November on the River

Arlen Hill | 08 December, 2011

Wherever we live in the world there are areas that are still to be explored.  Tromping around near home even after living here nearly all my life, still gives a sense of discovery.  Each year I push the distance explored, like a Labrador, tracking new territory from home.  Being emersed in one place for awhile has allowed the intricacies to reveal themselves.

In the pacific northwest, water divides the land leaving many areas inaccessible unless you have a boat.  Small boats are a great way to get to islands out in the bay, river deltas and lakes.  This fall, with work time more flexible, my buddy and I  explored some of the local waterways.  The river deltas are mostly frequented by hunters and fishermen during the winter.  Our goal for this trip was to explore an area that we had only seen glimpses of from the landward paths we had walked.

We launched the boat and motored off down the channel.  This time of the year the water is a murky slurry of cold gray silt pushed down by heavy rain and high waters.  November here is the wettest month of the year. Without fail it snows in the mountains then melts with torrential rain inevitably causing flooding.  Not exactly a reassuring thought when you live in a flood plain.

We pulled up alongside a house where a hardy man was sitting on his dock cleaning a freshly killed rooster, his eager dog watching, its head darting back and  forth from us to the bird.  Curious to find out more about the area we shut off the motor, gesturing a welcoming wave as we drifted nearer.  I admire my friend who seems to be able to enter into a conversation with just about anyone.  Even the unwilling engage, when their cautious wall is dropped after a momentary hesitation. We agreed that living off the grid and having to use a boat to access your remote house has appeal.  You could grow your own food, hunt or butcher your own chicken (if you eat meat).  Not that you have to be out in the boonies to do that, but it sure would help force you to.  The trend lately has been going in the direction of local, self reliance, but many of us have been living like that all along. 

The weather was surprisingly cold, with thick dark clouds, the sun shining through at the horizon from the southwest.  Nearly everything already had lost its leaves and was looking quite gloomy except Cornus stolonifera's twiggy branches that glowed red and orange. The river delta was picturesque with all of the grasses and cattails golden brown.  The grasses swayed softly with their seed heads looking like feathers in the wind.  Drifting further down the river, bald eagles and red tailed hawks could be spotted in the towering, bare branched cottonwood trees. Great blue herons and all varieties of ducks waded in the shallow reeds.  Even small perching birds flitted about the bushes in search of food.  After heading to the mouth of the river to get our bearings, we turned back up to where one of the larger waterways branched off and around a vast island bordered by one of the many channels of the river forming the delta.

The branch of the river we needed to take in order to head back down river was a narrow place where the water pushed through, catching large deadheads.  We positioned ourselves, put the oars in place, turned off the outboard and floated through.  The bay and river delta has old pilings, remnants of a bustling community many years ago.  I wondered what it must have looked like when the river was filled with boats and small communities where people lived and worked.  We passed an old wooden bridge linking the mainland to a river island.  It was made of huge old growth logs that now were covered in ferns and small trees.  It is surprising how nature can hide nearly all traces of the past so quickly.  Everything is so brief, we need to take the time to enjoy the little adventures.