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A Fine Bone Day

A Fine, Bone Day

Too nice a day for housework. Too antsy, too. The ridge of high pressure is easing east of us, and another low is creeping ashore, maybe arriving day after tomorrow, producing moderate outflow down the Columbia River drainage — maybe 15 knots of east wind.

Time for the Bone.

The Bone is a little protected piece of tidal estuary/river on the uphill end of Willapa Bay, WA. Only 3 – 4 miles of tidal stuff, and another short mile of low-gradient “river,” flatwater on big tides. Today was a big one — maybe highest of the year.

Boats plopped onto the salt grass. Clammy rubber met warm flesh. Do all nice things start with brief discomfort? Sort gear, stow it, eat it, and stuff it. Pop into cockpits and push off. Buffleheads all over, and not shy either. Males are bobbing their mating dance — three months to wait boys — save it! The females seem unimpressed.

Push, push, push. A dozen lesser yellowlegs, startle, and cheep cheep away. Brilliant light and clear, cool air, brown crispy strands of tall grass, lichen-slathered alders and crabapples on the old dike. Washwater grey snags and black-green spruces. Chocolate water. Invisible mud.

A mile up, mallards and wigeons jumping off the wet marsh. There’s a loud bunch! Nope. That’s a herd of elk, slopping through the swamp! A dozen heads and more buffy butts. No antlers, and silently the last melts into new growth.

James Swan settled in this drainage in the late nineteenth century, living off the oyster trade and extracting artifacts from the Chinooks. Swan eventually visited many of the natives on the BCcoast, including the Charlottes, settled in Port Townsend, WA, and ended his sojourn on this planet a lonely drunk. Are these his dikes? Some of the spruces are old enough. Not his elk.

Nobody lives here now, and the place is a “natural area,” recognized in law and practice as a preserve for marsh critters and peace of mind. The river is a navigable waterway, and now and then someone runs an outboard up it. More often, paddlers are alone here, though once I saw two rifle-totin’ good old boys hustling a big Grumman up to where they had laid out their elk. No PFD’s, but good-lookin’ rifles — maybe they were gonna shoot their way out if the canoe turned turtle? Just a little mystery.

The banks are closing in, and the water is slacking, as we slide over a big deadhead, normally an insurmountable barrier to upstream exploration. As the tide turns, so do we, for bagels, cheese, Almond Roca, and strong coffee at a bankside pause. Time for home, and the tide races with us, back past the buffies and the splatters of the elk, up onto put-in mud and grass.

Not a bad way to start the last year of the century.


Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR


Copyright 1999 by Dave Kruger.
May not be reproduced or redistributed without author’s permission.
Originally posted on Paddlewise mailing list on 1/3/1999. Republished here with permission.