots are a walk in the park. You drop them on a sandy bottom at a depth of about forty feet and wait overnight or even just a few hours. On this trip we tried a couple of other spots to prospect as they say, but pulled one pot full of 6-7 starfish and another empty one. The night before our last full day in BC, we went back to where we knew crabs were crawling and pulled in 6 keepers, 2 shy of the limit. People experiment with all kinds of baits for crab (chicken necks?), but Dad has found that fresh bait works the best. He usually just goes to Safeway in Powell River and asks the seafood department for their salmon scraps which they gladly hand over. The scraps are then frozen in the bait cage that fits into the pot. We were lucky enough on this trip to catch our own salmon and use unfrozen, fresh bait that proved to work very well.
Sandwiched between our prawn fishing and our crab fishing was some of the most successful salmon fishing I have ever had. Fishing for salmon is a bit of a curse in my family. I can catch a boring rock fish as quickly as I can get a hook in the water, but an old boot has more action than a rock fish. My rock fishing highlight is the time I threw a little guy back and he sort of floated in a daze on the surface for a minute. That was just enough time for a bald eagle to come down from a tree and pluck him out of the water. I felt I’d just caught an eagle his lunch and that will likely never happen again. I grew up spending summers on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands. Each summer for years we would fish for salmon and catch absolutely squat. I felt, going into my adult years, that I would never be a salmon fisherman. The Bliss Landing house changed the game for the Spring Chinook salmon run north of Bliss, along with the wild and hatchery Coho runs, provide some of the best opportunities to catch salmon on the North American west coast.
Dad knew that I would want to spend a lot of time with gear in the water while I was visiting. To mix things up he decided we would take the boat about an hour and a half north where the geography and accompanying ecology change dramatically. At Bliss Landing, the ocean water temperature is a cool 62〫, while a mere hour north it drops to a frigid 45〫. This drop in temperature causes drastic changes in air temperature, weather patterns, and in the type of life that can thrive in it. Beyond the water temperature you also find an increase in large mammal predators. Wolves, cougars, and most notably, grizzly bears are all abundant in the northern section of British Columbia’s Inside Passage. Our first night we moored at Big Bay on Stuart Island and the woman working the small store told us of a nice hike to a small lake. During her explanation of how to get to this lake there were a number of red flags that came up for me. First, she told us to walk a little ways on the trail we could see from the dock, and then “just go into the woods” and we would find it. Hmmmm. Next, she asked us if we would be hiking alone or together. Together. She then asked if we had a dog with us. No. She then revealed that we may need to be careful because a boater had spotted a cougar swimming from a neighboring island onto Stuart Island. Wow. Ok. The vision of a cougar swimming in 45〫water from island to island made me think that this cougar was very hungry and likely pissed. Also, Stuart Island is not very big and I’m not sure anything could have dragged me on a hike into the woods at that point. The next night, while mooring at Cordero Lodge, I got to hear about how a cougar had come out of the woods and killed both of the caretaker’s dogs on the boat dock.
Regardless of the cat problem, we were there for adventure and we were there to catch salmon. We arrived at Big Bay on Friday night and trolled that evening without a bite. The next night we would be mooring at the Cordero Lodge in Johnstone Straight and spent Saturday morning fishing before heading into Blind Channel for lunch. Blind Channel was pretty and bustling with large, cruiser boats trying to tie to their small dock. They had a sort of shack built around a BBQ being run by a college-age kid and that kid made my Dad and I one of the best hamburgers I have eaten in my entire life. I’m not just saying this because I was hungry. We’re talking a brioche bun with house-made BBQ and chipotle sauce, fresh fixings, and local ground beef packed with spices, minced onions and green peppers. Kudos to that college kid.
After Blind Channel we checked in at Cordero to let them know that we would be mooring on their dock and joining friends for dinner that night before heading north to fish in Loughborough Inlet. The hankering to head into Loughnorough was inspired by a desire to see a property that a friend of a friend of my Dad had purchased years ago. We boated up the inlet and arrived at the property, to find what I can only describe as a “spooky” scene. There was a very large house that years ago had been partially built by the owner, only to be abandoned when he ran out of the resources needed to continue building. It is a huge, beautiful house in the middle of absolutely nowhere that, in my Dad’s words, seems to be “returning back to nature”. The owner’s boat is moored on a small dock in front, but only to make people believe that someone actually lives there. It reminded me in spirit of the Stanley Hotel in The Shining and gave me some serious heebeegeebees. We motored away from the creepy property and decided to find a place to fish.
We chose the sunny side of the inlet by a vaguely described “green patch” that the woman who ran Cordero suggested. A spot that she grew up fishing with her Dad. We trolled along the shore with one downrigger pulling a green hoochie down to about 110 feet. In the morning we had seen bait fish jumping close to shore and usually bait fish jump out of the water when something is chasing them. This led to my Dad suggesting that maybe we should drag a buzz bomb off the back of the boat just to see what happens. This was a bit out there for me, as I usually only use the buzz bombs for mooching purposes. Despite my borderline-dismissive apathy, the bait fish were jumping and I ran a long line off the back with a buzz bomb. After twenty minutes the buzz bomb pole snapped hard and I reeled a nice sized Coho into the net, absolutely blown away that it had worked. The fish was beautiful and our first success of the trip north.
Giddy with the fact that we were no longer skunked, we head back to our night’s moorage at Cordero Lodge. Cordero is a restaurant and small lodging house run by two generations of Germans who built their property on float houses thirty-something years ago. Float houses are traditionally used by loggers and are built on large logs that allow them to be floated and moved as the supply of trees dry up and the operation requires a new forest to cut down. Cordero Lodge is this family’s lifework and due to illness and the lack of desire to carry on the struggling enterprise by the next generation, this summer will be the lodge’s last season. They serve a delicious German dinner in a floating dining room/bar filled with booths, a piano, and dozens of hanging bargees donated by many boats that have moored at Cordero over the years and enjoyed their hospitality.
After our obligatory shots of schnapps, my Dad and I retired early in anticipation of catching the “early bite” the next morning. My Dad had arranged a four hour outing with a guide suggested to us by the couple that ran Big Bay’s marina. We met our guide, Mike, at Big Bay at 7:30am and piled our bundled selves into his small, open boat for a brisk, fast ride through the Dent Rapids to Denham Bay. My Dad had seen the boats fishing at Denham the night before and decided that the logistics of trolling with 25 other boats on the same strip of shoreline was understandably not worth the effort. Mike was a pro and informed us that there was a system at Denham Bay where you trolled “starboard to shore” and that kept everyone looping around at a civilized pace.
We arrived at Denham and within fifteen minutes of having the gear in the water I had an 18lb Spring Chinook hooked, netted, and in the boat. It was unbelievable and an immediate testament to the benefits of fishing with a local guide. Mike was a great guide and a great guy to share a small boat with for four hours. He guides hunting expeditions as well and when we got into his boat I noticed two large bones setting on top of his flashers, keeping them from flying out as we motored along. My Dad wittily inquired if they were from dissatisfied customers and Mike dryly replied that they were Grizzly femurs. One from a ten foot bear and another from a smaller, nine foot bear. I thought they were merely a showy method for weighing his lighter gear down in his open boat. But when I reeled in that first Chinook, he used one of the femurs as a “fish bonker” to knock the salmon dead before putting it in the cooler. Using a bear femur to kill a just-caught salmon may be the most primal showing I have ever witnessed and Mike acted like it was the most sensible use of a bone in the world. Fred Flinstone would have been proud.
We caught two more salmon while at Denham, one small Chinook we released and Dad caught a beautiful hatchery Coho that we had for dinner the next night. It may have been the best tasting salmon I had ever had. Between the prawns, crab, and slab of salmon I now have a very full freezer in my Capitol Hill apartment. The fish should last well into winter and every time I dip into that seafood stash I’ll be reminded of this trip and more importantly my Dad, who made it all happen.
More photographs from the trip at my Flickr