I can't be the only one paddling, let's get some trip reports.
The Journey and the Path
A journey is merely a combination of paths we take; success is a reflection of how well the fabric of these paths fits our unique self. After a fairly typical day at work and a fast dinner I found that I was the only one at home for the evening, so I was able to sneak away for a short paddle. There is a wetland about 15 minutes from my home where the Bear River ends its 500 mile journey just to empty into a dead sea called the Great Salt Lake. Some would think it to be a sad ending to a long journey, there is no glory or grandeur in this place as the river disappears into a sea of salt. The final grave has even been defiled by a mineral harvesting operation that has built evaporation ponds right where the Bear takes its’ last breath. The Bear doesn’t seem to mind. It has been diverted, polluted, and defaced a thousand times since it started its journey in the snowy peaks. It is here that the faint voice of the dying Bear can be heard by those who are able to hear. The place is called Willard Spur, known only to a handful of duck hunters and the several million birds that migrate through the area.
I unload my kayak next to a manmade drainage that leads from a large reservoir into the spur. The water is calm and a Red-breasted Merganser and an Eared Grebe quietly forage and watch me as I rig my kayak. Soft warm light fills the slightly cool air as I take a brief survey of my surroundings. Later in the spring green cattails will dominate the margins of the water but it is early and you can only see the yellowed and broken vegetation of the past season. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are everywhere; they create a cloud of drifting seeds each time they launch from the head of a cattail. The cattails look dead but through the seemingly aimless drifting seeds there life continues. The seeds may drift in a way dictated by the breeze, but the timing and the ultimate downward direction of their flight could not be more precise. I follow the stream a few hundred yards up to the outlet of the reservoir taking advantage of the sun to my back as I click shots of the blackbirds that are busy defining their turf.
By the time I paddle back past my car heading out to where the Bear opens up into a flood plain I have already stopped thinking about what direction, time, and distance, and I just allow my curiosity to define the path. Just a few weeks ago I was about the only visible life on the water here but now teal, stilt, avocet, egret, pelican, wren, and grebe abound. This explosion of life in the marsh in spring makes it easy to understand why one of the greatest scientists of all times thought that starlings hibernated under the water. This is just a short stop in a life of migration for most of these birds. The long legged birds are too far-away for photography and the swimmers keep their distance but the sites and sounds immerse me. I found myself drifting in a new world just five minutes from an interstate, 15 minutes from my home, and with my job less than 2 hours behind me. I make my way into a shallow cove and the shorebirds move foraging as they go. My paddle starts to grab the sandy loam beneath me and eventually I hear sand rubbing on the hull of my boat. A crack followed by a scraping sound tells me that a snail has just perished. The gradual shoals in this area make a great bird habitat with most of the water being less than 2 feet deep during the high season and much of it just a few inches deep. Grounded on the sand in a few inches of water I take a drink and wait for birds to return. A few chugs of water later shorebirds are eating, preening, and playing within the same small territory as my boat. I quietly take some pictures and watch. It is only when I get home and look at the images that I can see the crunchy critters they are eating. It is a great place to be a bird but a poor home if you are a crustacean. One of the stilts is incredibly vocal, the other birds quietly wade around probing and eating. I poke around some more seeing more birds as carp dart away being startled by the quiet moving boat. I get some great pictures and miss some others but none of it really matters. There are no playground bells or lunch whistles but my senses tell me it is time to start my return.
Thin clouds above the horizon make a dull filtered light as I make my way back to towards my car. Occasionally I get a few seconds of that magical light as the sun finds an opening it can pierce. A young mother and two children have found my launch site. The mother takes a well deserved rest as the children explore the area in an innocent but destructive sort of way. Fortunately the destruction created by a child is short lived yet the experience will be part of them forever. I paddle back to the head of the stream to give them and myself the space we both came here to find. I find some Eared Grebe in a small pool at the reservoirs outlet just as I experience the last short burst of that magical light. One of them pops up right next to my boat testing the close focusing ability of my lens. It has a sleek black neck and golden headdress that shines in the sun, by fall when it returns after the nesting in Canada it will be a gray fat non-descript bird chowing down on brine shrimp to prepare for its flight south. I slowly work my way back towards the car poking into the smallest spaces between the cattail and just sitting and enjoying the menagerie that surrounds me.
As I approach the broken down half floating dock I find the family has been replaced by a solitary man enjoying a solitary evening. It is a busy evening at the spur. He is relaxing on the hood of a white and rusted truck with Colorado plates. With the windshield supporting his back he is enjoying a simple meal, each bite of food and drink being in harmony with his surrounding. His movements are as natural as the shorebirds I had watched foraging earlier. He looks as if he has been there for weeks, undisturbed and in his element. His slightly long and thinning hair, well wore clothes, and gentle nature paint a picture of an introspective thinker. He is not here to exploit, only to experience. Guessing at his age he started this journey about the same time as I did. Rock music, color television, man landing on the moon, gorp, and waffle stompers are part of our common past. His journey has been different than mine but our paths have led us to the same place. I would guess he has a great intellect that he uses to contemplate his place in this world. I also assume that the paths he has taken have woven a unique fabric that fits him as well as his worn clothes, making him who he is. For now, he is at home among the singing birds in this quagmire that I consider a paradise. A sanctuary for us, a blight to most. Trying to be friendly but at the same time being considerate of his solace I quietly say “nice place to dine” and he responds with a nod and a smile. Communication does not always require words.
I quietly load my kayak as the evening light turns to gray. I drive away and share a wave with the man who is no longer a stranger because we have shared a sense of place. An experience that we have both purposely made room for within our lives. I drive home to be with my family, another island that gives me an anchor in this all too unfamiliar world. As I drive, in my mind I wish my new friend a pleasant and quiet journey on the path he walks, and I think he hears. As I record this memory a day later, a storm blows across the Great Salt Lake picking up moisture that is dropped as snow in the Wasatch Mountains. The Bear did not die after all.
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- Willard Spur or It is Spring Where are the Posts *LINK* *Pic*