Monday, September 12, 2011

What a summer it was

OK, I’ve taken the summer off from writing and what a summer it was.

Lighthouse at Lime Kiln
 We visited San Juan Island (a two hour boatride) for the first time, in pursuit of whales. If Orca whales are in your blood, San Juan Island would be the place to live. Many have gone before you. When we saw orcas this summer, first from the deck of a commercial cruise boat and then again from our kayak, we realized that you don’t have to be particularly good at spotting orcas, just look in the direction of the fleet of whale watching boats that are tracking them from dawn to dusk. Being on a commercial tour boat in the midst of a pack of similar boats did not dampen the thrill of hearing the whales breathe and snort, and watching them surface and dive, even occasionally spyhopping—raising their body out of the water to look at what’s ahead. Within seconds of spotting the whales, the captain of our tour boat began to identify the individual whales that we were seeing. A shared body of knowledge has been recorded about each member of each of the three resident pods of Orcas in the San Juan Islands.

The whales, the sea, the mountains
 I liked knowing that we were looking at the K pod, I liked hearing the captain identify individual whales by the pattern of the dorsal fin and saddle patch, and I liked standing in the crowd hushed by the sight of the whales, whispering and exclaiming, the boat listing as we all rushed to one side for the best vantage point. I liked being out on the expansive inland waters that make up the Salish Sea, knowing where we were by looking at the profile of the islands as we passed by, or the Olympic Mountains in the distance. The whales seem undistracted by us, the fleet of gawkers on the surface, as we stayed the legal 200 yards away, keeping pace with them as they swam.

Launching the kayak, Smallpox Bay
A week later, when we spied orcas from our kayak in Haro Strait, I liked knowing that they were headed for the deep water and the surrounding sills where they hunt salmon near Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan Island. I like thinking about the runs of salmon on which the whales feed (salmon that we saw up close weeks later at the fish ladders at Chittenden Locks in Seattle, prehistoric looking fish with prominent hooked noses, wriggling to hold their place against the current, summoning energy to jump up the next run of the 21 steps that will take them from the sea water of Puget Sound to the fresh water of Lake Union).  I liked being in our kayak bobbing close to the rocky shore in the kelp bed, simpatico with the marine forest, simpatico with the water, the sun, the clear air. Two in a kayak, simpatico with each other.

Bagley Lakes

We took full advantage of the string of spectacular days which August gifted us, sunny balmy days tumbling one after another like the weather knew it should be paying us back for our cold July. We shared these prime days with our welcome visitors from Eugene and Lexington. I did manage to squeeze in work on Fridays and alternate Saturdays. With so much natural beauty surrounding us here in Bellingham, we were able to hike along Bagley Lakes high near Mt. Baker, dunk in a crystal clear pool in snow-melt-fed Whatcom Creek at the end of our street, and paddle with our visitor in local Lake Padden. I still made it to work on time. Somebody has to bring home some bacon.


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