Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rain Day

Occasional afternoon showers arrive before I do.  They arrive all at once.  They stay.

A steady rain falls on a day that isn't too cold for people that live here.  It is just enough that I don't quite feel like diving into it.  I have to wait for a friend to arrive, so I make a small batch of cinnamon frybread, leaving the kitchen door open perhaps just to ease myself into what might be a full day of rain.

S and I head upriver to the diagonal road.  The cottonwood forest has the smell of new growth.  Even the rain can't keep that down.  The river is running high again.  It is already a foot or two higher than it was when I left on Sunday, so it has been raining upstream of here for some time.  The small sand beach by the USGS river gauge is nearly disappeared.  I always check this spot for animal tracks.  I cast a fine cougar print here once, but today there is no reason to drop down for a look.

Our first stop is the squatter's cabin.  I lead to the grove below it and then point S towards the trail and let him find it himself.  He says that it has a good spirit about it.  This is not the first time that someone has said that.  I've always felt something creative here and I may be wrong about that, but a feeling of "creative" and a feeling of "good" could be easily confused.  S photographs while I collect a nice sample of witch's hair lichen.

We drop down and continue up the road.  We are exploring this area as a site for a collaborative project and we spend a couple hours moving around examining stumps and thinking about the shape of the land.  This is a mostly cedar forest in this spot, so while it rains steadily, we don't get nearly as wet as one would expect.

Our plan improves as we talk it out.  When we go, we continue upriver to the slough, which is once again thigh deep.  One of the two logs that the kids had placed as a bridge is gone and we have no reason, apparently, to get wet from the bottom up, already being wet from the top down.  We take a round-about route back, walking to the braided grasses, the lower beach and the barn before settling in at the kitchen to finish our chat.  A fine day, a fine day for sure.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Kid Camp, Day 2

It began to rain lightly sometime well before sunrise, so I moved my sleeping bag a few feet back under the edge of the metal roof.  None of this silenced the frog that had croaked all night long some 20 feet to my left.  I did enjoy the singing.  The lightest of rain on a bare metal roof can sound like a monsoon in full roar.  But, it was one long rolling rumble of the thunder that signaled the time to rise.  And, with that, the rain stopped.

I ran off into the woods for an hour and a half to work on my own project, after which I returned as I was the bannock chef for breakfast.  I was once complimented by the eldest elder of the Sauk Tribe for my frybread and for some reason the Smoke Farmer's like it too.  Flour and baking powder...go figure.  G made a fine set of scrambled eggs with left over sweet potatoes and shredded beef from last nights meal.

We hike the creek today.  Where it exits the hill it is spread out in shin deep flood, as it has been all winter.  When we walk the creek, where the creek is actually in the creek, I point out the beaver sign of cut trees, peeled logs, a drag or two.  We end out at the river where my track casting assistant from yesterday teaches one of the others how to cast a track.  It is all deer tracks, although there is a fawn in there.  The two of them cast a good adult deer track.

On the return, we stop at the double log bridge over the creek and the kids spend a half hour jumping into the cold water.

April 21 - Kid Camp, Day 1

This weekend is kid camp at Smoke Farm.  We have 8 middle school kids and 4 adults under the watchful eye of M.  I arrive early to get in a couple hours of my own artwork before the camp starts.  The wonderful aromatic odors that were in the forest on my last trip are already gone, but the grasses continue to grow and the cottonwoods and maples work overtime to put out new growth.

Once the kids arrive, we hike to the north fields.  High water in the slough gives them a chance to build a temporary log bridge.  They don't need my help, since I actually was an engineer at one time, so I take one of the kids who is standing on the sidelines and I show her how to cast animal tracks with plaster of paris.  The bridge project gives the rest of them a fine opportunity to also get wet, although after dozens of crossings back and forth on the new bridge, it is M, herself, who is the only one to take a dive.

I had spotted the remains of a gable roof in a brush pile in the north fields, and this is the goal for the kids.  They remove the enough brush so that we can pull back some of the rotting roof and peer in.  An old belt driven pump and some pipes show the building to be a collapsed pump house.  Someone pulls enough brush from the upriver side for us to see the old concrete cistern.

A makes an exceptional taco dinner for us all, so that mayhem may ensue until bedtime. 

With clear skies, I find myself sleeping under the stars, looking at pinpoints of light, light that has taken 10 or 100 years to reach me.  It is a humbling experience.  We are so small in what is a true and vast wilderness.  To think that not a million Earths, nor a million solar systems would fill the space between any two of those pinpoints of light.  I find myself thinking that those that aspire to try to lead our world would be well advised to spend a significant amount of time sleeping under the stars.

Monday, April 16, 2012


J and I arrive a bit after nine on a day of expected showers with some wind, but the temperature will be typical for spring...not a bad day to be caught in a shower.

The cottonwoods are beginning to leaf out, the grasses are just a step ahead and all the shrubs just a bit more so.  Once again, Smoke Farm is intensifying the greenness of it all.  In winter, it was the forest with its cedars and firs that kept that color, which can be almost overwhelming here in the Northwest.  But with spring, everywhere, everyplace will take that tone.

But, as strong as that single color can be, today it is the smells that we comment to each other about.  There is the most wonderful scent drifting through the cottonwoods as we walk towards the river.  It is a complex mix that we don't recognize in its additive combination.  There is citrus and cinnamon and mint and pepper.  We sample different plants as we walk, finding a hint on this shrub, and a hint on that tree, but never finding any one of the culprits to be the majority.  On past trips, it has been the view, or the sounds of running water, or the sight of salmon or birds.  But, today it is the sense that is most difficult to describe.  It is the sense that must be experienced.

We check out the beaver activity at the creek, where beaver are doing what beaver do, cutting trees and eating bark, and leaving the leftovers as a sign of their mostly nocturnal work.  The creek is running good and full, and the restoration is coming along.

Walking up the river, we find that the guy across the river is building three cabins in the most insane of locations.  Neither J or I can figure the thinking that must have gone into (or not gone into) the location.  He is right at the edge of the gravel bar, not more than 6 or 7 feet or so above the current water level.  He is not building in a 100 year flood plain, he is building in a once a year flood plain.  I comment how it should only be a couple of years until the cabin floats off down the river like Huck Finn's raft.  It makes no sense...none at all.

I take J up to the squatter's cabin, which he finds fairly fascinating...as everyone does.  The floor has been pushed up more since I was here last.  The gradual slide of the hill with gravity and the wet of winter and spring are pressuring the cabin more and faster than I would've expected.  I am glad that I have documented it carefully.  It begins to rain in earnest while we are there and once we leave the cabin, only the cedars provide shelter for us.

We finish our trip by working our way in a circuit out through the lower beach.  I point out the pear trees and 3 maples that stand close to where the Baker homestead was.

All through that rain, we could still smell the citrus-pepper-mint-cinnamon of the spring forest.