None of these have been blogged before. No words today, just pictures. Enjoy!


Skamokawa Creek

floating wood

tiny newt!


farm cat


Astoria anchorage

ancient cedar tree

snail shell


hardie hole



number 35

reflected pilings

resting boats


Moon and Stars

water and rocks


Skamokawa Center in the snow

What a year it’s been, and what a month December has been!

Notable events for December include the bankruptcy and closure of Skamokawa Center, where much of our kayaking work was based, and where I have worked managing the paddle center for five years. In fact, five years is the longest I’ve ever worked for the same organization. Columbia River Kayaking, the LLC that the guides formed in 2007, is now scrambling to find ways to replace that income and hopefully keep some of our programming going in some other form.

the end of the back porch

All that snow that we were playing in back on December 20th? Well, an awful lot of it is still here. In fact, it snowed almost continually through Christmas Day, which resulted in our back porch roof collapsing under the weight of about 20 inches of snow on Christmas morning. The light-duty, almost flat roof was never intended to hold up that kind of weight. On Christmas eve, it had started to thaw and rain a little, but during the night it switched back to heavy snow. I did manage to save the front porch roof by climbing up a ladder with a snow shovel and clearing it off. Thankfully, the Subaru wagon did remarkably well in this weather. With it’s all wheel drive and studded snow tires, I was never unable to go where I needed to go. The only place I got stuck was in my own driveway, trying to break out of the deep snow that had accumulated the night before.

snow machine

My driveway is finally clear down to the pavement though, even though the rest of the land is still covered. I hiked up to the back of the land this afternoon and was still finding snow deep enough to go over the tops of my rubber boots. The heavy snow did a lot of damage to the fruit trees and shrubbery near the house, and I wanted to see how the forest had fared. There wasn’t a lot of damage up there, mostly small hemlock and spruce trees bent over and some breakage in the wild cherry and alder. My Port Orford Cedars and Redwoods will need to be dug out of the snow and propped back up again, though. I’m hoping I can save them.

There were elk tracks everywhere, and evidence of them resorting to eating the usnea lichen off of the trees wherever they could get to it. I’m sure they will be glad when this snow finally thaws away. At least one of the feral bunnies is still alive though, having holed up in the empty barn and successfully foraged under the trees.

snowy trees


Yesterday was the annual Christmas Bird Count. I was feeling a little under the weather and didn’t go out for a full day, but went out for three hours, and paddling about eight miles. There were a lot of duck hunters blasting away in one of the most likely sloughs, so I avoided that one. And there was a cold east wind blowing, too, so most of the little perching birds stayed low and out of sight. But I still managed to get 19 species, mostly waterfowl and a few raptors, and I hauled a pile of trash out of the tidal area of Welch Island. These bald eagles let me paddle right up underneath them.

Well, that’s that for 2008, there’s only a few hours left now. Here’s hoping for positive change, health and prosperity in 2009!

high tide on Welsh Island


pyranha micro 240

So, it doesn’t often snow this much in Skamokawa, but today I’ve had several inches of snow on the ground for days already, and more is predicted to arrive this afternoon. It is already about seven or eight inches deep in the pasture.

Alice and I went out to do some sledding, which usually gets done with garbage can lids at my house. When it rarely snows, you don’t own a proper sled. So we were scrutinizing the garbage cans again, when I suddenly remembered the whitewater kayaks! Perfect sledding substitute!

Alice at the top of the hill

It took a couple of passes down the driveway to get the snow nicely packed down, but then it worked very well. Too well, almost! On one pass Alice ended up under a rhododendron bush covered in snow, and on another pass she ended up in the ditch by the road, having just missed a small alder sapling.

Already being a kayaker, I knew a little better how to steer by leaning and bracing, but having no paddle, I used my bare hands for bracing, which worked alright until my last run, when I hand braced into the blackberry bushes on the side of the driveway… and then ended up flipping over at the bottom while leaning a little too hard trying to avoid the ditch.

All in good fun…and I’m still picking blackberry thorns out of my hands.

zooming downhill

at the bottom

me, going fast

This week I had a three day kayaking tour to take out. After many requests for more arduous and lengthy kayak trips, we scheduled a three day trip with trips of 14-20 miles per day. We got four people signed up for this trip.

The first day was a trip from Deep River out to Portuguese Point, on to Knappton cove and back again. The Onieda Road boat ramp was damaged in the big storm in early December, and is now closed for business. We launched across the river at a friend’s dock instead, and headed downstream with the tide.

kayakers and pilings

Portuguese Point was called “Cape Swell” by Lewis and Clark, and they didn’t mean, “oh, this place is just swell!” They encountered the ocean swell that used to be able to roll right up the mouth of the river in the days before the jetties went in, and their men were getting seasick. We didn’t have that problem.

front deck

The next day had a forbidding weather report, and we opted to take a day off from paddling and drive out to the coast to check out the museums and the beach. We started out on the north jetty looking for birds, but the impending weather front wasn’t friendly to bird watching, so we just did a little weather watching instead before heading up to the visitor’s center.

peggy and jetty

While we were at the Lewis and Clark interpretive center, the storm front came ashore, filling the sky with huge snowflakes in an instant. Hello? It is almost the end of March, and this is the beach!


The last day, we paddled from County Line Park back to Skamokawa, and encountered almost every kind of weather that we could: snow, hail, rain, wind and sunshine.


* * * * * * *

Way back in the beginning, I promised something about shiitake mushrooms. I just ordered some new spawn and will be making up a batch of new logs this month. A couple of days ago, I went up to look at my old logs, which I had assumed were just about used up, being five years old already. I was surprised to find a whole bunch of new mushrooms growing out of the logs! Levi and I cleaned up and reorganized the logs, and picked the mushrooms that were good. I split these with Levi and put my half in the food dryer.

shiitake mushrooms

Today is my 43rd birthday, and right on schedule, the daffodils started blooming earlier this week. When I was a child in nearby Longview, the daffodils always bloomed within a few days of my birthday. Saturday was a nice day and I spent a bunch of it outside, cleaning up the berry vines around the edge of the yard and pruning the pink flowering dogwood tree. I got a couple of daffodil pictures and found a hyacinth blooming under all the weeds.



I even got the dog to sit still for his portrait! He never likes to hold still for long and he looks a little skeptical.

the dog

Other notable birthdays include the Fort George Brewpub in Astoria, one year old last night, and my wife Shannon, 40 years old tomorrow.

* * * * * * *

Yesterday I took some of the barn cats from my friend Ginni’s farm to Longview to get spayed and neutered. The Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon sponsors a mobile spay/neuter clinic that comes to Longview several times a year. Only feral cats can be brought in and the cost is so cheap; only $30 includes all the requisite shots, worming and flea medicine.

Normally this might not be a bloggable event, except that when they got to my cats in the line, I had the 1000th cat to be fixed at the Longview clinic. The only thing that was missing was balloons and confetti. Poor kitty, she had so many pictures taken of her! Here’s a photo of the photographer taking her portrait.


I was so relieved when I took them back to the farm this morning that they still let me pet them. I was worried that they would never trust me again!

So, I tried to stay focused on the desk work today, but it was nice outside, not raining, and I finally gave it up and went out. Chopped some firewood, let the sheep out to play and then decided to go for a walk. I took a rifle and the dog, and set out to exercise my god-given rights as an American to go to my local clearcut and shoot at stuff. Well, that wasn’t really the purpose of the hike, or taking the rifle. I already had the rifle with me, because the coyote predation on my sheep has been so bad that I can’t let them out of their night pasture without first walking the perimeter with a firearm, doing some target practice and making a lot of noise so that the coyotes won’t want to come near. By the time I was done with that, I was at the top of the pasture at the forest gate with an unused clip of ammunition on my pocket, so I just kept on going up the hill.

sheep grazing

There is a logging road that cuts through a corner of my land, and heads east to dead end in a year-old clearcut about half a mile away. When they first came in that winter and started extending the road, I was in the middle of chanterelle picking season, and so I decided that I should go clean out the chanterelles up there before the equipment showed up and started wreaking havoc as they do. The unit that they cut is probably about 100 acres or so, and it was all plantation hemlock, about 50 years old. I spent half the day wandering around in that forest and didn’t find anything growing under that dark, crowded thicket. There were hardly any ferns even, and no mushrooms. I had just about given up, when I came out the other side of the unit and into naturally generated alder and cedar forest along the edge of a little canyon. And there were the chanterelles. They wanted nothing to do with that plantation hemlock, and instead were growing in abundance right along the unit boundary.

It took a very small number of men and machines a very short time to lay that forest down. The log truck traffic was non-stop, as was the litter the truck drivers dumped on my land while they were pulled off on one of my side roads waiting for the outgoing trucks to pass. I was very glad when it was over. Now it is replanted to fir, which is already showing fast growth.


I hate what clearcutting does to the land and the water quality and I think monoculture makes a lousy substitute for a real forest. But for now, anyway, that is the way things are done, at least in my rural corner of SW Washington state. I have to find a way to live with this around me without being angry and sad all the time. So I take my walks and I look for the beauty where I can find it. The view of my valley from this spot is beautiful and I can look over the ridgetop and into the next valley from here as well. There were a number of birds including a couple of unidentified hawks in the distance as I came up into the opening. The elk and deer come through here too, eating the brush that is starting to grow up. There are a couple of huge maple trees at the edge of this cut that for some reason were left standing. Edges are nice.

me with rifle

The rifle I took with me today is a surplus Russian SKS carbine, made in 1951. It was cheap to buy 15 years ago or so when I bought it “new”, about $140 if I remember correctly. And it is sturdy and durable, cheap to shoot and pretty accurate for what it is. I picked up one of the ubiquitous beer cans and set it up next to a stump and then walked away until I could barely make it out, probably about 150 yards or so. I took six shots at it, and while none of them hit, they all were within a few inches, not bad for iron sights and not much practice. I was always told by shooting buddies many, many years ago that you should never expend all of your ammunition when shooting out on the back roads. “You never know what kind of trouble you might run into on the way out to the truck,” they would say. Seems a mite paranoid to me, but here I am, way out in back by myself, in bear and cougar territory, and having a way to make very loud noises might come in handy, so I left a few rounds in the magazine when I was done.


Speaking of beer cans, they are everywhere in a clearcut. Recycling is just not part of the program here. All the way out the road, there was at least one beer can every fifty feet or so, and there were probably a half dozen of these beer cans stuck on branches and shrubs. I guess the rednecks want to be sure everyone knows that they were there. Trust me, guys, we know.

beer can

The dog just goes crazy on these walks. For a while I stopped taking him because he would get off on some tangent and just disappear, showing up at the house hours later, all out of breath and covered with mud. Obviously great fun for him, but since I hate livestock chasing dogs, I don’t want mine to be one too. But today I had pity on him and took him along, and he mostly stayed within sight. Here he is, actually waiting at the gate, instead of going around. How well-behaved!

forest gate

Near the forest gate, at the edge of the pasture, is an old vine maple tree that is just covered in the lichen known as usnea longissima to the binomial Latin nomenclature types. People sometimes call it “old man’s beard” or “spanish moss” but it is not a moss. It is used medicinally as an anti-bacterial among other things.

usnea longissima

So there you have it, detailed instructions on how to get out of doing office work for a few hours! Helps if you have access to a dog, a rifle, a logging road and a clearcut full of beer cans, but I’m sure everyone can find their own appropriate substitutes nearby.

If I had written a blog five years ago, it would have been all about logging, sawmilling and livestock. That's what was mostly going on in my life back then. I was running a portable sawmill full time, and had about two dozen Black Welsh Mountain Sheep and a whole lot of chickens. We even had a cow for a short time, and a few pigs one year. I spent a lot of my time driving up and down the Pacific Northwest coast with the sawmill, while my wife Shannon was holding down the fort here on our land in Skamokawa, WA and raising our daughters, Alice and Opal.

A lot has changed in those intervening years. I do still have the sawmill and continue to do small jobs with it from time to time, but it is no longer a full time job. I got back into boating and fishing, both childhood loves that had been left on the back burner for many years, and I got into kayaking in a big way, eventually making it into a full time job for part of the year. The coyotes discovered my livestock a few years back, and cleaned out the chickens right away. And between the neighbor's dogs and the coyotes, my sheep flock was whittled down to just a few animals a couple of years ago.

More big change came last year, when we decided it was time for our oldest daughter Alice to get some more formal education than the casual style of un-schooling we had been doing with her. The local high school didn't have much to offer a book-crazy, English major type, but the high school in nearby Astoria did. So Shannon got a job in the new Fort George Brewpub over in town, and rented a house over there for her and the girls to live in. Not only does Alice get to deal with the shock of having homework and early bedtimes, but she and Opal are finally getting some experience living in town, something neither of them had ever done. More can be read about their adventures in town, including a disastrous house fire in October, on Shannon's blog.

Along with all the other upheaval created by the move to two households, I lost my expert shepherdess Alice, who had succeeded in the last couple of years in keeping the coyotes away from the sheep. After teetering on the edge for several years, I finally made the decision to sell the sheep, as it isn't safe to let them out on pasture and it isn't economical to feed them hay. They should be moving to a new home in early February. For now, my livestock days are coming to an end.

* * * * *

I learned computer programming back in 1978, when I was in eighth grade. The school had a Digital PDP 11, which was about the size of a small filing cabinet. It used great big 8" floppy discs and had a big red knob on the front for parking the drive head. There was a separate room with about a dozen terminals and a massive, sturdy line printer that would just about deafen you when it went off. We were programming in Basic, with line numbers and everything. Later on my family had a VIC-20, with a cassette tape storage setup. When I was in my early twenties I bought a computer for myself, a PC clone with a 4.77 mhz Intel 8088 processor that had a "turbo" switch that would boost the speed to 10 mhz. I could not afford the extra cost of a 20 MB hard drive, so I got two floppy drives instead. That computer cost me almost $900. I remember when Windows first came out, but it was hopeless to run it without a hard drive. Windows was up to version 3, I think, before I had a computer with a hard drive.

Today I live in a world of science fiction. I can sit here at my kitchen table in the country and access a world wide network of information at speeds that would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago, on a fast Mac computer the size of a spiral notebook that is so far past the PDP 11 or even the 8088 that you could hardly compare them in the same sentence. So, with that level of powerful technology at my fingertips, I decided to give blogging a try, and yesterday, I spent the whole day at the computer, learning just enough about MySQL and PHP to make myself dangerous, and I installed WordPress on my website.

On this blog, you are likely to find stories and pictures about kayaking, boating and fishing, kayak building, machinery repair and lore, rural life and maybe the occasional rant about something in the news that caught my eye. I still have a few farm-like things going on here on the land too: fruit trees and berries, shiitake mushrooms and maybe some hop vines this year. Hopefully it will be interesting enough to keep you coming back for more!