Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Lost fawn in the morning

One morning, early, a man was paddling very close to my houseboat and looking in. How rude, I thought and debated whether to close the curtains. Then my doorbell rang. It was my neighbor Courtney, telling me that a fawn was swimming between my houseboat and Keith's upriver. I went out and realized that's what the paddler was looking at, not me. The fawn was frightened at the sight of us. We had no idea how to help it. It went around the front of my deck, then in the space between my houseboat and the downriver one. Courtney tried to get it onto the walkway but it just swam away from us. The guy in the boat couldn't figure out anything that would be useful. Eventually the fawn turned away from us all and swam across the channel to the other side.

In my reflection I see the paddling woman of my 20s

I went for one of my typical three-hour paddles on a sunny summer day. After I tied up the kayak I stood and happened to catch my reflection in the window. I was taken aback because I saw myself, not as the older woman I am now, age 66 which is not too hard to think that I'm not far from 70, but as the young paddling woman of my 20s--sunglasses, big head of hair, life jacket. What else was there to see? No wrinkles in such a reflection, but as I look later at the photo I spot the arthritis in my hands and know that the years, well-earned and well-paddled, are all there.

"My" Green-backed heron

It's gone now in autumn, but it spent a lot of time this summer at my houseboat, and I was delighted every time it graced my space with its appearance. It's a green heron, now called green-backed, and somewhat rare. I'd seen only a few in my lifetime until this one took up residence here. I pointed it out to many people who'd never set eyes on one.

It is perched here on the stringer next to my tenderhouse. If you were staying in the guest room of my houseboat you could look outside your window and see this view. Whenever I came outside it would fly off to the opposite shore, but in the summer when I was regularly swimming back there, it might hop to a more sheltered spot but stayed put as I glided past.

I saw it hunched over like this and thought it was sleeping, then it dove into the water and came up with a fish in its mouth and I realized, like the patient great blue herons, it was biding its time.

Mystery: flashing lights in the night

I think of this as a UFO -- Unidentified Floating Object. I was awake reading one night about 1:00 a.m. and saw blinking lights in the distance. What could that be? Okay, it was definitely something on the water and moving downriver toward me. I looked with my binocs. I looked with the spotting scope. I could not figure it out. Even as I stood outside as it passed and took these photos, I could not tell what it was. The next morning I wrote and asked some of my neighbors, and our Community Association newsletter editor, if anyone else had seen it or reported anything. I described it as "the crazy blue-lights-flashing plus red light plus green light plus yellow light thing..."  I was guessing it was some kind of search and rescue boat.

My neighbor Barb (a writer who is usually waking up around the time I'm going to sleep), said:
"I did see it. And I went outside and walked down the boardwalk to see if it came to the boat ramp but I couldn't really tell whether it did or not--I think it may have paused there. The odd thing was that I had just heard footsteps on the boardwalk before this strange boat came, someone walking rather fast and I thought to myself that we don't really have any outside night owls here anymore and I couldn't imagine who that would be. Jim said it was a police boat but I have never seen one do that in the middle of the night. I know when they are looking for a floating body they use search lights--I've seen that but I've never seen anything like this in the 15 years we've been here. Sorry, I'm no help."
Mystery as yet unsolved.

Photo shoot

Living on a moorage, we're always helping each other. I needed a new picture of myself to include in a resume and my neighbor Courtney, a professional photographer, offered to take it. We don't have far to go for a setting with nature in the background. I went and bought new mascara and red lipstick, which I would normally never wear, in a bold shade called Diva Red. We agreed to meet at 8am Sunday but a little after 7 she called and said the sun was perfect and could I get on over. I threw on some clothes, grabbed the makeup and a mirror and went next door.

Courtney had to do it right, so she used a sheet tossed over a swim float to bounce the light off my face. We don't have far to go to find a superb backdrop.

Battleship, pirate ship, cruise ship--oh, my!

Living on the water, you never know what is going to pass your way. Because I'm a writer sitting all day working and looking out a 6ft x 6 ft window, I see and notice more than most people. This battleship pushed by a tug came chugging upriver one summer day.

I heard a huge thundering sound one afternoon and ran outside to see what it was. Someone on this "pirate ship" was trying get realistic and shooting off some sort of gun or cannon.

It is a bit startling to see a huge cruise ship of tourists floating past. This is inside looking out through my window with hawk silhouettes (so birds don't crash into the windows). You can see how we are part of the watched scenery.

And then, because this is a working river, working things float by with regularly, like these new floating homes being delivered to their moorages.

As an aside, and not pictured, today an egret landed on the opposite shore, quite unusual to see. A great blue heron came and flew at it, chasing it off. The egret tried landing again two or three times, but the heron persisted and by the time I got outside with my camera the two were too far downriver for me to get a good shot.

We've got our ducks in a row

It's funny how something different will catch your eye. One morning I was strolling along the walkway and noticed something odd about a log along shore. I squinted and realized there were eight young mallards asleep, like so many burls on a tree trunk. On a nearby log was a solitary mallard, I presumed the mom, watching over them.

Working man's SUP

My neighbor Ron needed to borrow the moorage's extra float. This is something we use to tie up to our houseboats or tenderhouses to give us a platform for working on the structures. You can set up a ladder on the float and lean it against your building and work from there. How did he get it from where it docked over to his place? He paddled on over -- a version of Stand Up Paddle truly at work.

The Great Bubble Wrap (potential) Geese Deterrent

My neighbor Mary was out in the water, but what the heck was she doing? She was wrapping in bubble wrap a log jutting out next to her houseboat. Our resident white geese pair was arriving in the wee hours of the morning, landing on the log and honking up a storm. She was hoping this would deter them.

Here is her description of the result, dated September 15:

"Well, they showed up and HONKED VERY LOUDLY at 4:45 am - it was still very dark out. I looked out and they were perched on the log, so I felt disappointed and closed all my windows. Couldstill hear them. But then, it stayed silent! So maybe they were screeching about What is this shit under our feet? and after awhile got uncomfortable and left. I wonder if the bubbles were popping?! So maybe this will work.I might go out and put a few  more tacks in and a little more bubbles on top of what’s there . . . "

... followed by this on September 24:

"They are still roosting here and screeching--but I think less often."


My Mando Planet House Concert -- Tim Connell and Jack Dwyer

Photos by Richard Condon 
I have been attending a lot of house concerts this year--they're kind of a trendy thing in musical Portland these days--and it seemed like it would be fun to host one on my houseboat. I'd met mandolin player Tim Connell when he performed with guitarist Eric Skye at another house concert. He plays with a number of different musicians in different configurations, but I'd bought his Mando Planet CD, collaborating with singer/songwriter/mandolin- and guitar-player Jack Dwyer and liked it so we decided to go with that. We arranged for him and Jack to do a Friday night concert on August 8th. I measured my space and figured out that I could fit 30 people, so I allotted 25 seats to sell, plus four "free" spots for island people who would loan me chairs and help me move furniture and sell CDs. I made up a flyer and sent it around to friends. My 25 spots got filled right away and I had an 8-person waiting list. We decided that if all those folks could come on Thursday we'd do a second concert. We both sent around another set of invites and pretty much filled the place again. 

These house concerts are set up in different ways and I decided to have a BYO snacks and B for the intermission. It was a lovely evening and people gathered outside on the deck for food and drinks. I issued a warning that I wasn't thinking and set out my good silverware and asked people to please try not to donate it to the river gods. Friday I set out the Goodwill-silver-colored-party utensils.
I loved having my place filled with such marvelous music and people having such a good time. It is like the very walls are alive with music and the sound rings here long after everyone is gone. I almost wanted time to stop during the second set of the second evening knowing that it would soon be over. Tim and Jack liked doing back-to-back concerts and we're planning another two-night-stand for February. You can see them on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h19EoBnAfl4 and check out their website at www.jackandtim.com.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Becoming a river swimmer


Me, jump in the river water? That cold liquid downstream from all the Superfund Sites? Well, if it got to 95+ degrees I did. But this summer, not only did I lower that minimum temp to 80 degrees, I found myself jumping in for refreshing swims on a daily basis. Then I took to what no one else on the moorage had done -- swim-circumnavigate the moorage. I'd step down the ladder slowly, acclimating myself to the cold, then swim downstream in the main channel, and come upriver in the backwater and around by the sailboats, where every time, a guy on the end sailboat working on it would spot me and say "Here comes the blue river rat." (for my blue life jacket.)

I started out wearing a life jacket, since I'm not a great swimmer and I was going alone. Then my neighbor Mary let me try her less cumbersome AquaJogger, and I liked it so much I got one of my own.

How far was I swimming? I wondered. I walked up and down the walkway, counting the boards which, with spacing, are a foot wide. Then I saw Bruce and of course he knew and it was 1,000 feet, which, doubled and adding the moorage width, comes to something like four-tenths of a mile. Then I found a swimming/distance/calories calculator to see that one circumnavigation burns 259 calories -- a small mocha frappuchino with calories to spare.

It occurred to me that I probably swam more in the past month than I had in the whole rest of my life. We didn't swim as kids -- just floated in inner tubes at a lake. I didn't learn to swim until I took classes at the Y after I got out of college, and since then have swum mainly occasionally in hotel swimming pools.

River swimming is part of a new movement called "open water swimming." I looked it up and came across an organization in England called the River and Lake Swimming Association, or RALSA. Their main goal is to "increase public awareness to the fact that swimming in open water is a natural, healthy and ecologically friendly sport." My favorite of their club names is one called the Welsh Wild Swimmers Club. Maybe we here would be the Willamette Wild Swimmers.

These swims feel invigorating and like extremely good exercise. When I am in the backwater I swim on my back with a graceful underwater dance-like stroke. It doesn't cause any splashing and one lovely benefit was passing a rare-to-see green heron who didn't fly away as I glided past.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My, my, the newborn mallards

Courtney next door phoned me early one morning. A mallard had nested in a planter on her deck, laid 11 eggs, and now they were hatching. I grabbed a cup of coffee and went over to watch with her through her kitchen window. The first four chicks got out and the mom floated off with them. A few of the eggs didn’t hatch, but the rest of the newborn chicks were stuck! The dirt was too low and the pot was smooth plastic and they couldn’t get themselves out.

Three did projectile leaps but two landed upside down (see photo) and couldn’t get right-sided up. After watching them struggle awhile, Courtney righted them; they jumped in the water and headed off to meet up with the mom and siblings, who were moving toward the other side of the moorage walkway in the backwater.

The rest were still stuck inside the pot. With continued misgivings about interfering with nature (but they were, after all, born in a human’s deck planter) we decided Courtney would keep an eye on the new floaters and I would rescue the remaining chicks in the pot. They jumped in the water, chirping. But, oh, they got trapped behind the chicken wire under the Hekkers’ houseboat next door. I was amazed to see these newborns immediately start eating the vegetation growing on the float logs.

To make a long story short (we watched all this happen over a two-hour time frame), the newborn chicks, chirping, and mom chirping too, on their own found their way under the other houseboats, under and around the moorage walkway and pipes, and the tenderhouses to reach the other side and reunite with mom and siblings.

Later the mallard had a second nesting, and this time Courtney built a dirt “stairs” inside the planter, and a set of wooden stairs on the outside. She watched as that hatch of mallards used the dirt to get out of the pot and on their merry way.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Flotsam fish lure art

I have been collection flotsam by kayak now going on three years. I had intended to make a huge outdoor “wall hanging” with flotsam items suspended from heavy netting I’d found. Instead, last month I was inspired to create a piece featuring only the most colorful fish lures (I removed all the hooks). Here it is, the lures suspended from a rusty metal piece of flotsam, all strung up with flotsam fishing line. It’s installed on my tenderhouse. As I was stringing up the lures, I was imagining a children’s story from the point of view of the fish who now would not get attracted and caught by these lures.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sinking in the snow

February 8, 2014
There are some houseboat house problems that are the same as for a land house. But there are others that are totally unique – like worrying about sinking from a heavy snow. This February we had three consecutive days of 4-inch snowfalls –the most accumulation I’d experienced in my 30 years of living in Portland.

On the third day, I had gone for a short x-country ski in the nearby park on my new knee with neighbor Monica. When we got back the moorage was in a flurry. My neighbor Tom’s son Tom told me that he’d climbed on the roof of my tenderhouse to get off the snow because one corner of the floating shed was sinking. Houseboats were tilting and there was worry that some of them would slowly sink into the river and fill up with water.

Everyone pitched in, and we went to work from houseboat to houseboat like a gang of marauders. Men climbed on roofs getting snow off, and women worked with shovels clearing decks, scooping the snow into the river. Mary wanted to help but she was sick and we convinced her to go inside – but she made hot chocolate and brought it out to us in steaming mugs to take a break. I think it was dark and around 8 p.m. when we finally stopped and I went home exhausted but marveling at my new knee.

The photos are of a houseboat on a neighboring moorage. The first one someone took took during the snowfall and spread around; the others I shot later from my kayak. In the last photo friends of the houseboat owner are taking things out of the houseboat and bringing in some heavy thing to try and balance it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

New knee, Lotsa Helping Hands

November-December, 2014.
I am after a long time away from this blog, getting back to posting stories. Last November I had total knee replacement surgery. Recuperation is a challenge anyway, but more so on a houseboat. It’s not like you can pull up in your driveway or garage and walk a few steps to the house. I was going to have to get up and down the ramp, and then the walkway.

Since it was winter and I heat with a wood-burning stove, there was wood to bring down from the parking lot to the outside deck, and then inside. (What was I thinking? Why didn’t I plan this for summer? I know – because by summer I would have a knee completely healed and have fun.) My dear friend Peg came out from Washington D.C. to help get me home from the hospital, and then my moorage neighbors were a great help.

Coming home from the hospital, Tim and Diana helped Peg get me down the ramp in a wheelchair. My 80-year-old neighbor Tom, himself the recipient of a new knee last October, came over twice a day to bring wood inside. Tim kept an eye out on the wood rack outside and filled it when the pile was getting low. Courtney brought milk and checked the mail. Lots of people came to visit. I used a website called LotsaHelpingHands to coordinate friends and what I needed. Trevor from Beyond the Clinic was the physical therapist who came to the houseboat to basically retrain me how to walk and to build up my leg muscles. In a week, I was able to get myself up and down the ramp. By January, I had gone on a four-mile hike.