Thursday, October 06, 2005

Hanford Reach

Two things appear certain.
First of all, when you find
walnuts beneath a tree, it's a
walnut tree.
So, those big, old dead
looking trees in the flat along
the Columbia River across
from the old Hanford site are
probably walnut trees.
From a distance on Sunday
they looked like locust trees,
with their dark, rough bark
and their brittle-looking
naked limbs.
Yet, as Sadie the Dalmatian
and I shuffled along beneath
them, I saw the tell-tale clue:
a scattering of dried walnuts.
Many of the broken nuts lay
on the ground in half shells.
But they were walnuts.
The trees have stood there
for many decades, and some
are gonners. Dead bark peels
from limbs and trunks. Some
may perk up in another few
weeks, sprout leaves and pro
duce more walnuts to scatter
on the ground.
And second of all, my
coyote call won't be
answered. Not soon, and not
by a self-respecting coyote.
I saw one coyote after we
zig-zagged for about four
miles from the locked gate to
the cliffs and ate lunch across
the river from the reactors.
The locked gate, by the
way, is about nine miles up a
graveled road from the
Ringold Fish Hatchery,
At the gate, we met three
adults, two kids and a dog. As
I donned my daypack and
slung the binoculars and cam
era bag on my shoulders, they
moved off the road toward the
hills on the right. I never saw
them again. Or anyone else.
Sadie and I followed the
road for one-quarter mile. It leads to a
second locked gate in about
three miles, but we left it near
the flat, with the large, dark
trees in the distance.
High, rugged cliffs on the
right felt dramatic, and the
flat stretched from the road
for several hundred yards to
the river. Looking upriver,
with the rugged white cliffs
towering above the road, the
flat extended for half a mile to
the steep ridges.
Our route followed me
andering game trails near the
river. Beyond the flat, yellow
bells and wild parsley
sparkled in the green grass.
A zillion deer tracks
marked the hard-packed
trails, and geese, pelicans,
cormorants and mallards
preened on the river.
Sounds carried in the near
silence, too. Did voices filter
down from the cliffs? Nope.
Geese honked from so high
above the cliffs that I could
barely see them without the
Once past the flat, we fol
lowed a game trail up a
cliffside overlooking the river.
The trail made sharp ascents
and descents and clung pre
cipitously to the cliffside.
I wore no jacket, but sweat
dampened my clothes. I drank
often from the tube to a new
CamelBak Unbottle water bag
stuffed into the daypack. The
100 ounces of water in the
bag weighs 6.91 pounds.
It's so convenient that I
sipped and forgot Sadie.
Then, from high on a cliff, she
looked down at the sky blue
ness of the river and moaned.
She wanted water. I
searched in vain for her cup
in the daypack. So, I squeezed
the tube and water ran into a
binocular lens cap. Three
slurps cleaned it, so I refilled
it until she walked away.
We left the gate at 11:16
a.m. When we reached the far
cliffs, beyond the overlook at
the second gate on the road, I
guessed the time at 3 p.m.
I carried three Cliff bars for
lunch, and we worked our
way down the steep banks,
over wide slippage crack in
the earth near the river. Sadie
splashed into water up to her
chest and drank a long time.
I basked in the sunshine,
and we shared a Chocolate
Chip Clif bar.
As we climbed to the bluff,
the first coyote watched from
50 yards. When it moved, I
whistled. Maybe it would stop
for a photo? No way.
We climbed, and a coyote
sang. Off to the right. I froze.
Such a perfect sound. Intense,
pure notes.
It sat 30 yards away, its
head, shoulders and front legs
visible beside a big sage bush.
It stretched its nose to the sky
and sang again. A chill ran
down my neck and back.
I touched the camera, but it
had the wide angle lens.
So, I sang my coyote song.
Wow! The songdog
bounded four feet straight up.
It hit the ground and puffs of
sand spurted behind its feet.
Sadie's tail drooped. Her
head hung between her front
paws. And she blushed.
Darn critics.
We didn't mosey back. We
climbed the highest ridge, and
I scouted the quickest route
though the canyons.
We reached the gate at 5:36
p.m. Although Sadie's reac
tion to my coyote song stung
a bit, I bought her a snack on
the way home.
A very small one.

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