Friday, June 28, 2013

A Walk to the Middle of Nowhere

After I dropped the boys off at laser tag camp, I decided to check out the Snoqualmie Valley Trail north of Carnation. Last week, Mike, Nick, and I had biked to the highway crossing but turned around since it was dinner time and we were hungry.

It's a rare summer day that I have until noon to noodle around in the middle of nowhere on my own. Well, I wasn't on my own. I was with Teddy and he needed a walk. I figured since he got to run with the dogs at Marymoor yesterday, today, I got to go some distance. We trade off that way.

First, I figured I'd stop at Sandy's Espresso, but I decided to stop afterward instead since Teddy would be restless and might not let me enjoy their deck. Plenty of time for that later. So, I parked at the highway crossing. There was a van parked there and it looked pretty ratty, so I grabbed my wallet and a pepper spray and opened my backpack in the front seat so people could see it only had junk inside. Might save me a broken window someday.

Before we'd walked a mile, we met a man walking his dog, a pit bull. I just love their faces since our last dog was half pit. This big dog just wanted to play with Teddy, but the man said he couldn't let him off leash because he chased deer and it was hard to get him to come back.

Oh, I can see cobwebs in the corners of my windows. I really need to clear them out, but I need to relax for a bit first. I hate cleaning in the summer time. It's a waste of good daylight.

So I went further along the trail. That section, running between corn fields, reminded me of walking around in Southern Indiana when I was a kid. I used to head out the back door, cut through the Boy Scout woods and ramble along railroad tracks and through corn fields until I got thirsty and lost. This area was even flat, hot, and muggy to cap it off. It made me a little homesick.

It wasn't long before I got to the swampy section of the trail. Oh, the trail was high and dry. You get a nice clean walk when you're on an old railroad line. But the view was all swamp land. It might have been buggy at a different time of the day. Reeds, flat water red with tannin, and a bull frog bellowing made me start looking more closely. I came across a beaver lodge. There were signs of wildlife all around me.

Mike has a requirement for the Boy Scouts where they have to take a walk and look for ten signs of wildlife. The day he did it, he was at Camp Pigott. The signs of life there were screaming boys and leaders chasing after them. I think they found coyote scat, but it was pretty sparse in camp. Mike said they got up to six.  I've been counting evidence of wildlife ever since.

At the Three Forks Off Leash area, there are elk prints, elk beds, fur that had been shed in the spring, and even scraped bark on some trees. All this was from elk.

On this trail, I'd found scat full of berries that I assumed was bear. You know what happens when you assume. There was a beaver dam and a lodge. Plus, there were birds everywhere, singing in the trees, teasing Buddy by hopping just ahead of him on the trail. And don't forget the sounds of the bull frogs. That's six without even trying.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any more abundant, a pair of calling ospreys got my attention. One of them flew carrying a writhing snake! When it neared a tall tree, the calling multiplied. Lunch for the fledglings.

At that point, I'd walked almost two miles, so I figured I'd turn around up at that next curve where I thought I saw posts. I wondered if I'd walked as far as Stillwater. I tried to see on my little iPhone map, but I couldn't tell. Maybe the posts would tell me.

There was nothing at the posts, just a place where a driveway crossed the easement.

But just beyond where I stood, a truck sat in the middle of a field of tall grass. It had a canoe on top. Was there a put-in near here?

I marched right up to a guy, in the middle of a field a few miles from nowhere, because he had a canoe on his truck. As I got closer, I realized he was wearing a uniform. Crap! I hadn't bothered to put my dog on his leash.

You know, these people are not out there to get us. They really aren't.  When I asked if I could take a picture of his canoe to send to my husband at work, he laughed.  He introduced himself as Brian or Chris. I can't quite remember. He worked for King County Fish and Wildlife. What a job! He gets paid to come check out different sites and he said he was on his way to check on the mating pair of loons at the Tolt reservoir. He told me there were only fifteen pair in the state of Washington. That's horrible!

This guy was happy to talk. Really, he was educating me. I love that. I asked him how much I'd have to worry if I see a cougar. He said not much, that they hunt beaver. I asked him if coyote ever pack up against a walker and her dog. Not much, he said again.

You know, after all the people who have told me to look out for the cougar or the coyotes, it's a relief to hear from an expert that I can walk freely. I still have to watch out for crazy people, but I can relax about the cougars. See, I have never seen a cougar in all the years I've been hiking. I've seen plenty of bear. I know how to handle seeing a bear. If I make enough noise, the bear will go the other direction. It turns out that works for both coyote and cougar too. Good to know.

This guy was quite diplomatic when he said what size person might begin to worry. My size, he said, holding his hand to his forehead, indicating his height. I noticed that I was pretty much the same size he was, though shorter. Who taught him that? Nice guy. He said that someone who was only a hundred pounds or less might have to think twice if they were walking alone, but that generally, most of our predators will leave humans alone. He said that small kids who were unattended might be at risk, but not all that much.

I've wondered why that is. How do they know we're not as strong as they are? If they eat meat, why don't they see us as meat?

Being human is a pretty powerful totem. All I have to do is be human and the animals recognize me as a predator. I don't feel like a predator. Yet, I probably smell like I eat meat. I noticed, once, that a group of guys I worked with from India smelled very different than most people I'd been around. Then, we ate at an Indian restaurant. Curry. These guys smelled of curry. So, to a cougar, I probably smell like rooibus tea, roasted chicken, greens, and ground beef. Yup. I smell like a predator.

I talked to this fish and wildlife guy for a while. It turned out that he was from Indiana! He even went to the same college I did, though he studied wildlife conservation and I'm not sure he was even born by the time I was graduating. What a coincidence, to meet someone out in a field in the middle of nowhere who was from my state, from my college too.

The coolest thing was that he told me that the scat I'd seen, the one full of berries, was from coyote and not bear. He said that bear scat would be much larger and they usually eat their berries in the fall. He told me the coyotes eat berries this time of year. You don't picture coyotes eating berries, do you?

I could have let the guy talk and talk. I wanted to tell him about all the places Mike and I had seen loon from our canoe, that it made me sad and a little mad that there were only fifteen mating pair in our state. No wonder I hadn't seen them here. He said they used to range all the way down to Mount Shasta in California. He told me that it was true that they couldn't walk very well and as he described their migration patterns, he called them puddle-jumpers. He said he was building platforms for their nests that would raise and lower with the reservoir so they didn't get stranded when the water level dropped.

In the meantime, Teddy stopped leaning against him, walked in a circle for a bit, and laid down in the tall grass and sighed. He wasn't in the least bored. This was a great place, full of rodents and birds and friendly people. I'm sure he smelled the coyotes, the beaver, the osprey, and even the snakes.

I made my goodbyes, thanked this teacher for the details, shook his hand, and headed back in the direction of my car.

All this on a walk to the middle of nowhere.

Thank you for listening, jb

No comments:

Post a Comment