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Monday, June 30, 2008


Saturday was a hot day in Portland, especially for out of shape fat men…

…as opposed to fat men with chiseled abdomens I guess.

It seemed to be a good day to seek refuge on the water, so I headed to Ridgefield, Washington to see if there might not be something interesting close to the wildlife refuge.

Mindful of the sunburn I gave myself on my last paddling expedition, I made a point to stop for some suntan lotion at a local Ridgefield store.

While beer seemed to be priced competitively, a little bottle of suntan lotion about the size of a pat of margarine was priced at nine bucks.

I bought the beer.

The kayak launch is located on the edge of Lake River (I know, it’s confusing…is it a lake or a river?) I stayed to the right of the broad channel, out of the way of ski boats and other motorized water craft, the wakes of which made an otherwise uneventful section of river somewhat eventful. On my left, at about eight tenths of a mile, I passed the Bachelor Island Slough. At about 2.3 miles I entered the Columbia River about even with the Warrior Point Lighthouse. I could barely see the Lighthouse across the expanse of the Columbia.

I stayed close to the Washington bank and proceeded downriver where I found the mouth of a small creek that looked kind of inviting.

The creek took wide meandering turns that were often the accumulation points for fallen trees.

The fallen trees presented challenging navigational obstacles, and I was content to practice paddle strokes and puzzle out solutions for forward progress, all the while protected from the harsh sun under a cathedral like ceiling of forest canopy.

I was beginning to congratulate myself for being so clever about avoiding the heat, but a particularly obstinate logjam forced me unusually deep into the shade and underbrush at the side of the creek where I made a terrifying discovery. Up until this point, insects had been a non-issue owing to a steady breeze, but the same living buffer of trees that sheltered me from the sun’s radiation was also providing an effective wind break. The terrifying discovery was this: It turns out billions of mosquitoes taking a siesta during the heat of the day also like to seek shelter in the underbrush in the shade of trees growing along riverbanks.
I’d seen a nature program once that detailed a mosquito storm in west Texas that drained all the blood out of some poor cow. The image of the hapless dying cow was foremost in my mind as I abandoned ship and hurtled through mud and brittle wood obstructions, dragging my boat behind me.

Eventually, the trees began to thin out and the confining creek banks spread out into the broad expanse of the seasonal wetlands that compose the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge.

Sometimes, I like to look at trees and imagine that the branches and leaves - the part we’ve been told is the top of the tree - is really the bottom of the tree – the roots. From this point of view, we humans fulfill a function akin to earthworms, tunneling through the fertile air (albeit in an awkward upside-down bipedal manner), leaving our castings wherever we go.

It is not so hard to look at a reflection and see the truth of this perspective.

Water levels still seemed to be relatively high and the resulting effect was a sea filled with little islands here and there. On these islands, various juvenile trees take bets and dare each other to see how far they can migrate into the low fields before they are caught by the water and drowned.

It’s kind of unsettling to realize that our best and wisest choices, based as they are upon the experiences gathered, at best, during a mere fraction of a century, will likely end up as data points mapped on some future statistician’s common bell curve.

When this deer finally snapped out of its ‘frozen in the headlights stare’, it proceeded to bounce off in a way that compelled me to shout out, “Boing!” each time it touched the earth – which wasn’t that often.

Some of the islands are thinly disguised rock outcroppings.

I did what I could to find another way out of the Wildlife Refuge, but to no avail.
As the sun continued its progress toward the horizon, in the back of my mind, I knew I would soon have to run the mosquito gauntlet.

I wondered how earlier inhabitants of this area dealt with mosquitoes.
Did they have effective repellents? Did they cover their bare skin in mud? Over time did they develop thicker skin – perhaps a kind of mosquito callous?

My strategy: I pulled out my rain jacket and put it on over my personal flotation device. I didn’t have the foresight to bring rain pants so I squirted my legs liberally with mosquito repellent. I also sprayed my face, neck and hands. As a final precaution, I sprayed the inside surfaces of the kayak. I’m pretty sure I poisoned myself (things still taste kind of funny), but that mosquito storm video made quite an impression. Though dusk was approaching, it was still warm and humid and the rain jacket quickly began to perform like a mini-sauna. I prepared to enter my own green hell.

On the way in, I had approached logjams as intellectual puzzles. On the way out I adopted a more proactive attitude where I envisioned myself to be something of a cross between a P.T. boat and an ice-breaker or, if need be… even a hovercraft.

It wasn’t so bad.

Eventually, I broke into the open water of the Columbia and relaxed enough to remove the rain jacket.

I wanted to take a picture of the lighthouse at Warrior Point, but the lighting conditions were less than optimal.

I remembered this old trick from reading about World War One flying aces. Inexperienced pilots would hold their hands in front of the sun to shield their eyes, but this would cut into their field of vision, obscuring potential enemies who might be diving out of the sun. Better to use just the thumb.

The lighthouse.

Remember that competitively priced beer? With flat sandy beaches available for easy landings, I decided it might be an opportune time to take a pit stop.

There was no telling when the next recreational powerboat would fly by loaded with impressionable young children or beautiful college coeds, so I wandered up the beach to find some privacy in the shelter of the underbrush next to the tree line.

Imagine the surprise a billion mosquitoes experienced when I inadvertently revealed Lil’ Richard.
I didn’t even get to pee.

In between the trees is the entrance to the Bachelor Island Slough.


I approach the Ridgefield Kayak Launch. The night is bringing cool air and you can almost hear the little city sigh with relief. A young couple escapes from the residual heat for a romantic walk down to the river. He is wearing a short sleeve shirt that complements his massive biceps and impressive pectoral muscles. She is wearing a sheer summer dress which flatters her legs and turns out to be almost see-through under the humming streetlight. I see them pause briefly at the end of the dock, facing each other. Perhaps they are staring into each other’s eyes. Perhaps he is working up the nerve to kiss her. Then suddenly, she slaps herself – slaps her leg – slaps her arm – slaps her leg again. She turns and runs. He stands there a moment mystified. Suddenly, he slaps the back of his neck, catches on, and follows.

Damn near heaven.


  1. Love the rain gear mosquito protection, way to be resourceful. :)

    Wonderful narrative as always Scott –

  2. Nice story. That winding Creek is called Gee Creek. I've been there a few times recently. See blog:


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