Friday, December 9, 2011
Sunday, November 13, 2011
|Winter apples ready for the picking.|
It was daylight on the homestead.
Early as it was I was more than a little late for breakfast. The homestead cabin had been built in the 1890s by a pioneer.
The Homestead Law of 1862 was the coolest thing to ever hit this country, unless you were an Indian. At the time they were not considered U.S. Citizens.
Indians were unable to file homestead claims on their own land. Everyone else just had to build a residence at least 12 feet square, cultivate a crop and live there five years. That gave you clear title to 160 acres of prime bottom land.
The railroad was coming. The land rush was on. Homesteading was a family affair. Your wife could file a claim. Your kids could too once they were old enough.
The prime bottom land was soon taken. What the Indians called “The Jimmy Come Latelys” were forced to move up into the thin soils of the foothills where farming got tougher.
The homesteaders chopped and burned back the forest to plant potatoes and cabbage amid the stumps. These “stump ranchers” went to great lengths to clear enough land to grow enough food to eke out a living.
By the Great Depression farming got even tougher than that. Many of these wilderness homes were deserted and taken by the government for back taxes.
That's most probably how this cabin came to be abandoned by its family. Since then it was used as a haven in the wilderness for trappers, lost hunters and those that researched antiquity.
In the 1980s the roof of the cabin collapsed in the snow. By the ’90s the 100-year-old homestead cabin was a pile of rotting wood buried in blackberry vines.
The orchard in the meadow was the only sign of man ever being here. These few remaining pioneer orchards are more than just pioneer artifacts. If it's true that we should consider the medicinal and food value of plants in the rain forest before we cut it down, it might be a good idea to save the seed of these fast disappearing heritage fruit trees.
The diverse varieties of apples in pioneer orchards can ripen at any time between august and February. The flavor of these apples, particularly after a frost makes the genetically engineered mush ball that passes for an apple these days taste like the cardboard box it came in.
I'm not the only one that likes these old orchards. If you want one of these old time apples you're going to have to compete with the bears.
You'll probably lose.
These old fruit trees can grow to great heights and bears are just better climbers than we are. And if that last shiny red apple is a little too far out of reach, the bear can just break the branch off.
The bears not only provide a valuable pruning service they are good at eliminating one of the unpleasant surprises you can find in an apple tree, the bald faced hornet's nest.
Finding a hornets’ nest while picking apples can make you scamper down the tree like a squirrel. Bear will just eat the hornet's nest and keep on picking apples.
I've watched bears sitting over a pile of apples the size of soft balls, holding the apple between its paws, chopping them up in her jaws while sucking the cider out, a picture of pure enjoyment.
I scared her off. I would have stolen her apples, if they hadn't landed in bear manure.
My best advice would be to get your apples off the tree.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
|Erosion caused by elk feeding on saplings.|
The howl of the wolf is a true symbol of the wilderness that has not been heard here since the wolves were bounty hunted to extinction back in the 1930s. It was a familiar scenario that was played out across the West.
With the coming of the railroad the human population increased to the point where there was no room for wolves. They had to go.
Since that time, many other species of fish and wildlife such as the 100-pound salmon and the Olympic Mountain moonshiner have become rare, endangered or just plain extinct due to the rising human population. Biologists are only now just beginning to explain how each of these individual creatures is vital to the health of the ecosystem.
For example, I have long contended that the reason for the decline of our salmon runs are caused by “nylon pollution.”
It is my own term for the fact that our salmon are being overfished throughout the extent of their range. I thought there is just too much nylon fishing gear in the water for the fish to survive their journey.
|Nylon pollution kills.|
Without the wolves to eat them there are so many elk along the Hoh River that they have killed off the trees, causing erosion, siltation and a rising water temperature, all of which is bad for fish.
According to biologists, if we could just get the wolves running the elk, trees would once again grow along the river, stopping erosion and shielding the water from the sun's harmful rays.
People who may have seen the Hoh in flood stage, when giant spruce trees roll down the river scouring the gravel bars like freight trains, might doubt the elk have destroyed the river theory, but they're not biologists.
The biologists know that any possibility of wolf reintroduction is still too controversial. So instead, the wolves will be “trans-located.”
You probably can't tell the difference, which once again shows why you're not a biologist.
Rest assured that no Canadian wolves will be used in the trans-location effort. Only American wolves will be eligible for this program.
Trans-location calls for moving the wolves from areas in Washington state where people want to get rid of them into places where people don't have wolves yet. However the wolf is reintroduced or trans-located doesn't matter with the health of the ecosystem at stake.
Any responsible wolf trans-location effort would have to include the restoration of the wolf habitat and a corresponding reduction of the human population.
While no biologists is suggesting that people be forcibly removed from their homes for wolf habitat restoration, we would expect those who support the wolf trans-location to move voluntarily.
Any reactionary anti-wolf obstructionists whose bourgeois sensibilities foster an unhealthy emotional attachment to their homes are liable to change their tune and become willing sellers once they are surrounded by howling packs of wolves.
Ideally, the initial wolf trans-location effort would establish a healthy population of wolves where they would provide the most benefit to the ecosystem as a whole and provide optimum enjoyment to the people who want the wolves in the first place.
That is why I would propose we first trans-locate the wolves to a place where people love them, our state capitol in Olympia.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The storms of autumn bring us one of the greatest gifts of nature, the Pacific flyway.
For us sensitive bird-watching types, the North American continent is divided into three major flyways, the Atlantic, Central and Pacific.
These are like highways in the sky for birds migrating from their summer homes before winter. The mass migration down the Pacific flyway represents one of the largest movements of life on the planet. OK, I made that up, but I once saw an incredible migration of whale birds that flew past LaPush in a solid line for three days.
Just recently we saw a mass migration of buzzards that was creepy.
You want to be careful when you're bird watching for buzzards. If they are circling your driveway, you may want to consider going to the dump more often.
If you are fortunate enough to see a buzzard, be sure to keep moving. Don't fall asleep on a gravel bar while watching buzzards.
Remember, buzzards find most of their rotten offal through their incredible sense of smell so you may want to consider bathing once in a while before watching these fascinating birds.
Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world. The same autumn storms that caused the bird migration has brought the salmon back from their northern homes.
The salmon wait for the rain to raise the river so it is safe to swim back up into the mountains.
The harsh demands of salmon fishing often require you to sit and wait for the fish to swim by. Which can often cause our sleep-deprived angler who smells like the cross between a 3-day-old sardine and a tub full of rotten salmon eggs, to slump into a coma?
The first rule of guiding is that you won't get paid if the buzzards get your clients still; it's sometimes preferable that they are asleep when a fish bites. That is because most people's first inclination upon getting a bite is to rear back and set the hook like they saw on a bass fishing show.
Which can cause our angler to fall over backwards and severely injure me?
I used to say you could tell when you got a fish on because that's when the screaming starts. Now I gently wake our angler with a cup of coffee, a smoked salmon croissantwich and a newspaper and ask them if it would be convenient for them to reel in the fish on their line, sometime today.
This gives our angler an opportunity to adjust to their new surroundings and remember why they agreed to go fishing in the first place. Sometimes, by gently reeling in just enough to keep your line tight you have a better chance of landing the fish than if you jerk on the line and hurt the fish.
This can enrage the salmon that has every rock and stick in the river memorized. Chances are that fish will jump around until they break you off. You want to take your time playing a fish. This can take hours.
You might as well be bird watching.
Many people enjoy bird watching until I tell them I charge $5 a bird and $2.50 for ever bird call I think I hear. Others enjoy viewing wildlife until I charge them $10 to see an otter, $20 for an elk herd and $100 for a Sasquatch sighting.
Then there are the beautiful fall colors of the autumn leaves which are free for the viewing for a limited time offer.
Meanwhile, you want to keep reeling in the slack.
The buzzards are circling. It is good to be alive.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
There is peace at the end of the day to sit before a crackling fire along a fast river beneath a big tree as the sunset paints the colors of the fall leaves to garish shades of red and give thanks that you survived another day in the life of a fishing guide.
City folks laugh and say being a fishing guide ain't work because you're just fishing and that's what you like to do anyway but fishing and guiding are two different things.
When most people go fishing, they usually don't expect to catch anything. People, who travel to the Olympic Peninsula from all over the world to go on guided fishing trips, do expect to catch something. They bring gigantic coolers and great expectations of catching a salmon.
This may be a lifelong dream they have only one day to fulfill. They expect a guide to make a sincere effort to catch a giant fish. If you can fake that you may have a future as a fishing guide.
Size does matter.
People want to catch a fish that's bigger than the one their buddy caught. Exact figures can vary widely. Some fish continue to grow long after they are freezer burnt but the sad fact is you have to catch a fish before you can brag about it.
That's where I come in. I help people with fishing problems.
Disturbed people are constantly calling me for the fishing report. A while back I got a call from a guy from back East. For me back East always meant Montana, but this guy was further back East than that — Chicago.
He said he was an investigative journalist, film critic and all around smart guy.
While investigating the Twilight phenomena, he had stumbled upon my website and decided I needed investigating.
I was told that dealing with journalists was a lot like handling a rattlesnake, don't trust them or they will bite you. Then there is Mark Twain's warning to not pick a fight with someone who uses “ink by the barrel.”
So I did. I took a journalist fishing. He said he wanted to ask me some questions about guiding. Did I really have a guide school? Did the fishing trips include past-like regression therapy? Was I really an unlicensed relationship counselor?
Questions are the curse of the fishing guide because we constantly have to answer all kinds of them like, how high is the mountain? How deep is the river? When will this fishing trip be over? Or, where is my car? And my favorite, where are my keys?
Small wonder the guides have developed a series of hazing rituals for the clients that separate the true fishermen from the wannabes and keep them from asking annoying questions. These hazing rituals usually involve a form of sleep deprivation where the valued client is roused from a sound sleep in the middle of the night and raced around in circles on muddy roads in the dark.
This generally leaves the person disoriented to the point where they forget all about catching a fish. They just want a cup of coffee and a warm place to go to the bathroom.
Instead they are hustled into a boat and hurried down river in the dark while the guide insists they levitate to avoid hitting rocks.
So it's no small wonder the journalist called me “a malignant sociopath spewing misanthropic venom in a crude attempt at humor.”
Someone finally understands.
The journalist caught a salmon anyway, which was revenge enough for one day.It was good to be alive.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Lately there was a sprinkling of fresh snow on Mount Olympus.
It’s not be the first sign that summer is over and fall is here.
The great flights of geese and sandhill cranes heading south are another clue that winter is on its way. Causing questions to be asked like, if the birds are leaving why are we staying here, to endure yet another winter in a frozen rainforest?
Be assured this winter will not be as hard as the last. This initial forecast is based on the incidence of spider webs and may require further research.
For that we’ll have to measure the fat on a big buck’s back.
Skinning a buck to predict the weather is a long lost art that is misunderstood by many, including the game warden, so it we'll have to wait for deer season to open to collect more data.
If I had to bet on it though, I'd say this winter will be cold and wet and dark. You may need a big pile of wood to get through until spring.
There are few things I enjoy more than cutting firewood, especially if I don't have any.
In a perfect world we would all cut our wood in the spring so it would have time to dry in the summer to burn in the fall. Unfortunately this is not a perfect world.
I blame the government. They would rather let our public timber rot in the woods than let a taxpayer salvage some downed trees to heat their home.
Toughest thing about getting firewood these days is finding some place to cut it. Whoever said, cutting firewood warms you twice, once in the cutting and once in the burning, was a real greenhorn.
Cutting firewood warms you in more ways than you can shake a stick at:
First, you must start your chain saw, if you have one. Those of us who have tried to cut a winter's worth of wood with a hand saw quickly find out why they are called misery whips.
Starting a chainsaw can be plenty miserable too.
There’s nothing like jerking a pull cord on a chainsaw to warm you up. After five or 10 minutes you may want to check for fuel. Got gas?
Then you may have to get creative. Take out the spark plug and give it a few pulls. Put the spark plug back in.
Drag the saw back to the road. Tangle in a mess of blackberry vines. Step into a mountain beaver hole and go down in a pile of limbs, land where a hidden stump catches you in the unmentionables.
You should be plenty warm by now.
This is before you have cut even a single stick of firewood.
It's once you get your chainsaw started that the real fun starts. With a good sharp chain pulling into the wood, the sawdust pours out of the log like water from a hose. The smell of the pitch, the roar of the saw and the ache in the lower back takes me back to an earlier simpler time when loggers ruled the Earth.
Splitting, loading, unloading and stacking the wood to dry, allows you to become intimately familiar with each piece until you could almost name them all. These are often bad names, given after you bark your shin or smash your toe.
Toughen up, cutting firewood is a contact sport.
It is all worthwhile at the end of the day when you have your first chimney fire.This is yet another one of the many ways that firewood can warm you.