Another Reason Why I Love It Here

Wildlife watching from the door to my front deck.

I’d been told that there were bighorn sheep in the cliffs up behind my home. And more than once I’ve heard them knocking rocks around up there as they move along the cliff face. And occasionally Penny will bark like a crazy dog at the cliffs, obviously hearing or seeing something I can’t. But despite purchasing and using a set of binoculars last autumn, I haven’t been able to see the animals up on the cliffs.

Until last week. That’s when Penny’s urgent barking caught my attention and I spotted three bighorn sheep — two adults and a yearling — in my neighbor’s front yard. I rushed Penny into the RV to shut her up and grabbed my binoculars.

Unfortunately, I got more of an eyeful than I expected. Not only did I get a close look at one of the animals, but I also got a too close look at my neighbor, who’d come out stark naked to photograph them.

Life’s different out here.

Today, more barking got my attention. And this time, when I rushed Penny into the RV, I grabbed my Nikon, 300mm lens, and monopod. Then I went into my unfinished building, climbed the stairs, and opened the door to my future front deck. I zoomed in on one of the animals grazing in the yard. Her head was down but I waited. No sense taking a picture of her back. After about a minute, I was rewarded. She popped her head up and looked right at me.

Bighorn Sheep
Captured in pixels from the door to my future front deck.

This isn’t the only interesting animal we have around here. There are also golden and bald eagles and other birds of prey that I see daily. There are quail — which have youngsters right now — as well as robins, magpies, and hummingbirds. I hear owls but have never seen one here. There are coyotes, which I occasionally see but more often hear at night. There’s elk and deer in the area, but I’m not sure if they ever make appearances near my home. And, of course, there are bull snakes and rattlesnakes.

It’s nice to live in a place that’s remote enough for wildlife viewing out my window without being too remove to take advantage of the conveniences a small city like Wenatchee has to offer. I really like it here — I only wish I’d moved here sooner.

A(nother) Full Day

Sometimes I can really pack it in.

Yesterday was one of those days when there’s simply no rest. Here’s a quick rundown.

A Natural Alarm Clock

I woke at 3:50 AM. It was the sound of three drops of rain hitting my RV roof that woke me. This was an unusual sound that I hadn’t heard in weeks and it took a moment for my sleeping mind to register why it was important.

Rain.

I’m on contract to dry cherries.

I was wide awake in a flash, reaching for my iPad, summoning the radar. Yes, it was drizzling on me, but was it raining on my orchards 5 miles to the west?

Not yet, the radar told me. But there was rain in the area.

I lounged in bed for a while, reading, catching up on Facebook crap (which I’m convinced has become a sick addiction for me, since I get very little pleasure out of it), and checking my calendar for the day. I had three things scheduled: a meeting with my earth-moving guy about the ground work for my utility connections at 7:30 AM, a charter flight at 8:30 AM, and an invitation to help a friend pack Rainier cherries at 10:00 AM.

But the rain made things a lot less solid. Getting called to dry cherries took precedence over anything else I might have to do.

Earth-Moving Plans

Jeff Parks, the guy who had installed my septic system last year and did all the earth work in preparation for my building, arrived at 7:30 sharp. By then, it was drizzling again.

I outlined what I needed and he suggested ways to get the job done. That’s one of the things I like about Jeff — if you want to do something one way and he has a better way, not only will he suggest it, but he’ll explain why it’s better. He’ll also take the time to go over the pros and cons of the different materials that can be used.

In my situation, I need to run a water line from the city water source to my building and my shed, an electric conduit from my transformer box to my building and my shed, and a septic system line from the takeout near the building to the building. I also wanted to install a second takeout near the shed so I could create a complete RV hookup there for guests. I wasn’t in a hurry to get this done, but I did hope to have it finished by August month-end, which was fine for Jeff.

We decided that I’d buy the materials with a shopping list he provided. I already had much of the conduit and pipe I needed. He’d get back to me with a solid estimate.

The Charter

My charter client knew I was a cherry drying pilot and called while Jeff was there to make sure we were still on for the flight. I told her we were, then told her that I’d call her cell phone if I needed to cancel.

But I didn’t have to cancel. At 8:20, I said goodbye to Jeff, locked Penny in the RV, and hopped into the helicopter. Ten minutes later, I was shutting down at Pangborn Airport across the river, ready to greet my passengers.

My passengers were two fruit buyers from the midwest that my client was entertaining during a visit to the orchards. I’d done short tours for a handful of the client’s guests last year. This year there were only two of them and the client didn’t mind my one-hour minimum. I’d pick them up at Wenatchee Airport, take them on a scenic flight around the area, and drop them off at Quincy Airport where my client would be waiting.

My passengers were pleasant men who really seemed to enjoy the flight. They asked me to show them a new orchard being planted north of the airport on some old wheat fields — I didn’t even know it was up there! Then we headed down river, past the Rock Island dam. I pointed out the features now visible due to the low water levels. (The Wanapum Dam is still being repaired so the lake level is extremely low and closed to the public.) We saw Crescent Bar, the Gorge Amphitheater, Cave B Inn and Winery, and Sunland before turning and heading back over Frenchman’s Coulee, Quincy Lakes, and Quincy. One of the passengers obviously knew the area very well because he kept pointing out various orchards and packing/storage facilities around us. After 45 minutes, I landed at Quincy where their ride was waiting. The last 15 minutes of their hour would get me back to Wenatchee.

Packing Cherries

Of course, I didn’t go back to Wenatchee Airport — or home. Instead, I flew to the orchard where my friends Donn and Kathryn were using their cherry packing line for the very first time. The reason I flew instead of driving there was because there was still rain possible and it would have taken 30-40 minutes for me to drive home (or to the airport for that matter) if I were called out to fly. By flying there, the helicopter was only 5 minutes away so I’d be able to respond quickly if called.

The Cherry Packing Line
Packing cherries can be labor-intensive, too.

The packing line was set up in a new building near their house on the orchard. There was a huge walk-in refrigerator where cherries picked the previous day and that morning had been stored. Then a conveyor belt that would take cherries from an ice water bath past quality control people who’d pick out the bad ones. Finally, the cherries came out on the far end where they fell into plastic-lined boxes.

Cherries Dropping into Box
At the end of the line, the cherries dropped into a box.


I shot this little video to show how the cherries moved down the line.

The quality control people worked at a feverish pace, picking out cherries that weren’t “perfect.” They checked for things like size, color, splits, bird pecks, and mold/fungus. Even stems — if a cherry didn’t have a stem attached, it was rejected. (I ate a lot of those.) The line moved quickly; we probably packed at least 10 pounds per minute.

My job was to work with Kathryn to fill the boxes, make sure they weighed 16 pounds (15 pounds of cherries plus the weight of the box and excess water), close them up, and put them on a pallet. The trickiest part was pulling one box away while putting an empty one in its place. It required the two of us to work in harmony to prevent cherries coming off the line from falling on the floor. It took us a few tries, but we finally got it working perfectly. We joked that she was Lucy and I was Ethel.

Drying Cherries

It started to rain while I was there. Then the inevitable phone call from one of my two clients still on contract. Could I dry, please? Fortunately, my helicopter was parked right across the street from the orchard. I excused myself from Kathryn and Donn and walked down the hill to where I was parked. On the way, I ran into the orchard owner. I told him I’d been helping with the cherry packing in the new shed and expected rain so I’d flown over.

I was airborne when the second client called. I was now responsible for flying over about 90 acres of cherries — about my limit for the 2-1/2 hours allotted.

I called Mike, my backup pilot. Although he was off-contract, he was in the Quincy area and could, theoretically, fly up to help out. But he was having engine trouble with his motorhome and needed to sort that out. So I tackled it on my own.

I flew until I was low on fuel — remember, I’d burned an hour’s worth that morning — then refueled at the airport 5 minutes away and flew until I was done. I explain what cherry drying is all about in other blog posts; click the cherry drying tag to learn more.

Back to Packing

No Swimming
I don’t know…do you think swimming is allowed here? Sky looks nasty, huh?

Afterwards, I landed back near Donn and Kathryn’s house, but this time on a dam around a reservoir in the orchard. I walked down to the packing shed where they were all still working. Kathryn took one look at me and asked, “Are you hungry?”

“I was hoping you’d ask,” I replied.

She brought me into the house and let me loose on salad fixings everyone else had had a while earlier. I made myself lunch and ate it alone while she went back down to work. Then, after a quick trip to the loo, I went back out to help.

Other helpers had taken my previous job so I filled in where needed, giving people breaks as they needed them. In the end, I wound up right where I’d started with Kathryn beside me. That’s where we were when the last few cherries came down the line. We all cheered. They’d packed 420 15-pound boxes — over 3 tons of cherries.

We cleaned up immediately. Extra cherries were handed out. The packing line ladies left. I passed on the cherries, preferring to come back later in the week to pick my own from the same trees — pickers aren’t always thorough. I’d get some blueberries that day, too. Kathryn invited me to join them for dinner in town later on. She’d text me. I looked forward to it, but not nearly as much as I looked forward to taking it easy at home.

When I flew off, the refrigerated truck that would take the cherries to Seattle had just arrived.

A Short Rest

At home, Penny the Tiny Dog was happy to see me. She always is.

I took it easy for a while. I made some soup and watched a documentary about abandoned cities on Netflix.

Kathryn called to tell me they’d decided on Pybus Bystro at 6:30. I told her I’d come if the weather held.

A friend called and I spent a half hour chatting with him. Then I noticed the weather was changing again. One look at the radar and I cut the call short.

I went outside and topped off the helicopter’s fuel tanks with 100LL from the tank on my truck.

I texted Kathryn and told her I wouldn’t be joining them after all.

More Cherry Drying

My other client called first this time. It was about 6 PM when I launched. The second call came while I was enroute.

Track
I hadn’t gotten very far when it started raining. Again.

The orchards are only 5 minutes away by air. I settled in over the trees of the big orchard and was at work for less than 15 minutes when I decided to track the flight with GPSTrack.

I was only 16 minutes into the logged part of the flight when it started to rain. Hard.

I flew over to a friend’s house and landed in his driveway, knowing he was out of town. I called my two clients and told them that I’d wait until it stopped or 7 PM, whichever came sooner. If I re-started after 7, I’d never finish before it got dark. Even then, it was iffy.

It was still raining at 6:55 PM when I started back up.

I speed-dried. I knew I’d never get it all done thoroughly, but I figured I could get most (or all) of it done if I was a bit less thorough. The result wasn’t as good, but was better than leaving 20 or 30 acres completely uncovered. Partial coverage was better than no coverage. Besides, rain was expected overnight and I was likely to be called out first thing in the morning.

Speed Drying
In speed drying, I go down every third aisle instead of every second. Sometimes I do every third one way and every second the other. Less coverage is better than no coverage. Keep in mind that this satellite image is three years old; the orchard configuration is a bit different these days.

I got through all of the big orchard and one of the two smaller orchard’s blocks. By then, it was getting dark. The sun had set around 8:45 PM and clouds on the western horizon made it darker than it would normally be. My landing zone at home wasn’t lighted and I really didn’t want to land in the dark. I also didn’t want to hover five feet over cherry trees in hilly terrain in semi-darkness with a windscreen full of raindrops. So I let the last orchard block go.

It was drizzling when I headed home.

Home

The helicopter was lit up like a Christmas light parade float on the flight home. Strobe light (required during flight), navigation lights (required after sunset), landing light, pulsing lights on my skid shoes. I wouldn’t be surprised if neighbors called me in as a UFO. But it felt good to get on the ground, especially since I knew I was done for the night.

I shut down, let Penny out for a run, and then went in. My friend Bob called while I was pouring a glass of wine. We chatted for a while and I invited him to join me Thursday evening to pick cherries and blueberries. It was after 10 PM when he reminded me that I’d probably be up early.

I finished my wine and went to bed, exhausted.

It had been a very full day.

The Rattlesnake Living Under My Shed

Is not living there anymore.

My first encounter with a rattlesnake on my property happened about two months ago.

Back then, the grass and weeds that cover my property, which I allow to grow naturally long, was still green and there were still plenty of wildflowers for my bees. I’d mowed a path to Lookout Point and to my beehives and close to my RV, but the rest was tall — some of it more than 3 feet tall! — and I saw no reason to cut it back until it died and became a wildfire hazard.

Until I saw the snake.

It was slithering out of the weeds on a direct path to my RV, probably attracted by the shade beneath it. I looked at it carefully to determine what kind of snake it was. Bull snakes, which are common around here, are friends. They eat rodents and rattlesnakes. But rattlesnakes are enemies, especially since I wasn’t 100% confident of Penny’s Arizona rattlesnake avoidance training, which was now more than a year in her past.

Unfortunately, it was a rattlesnake.

Not having a weapon handy and not wanting the damn thing under my RV, I reached down into my poor man’s hot tub, which I’d set up just the day before, and splashed water toward it. It made an about-face and headed back into the tall weeds. I got Penny into the RV, grabbed a heavy piece of scrap wood, and went after it. I tossed the wood onto it. It struck, but not hard enough to kill. The snake took off into the thick weeds over my septic field.

Later that week, I did what I should have done when I bought the place last year: I bought a shotgun and bird shot shells. Yeah, it might be overkill, but any kind of kill would make me happy. The next time I saw it near the RV, all I needed to do was grab the gun, load it with a shell from the open box nearby, and blow the snake’s brains — and everything else — out. The birds would take care of the rest.

That was the plan, anyway.

In the meantime, I mowed. As the green grass and weeds dried and the flowers feeding my bees died, I mowed them away to create a defensible space — not only for wildfire threats, which are very real here in the summer, but for rattlesnake threats. I wanted to see them coming.

About two or three weeks later, I came outside around dusk to take out the trash. I keep my trash can near my shed. As I passed the temporary water spigot, I noted a hole in the ground that I assumed was from a mouse. I stomped it to close it up and heard a rattle.

I think I must have jumped 5 feet backwards. The snake had been curled up near where I stomped and right after rattling, he took off, under the shed. The shed has a porch and the front part was open underneath at the time. Before I could gather my wits after such a scare, the snake was gone.

Not good. Did he live under there? Had he come out of the hole I’d stomped? Did he have friends?

Needless to say, I was a lot more careful when walking around in the evening.

About two weeks ago, while repositioning some of my pallets from behind my shed for use inside my building, I caught a glimpse of a snake slithering away, under my shed. This time I had time to see and count the rattles on its tail — just 3 or 4 of them. A youngster. Anyone who knows anything about rattlesnakes is aware of the theory that they’re the most dangerous.

Of course, there was no way to reach him and I wasn’t about to start firing a shotgun into the small space under the shed. I took measures to block the openings as best as I could. With skids on two sides of the little building and a new concrete platform out front, there was only one way in or out: the back. I closed up as much of it as possible, thus forcing the snake to come and go through a much smaller opening, as far away from my garden as possible.

Peacefully co-exist. That’s what one of my Facebook friends said when I mentioned the snake living under the shed.

I liked the idea. When I lived in Arizona a rattlesnake lived under my chicken coop for a while. It didn’t bother the chickens and the chickens apparently didn’t bother it. And that year, there were no mice in the adjoining feed shed. If the snake stayed under the shed most of the time and just came out to hunt and stayed away from Penny and my chickens and my garden — well, that would be okay.

But that was a lot of ifs.

Too many, apparently.

This morning, one of my chickens was dead. She’s the second to die of the original eight that I bought. As I started moving around equipment to get my ATV out for her “burial” at the far end of my property, I started wondering what had killed her. Had the snake come over to the chicken coop for a visit? Had they fought? Did a snakebite kill her? No matter how much I hoped that wasn’t the case, I had to admit that it was possible.

And then, when I saw the rattlesnake coiled up under where my little farm trailer had been parked only moments before, it became pretty obvious that the snake was not willing to peacefully co-exist with us.

I didn’t need the shotgun. I was holding a shovel.

As the snake stretched out and headed toward the back of the shed, I brought the sharp edge of the shovel down violently, cutting through the snake’s body. Again. And again. The snake was still moving, but it was pretty much cut into four pieces. Guts were coming out.

My First Kill
My friend Bob was right: who needs a shotgun when you have a shovel?

It was still moving when I used the shovel to scoop it into the recycling garbage pail sitting nearby. It’s a deep pail; I didn’t want the snake somehow getting out.

Then I went into the chicken yard and used the shovel to scoop up the dead chicken. After all, that’s why I’d been holding a shovel in the first place. I dumped the chicken onto the snake, put the pail in the back of my ATV, and headed out to the far east end of my property, which is where I left the first chicken who died. This spot is far enough from where I live that I don’t have to worry about Penny finding them. I dumped them unceremoniously in the same spot; scavengers would take care of cleanup, probably within 24 hours.

Is that the only rattlesnake around here? Probably not. A friend of mine claims they always come in pairs — although I can’t say I agree. I’ve seen solitary rattlesnakes before.

I am sure, however, that the one I killed today is the same one that was apparently living under the shed. Same size, same number of rattles. It’s a load off my mind, anyway.

Too bad about the chicken.

Sunrise from Lookout Point

When was the last time you sat quietly to watch a day being born?

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that about a year ago, I bought 10 acres of view property sitting on a shelf at the base of some basalt cliffs in Malaga, WA. I’m a view person and its the view that sold me on the land. From the spot where I had my building constructed this summer, I can see all of Malaga and most of East Wenatchee and Wenatchee, including the Columbia River which runs between them. There are grassy, sage-studded hills, small lakes, orchards, snow-covered peaks, and dramatic cliff faces, with a scattering of homes nearby and the more populated Wenatchee area in the distance.

My Bench at Lookout Point
Looking back at my future home from the bench at Lookout Point. See the tiny dog curled up on the right seat?

But a short walk a bit farther to the north, to the point just before my land drops down off a steep hill, takes me to what I’ve begun calling “Lookout Point.” It has a 270° (at least) view that also takes in Mission Ridge and the mouth of Lower Moses Coulee. When I bought a used shed last autumn and found a crude bench in it, the obvious place to put it was at Lookout Point. I fixed it up with a coat of paint and bought new cushions for it. I often sit out there in the evening with a glass of wine to watch the sun set.

The View from Lookout Point
There’s nothing special about the bench; it’s what’s in front of the bench that’s amazing.

I woke up this morning shortly before 5 AM. It was already light out — it gets light very early here in the summer — and rather than turn on the radio and have my coffee at my desk while listening to the news on NPR — as I too often do — I decided to have my coffee out at Lookout Point.

I think it was the sight of the pickers driving into the cherry orchard below me that triggered the idea. Two or three summers ago, when I lived at a friend’s building site in Wenatchee Heights, I used to sit out on his unfinished deck at dawn, watching the pickers getting to work in the orchard across the road. The deck was close enough to the orchard that I could hear the dull clunk of cherries hitting the bottom of the picking buckets as pickers started work.

Anyway, I took my coffee and headed out, leaving the door to my RV open behind me. Penny the Tiny Dog was still asleep on my bed, but I suspected that she’d follow me out if she sensed I was leaving. Sure enough, I was halfway down to the bench when I saw her following on the path behind me. When I sat down, she jumped up onto the seat beside mine, curled up, and went back to sleep.

The sky on the horizon to the northwest was pink; the sun was just touching the tops of distant snow-covered peaks. The valley was still in the shadows.

I sat quietly and listened. I could hear the whine of a sprayer in a nearby orchard. It was a sound you learn to live with here — during the growing season, they start as early as 4 AM and, depending on what they’re spraying and what the weather is like, they could continue all day long. Fortunately, none of the orchards are close enough that the sound becomes a nuisance.

Predawn from Lookout Point
The sun was just kissing the snow-covered peaks when I sat down at the bench.

Golden Basalt
I love the way first light and last light makes the cliffs behind my home glow with a golden light.

Sprayer in Orchard
You can easily see a sprayer from above — the cloud of chemicals is hard to miss. Sometimes, when I’m flying, I’ll see dozens of them at work in orchards all around me.

Sunrise
The sun broke over the horizon at exactly 5:30 AM.

Morning Light
I watched the golden morning light creep down the landscape. Can you see my shadow on the left?

Wenatchee Valley in Shadows
But while I was in full sun, the Wenatchee Valley was still in shadows. The sun wouldn’t hit them for another 30 minutes or so.

Off in the distance, I heard another familiar sound: a spray helicopter. I didn’t see it, but I suspect it was working out to the west, either on Stemilt Hill or Wenatchee Heights. I wondered what the people living in that area thought about helicopters doing extended spray operations near their homes at 5 AM.

Closer, I heard tools clanking where the pickers had gone. Maybe ladders being repositioned? Or bin trailers being hooked up to tractors?

Occasionally, a bird cannon fired. These propane-powered devices emit a sound a bit like a shotgun every few minutes to scare birds off the ripening cherries. Like the sprayers, bird cannons are a seasonal sound that lasts only as long as red cherries are on the trees. By July month-end, the orchards in my area will have been all picked and the bird cannons will be put away until next year.

Across the river, the sound of a motorcycle on route 28 drifted up on a breeze. And then a truck. I can sometimes hear trains on my side of the river, but none seemed to go by.

Birds — I heard them, too. Song birds greeting the day. Robins, magpies, quail.

One of my bees flew over to the bench and poked around. Maybe she thought my purple tank top was some sort of enormous flower that had blossomed overnight. Penny, bothered by the close buzzing, sat up. It wasn’t until she lunged at the bee that it flew away.

Meanwhile, the earth rotated toward the east and the sky got brighter and brighter. A golden light reached out and touched the basalt cliffs behind me. Then it began creeping down from the mountains and cliffs and hillsides, bathing everything it touched with a golden light.

The new day was born.

Bunch Grass in First Light
Bunch grass in first light.

It’s funny, but when some people watch a sunrise or sunset, they look at the sun. But that’s not where the show is. The show is in the opposite direction, where the changing light makes deep shadows and glowing highlights on the things we see every day.

I watched the light shine on everything around me. I especially liked the way it touched the tips of the bunch grass I’d left long around Lookout Point.

The light spread like a carpet over the earth. Shadows filled in with light. The magic of first light faded quickly at Lookout Point. Too quickly. I wished it could last all day.

Dawn in Malaga
A new day is born.

As I sat there with Penny, savoring the last few minutes of the sunrise, I thought back to sunrises I’d experienced years ago. Back when I was in my early 20s, I’d dated a man who liked sunrises as much as I do. I distinctly remember waking up very early one morning and driving through the darkness to Montauk Point out on Long Island in New York. We found a rock to sit on and sat close together, looking out toward the brightness of the eastern horizon while waves crashed gently on the shore. If I think hard enough, I can remember — or at least imagine — the way the sun’s first light felt warm on my skin and the way his body felt comfortably close to mine. Afterward, we lay back on that big, flat rock and I fell asleep in his arms.

I miss moments like that, long gone and likely forgotten by the man I shared them with. Over the years, he grew and changed. Like so many of us, he forgot about the simple beauty of a sunrise and the wonder of a day being born, caught up instead with chasing the almighty dollar and keeping up appearances for people who really don’t matter. His loss — but he probably doesn’t even realize it.

Are you guilty of that, too? Be honest with yourself. I think I was, at least for a while.

I think that moving here has helped me reconnect with the simple things in life — getting back in tune with nature, stopping to look and listen and experience my surroundings. Gone are the days when I spent too much time commuting between two homes and dealing with the noise and crowds of a city I never really wanted to live in. Last night, I enjoyed squash from my garden; this morning, I ate cherries I picked yesterday with yogurt I made the day before. My chickens will soon be laying eggs; I can’t wait to make my special pound cake with those rich fresh eggs and butter. I’ll fill the hummingbird feeder in a while and check my bee hives for capped honey frames. Maybe I’ll head down into town for lunch with some friends.

Life is what you make it and my life is good.

Paddling with Friends

The river is high, the estuary is flooded, and the irises are blooming.

My friend Brian bought a kayak from a friend’s estate a few weeks ago. Knowing that I had some experience paddling in the Wenatchee River and — possibly more importantly — I had a truck to haul the kayaks, he suggested that we go for a paddle. When I heard his daughter was in town for the weekend, I offered her my second kayak (yes, I have two; long story) so she could come with us.

Estuary
My favorite paddling destination on the Columbia River, labeled.

We put in at Walla Walla Point Park, near the swimming lagoon. I knew from experience that the river’s swift current — it’s currently at a low flood stage — would make it nearly impossible to paddle out the lagoon entrance (A on the satellite image) and upriver past the sheltering arm of land. So I recommended that we launch from just upriver from the park’s little bridge (B). It was a bit of hike from the parking lot, but we each handled our own kayaks and did fine.

I let them launch first. They stayed near the launch point, holding onto tree branches until I was in the water with Penny. Then we began paddling up the shoreline toward the estuary (C) at the mouth of the Wenatchee River.

It was difficult at first. I clocked the river’s current at about 5-1/2 miles per hour the other day. But once we got moving, it became easier. And some place near the shoreline had less current, making it an easy paddle.

Bryan's Kayak
Brian bought his kayak from the estate of a friend. It’s really designed for white water.

Brian had trouble, though. His kayak is designed for white water. It’s short and has a completely smooth bottom. Each paddling stroke pushed the kayak’s nose hard in one direction. As a result, he wiggled his way along, having a heck of a time moving in anything resembling a straight line.

Brian’s daughter, Kathleen, did much better. In fact, she kind of surprised me — she’s a quiet girl and I wasn’t sure how outdoorsy she was. Maybe it’s the kayak, though. My two Costco specials are pretty easy to use.

We entered the mouth of the estuary at the southmost point. The satellite image is a pretty good representation of the area, although it might show the water level even higher than what we experienced on Saturday. The last time I’d been in there for a paddle, late last summer, the water level had been much lower and there were fewer channels that I could paddle through. This time there were multiple channels and a pretty decent current.

Penny in the Kayak
After Penny took an unexpected swim, I put her life jacket on and she returned to her favorite position on the boat’s bow.

At one point, Brian’s kayak rammed into mine and poor Penny, who’d been sitting on the bow, fell into the water. She wasn’t wearing her life jacket yet, but she was secured with her leash and I reeled her in. I put her life jacket on more to warm her up than to keep her safe.

More than once, we found side channels to get us out of the main current. Once, the channel met back up with the one we’d been in after a nice, leisurely paddle through a shady area. Another time, the channel dead-ended in tall grasses that were difficult to turn around in. No worries, though. It was a beautiful day — perfect for exploring.

Brian and his Daughter
Brian and his daughter posed for a photo in one of the calmer side channels.

We eventually reached the Wenatchee River confluence. The Wenatchee was running hard. I wanted to cross it to continue padding in the estuary on the other side (D on the satellite image above) and even got a start, but the current was sweeping me out into the Columbia and it looked like it would be a tough crossing. So before the others started off behind me, I returned. We took a different one of the estuary’s channels back downriver, exploring more side channels on the way.

We were nearly back to the south end of the estuary when I began to see irises — thousands of them — coming up through the floodwaters and blooming along the shoreline. The calm water reflected the bright yellow blooms. For a while, everywhere we turned were irises among the trees. I must have taken a dozen photos, trying hard to capture that reflection in the water. I want to return a little later in the year and see if I can snag a few of the bulbs for my garden. I just hope they don’t need to be flooded to grow.

Irises in the Columbia River
There were irises blooming all over the place in the south end of the estuary.

We left the estuary and began paddling back. It was easy, moving along with the current. Instead of pulling out where we’d started, we went around to the mouth of the lagoon (A on the satellite image above). There was some fast water along the way. We passed a man in a beautiful, long sea kayak headed upriver. He told me he was surprised that Penny didn’t jump out to chase the geese.

Once in the lagoon, we paddled to shore, close to the swimming area. I climbed out onto land, feeling pleasantly tired.

It had been a nice day out. I’m hoping to paddle on Friday with another friend; maybe there will be something new to report.