Well…sometimes it happens. Despite a mountain of work and looming house/farm chores, Sweeney and I decided to close out the 2014 spring Chinook season with a two-dayer to the lower Columbia. Everything lined up perfectly–weather, tides, water temp and clarity, reports–and mouthwatering dreams of grilled springers forced us to put responsibilities aside and head south. We really had no choice.
On the way down, a small rattling sound from the trailer suddenly turned into a big rattling sound from the trailer. We pulled over to find a nearly destroyed, too-hot-to-touch left wheel and hub. At this point, I’m already thinking “trip over.” Somehow, though, Sweeney miraculously MacGyvered it back together with combination of a rusty spare hub, the spare tire and some scavenged bearings and lug nuts. Whew. Back on the road. Five miles closer to fishing, thumping and smoke off the left side of the trailer. Flat tire! And our only spare is the one that’s blown. Hence the picture above, of me waiting with the boat and gear while Sweeney headed back to town in the truck to find a new wheel and tire.
To make a long story shorter, we finally put the boat in the water around noon, happy to have the trailer incidents behind us and brimming with optimism. Long faces at the ramp and the fish checker’s meager numbers should have given us warning, but we forged ahead, confident that we could catch fish even if it was slow. And thus began two days of dragging herring on the incoming tides and plunking sardine-wrapped plugs on the outgoing, for a grand total of ZERO springers. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The goose egg. The dreaded…donut, for crying out loud.
Good reports were coming in from farther upstream, in the Portland/Vancouver metroplex, but the thought of gunwale-to-gunwale fishing in a blue haze of outboard exhaust kept us from moving. We stubbornly stuck with the relative solitude of the far-lower river, and in retrospect, we probably should have bucked up and faced the circus. But we didn’t.
Still, there was plenty to enjoy: the epic Chinese dinner at Yan’s in Kelso (their homemade wor won ton soup is unbelievable), the steep, darkly forested hills above the river, and the electric green foliage exploding from the lowlands. Geese filled the sky heading north, and when the breeze came up out of the west, we could smell the ocean. Mostly, though, I’m thankful for time out on the water with a good buddy who I don’t get to hang out with nearly enough. Turns out, it was a pretty good trip after all. But no springers. Honest.
My fishing and food friends here, upon hearing my dismal report, are accusing me of deception. They claim I’m intentionally lowballing our results to avoid the inevitable mooching of what is surely a huge stash of springers in the fridge. If their suspicions are correct, this is a pretty convincing story, don’t you think?
After putting it off for as long as possible, we finally had to go into town to buy Skyla a new pair of tennis shoes. An hour of The Hell That Is Shoe Shopping, and we clearly needed a breath (or 50) of fresh air. So we decided to check out a nearby beach that I’d heard had oysters. Weather was marginal, and we had to be back for a kid sleepover, so I thought we’d just squeeze in a quick walk down the beach to scout it out.
But maybe I was just telling myself–and the kids–that to manage expectations. After all, the tide just happened to be hitting full low when we arrived. And I did have a couple oyster knives, a bucket, plastic containers and knee boots in the car. You know, just in case.
Good thing, too. A hundred yards from where we parked, we found oysters on top of oysters. We shucked enough for dinner and a few leftovers, then made some quick test digs for steamer clams (plenty there) and hit the road home. Grabbed a pizza for the kids sleepover party on the way and made it home just in time. Monday night, when it was just us, we broke out the flour, eggs and panko for a serious oyster fry. And felt lucky that somewhere between shoe shopping and sleepovers, we found time to gather a meal.
My good buddy Neal is pretty serious about his gym workouts, but there’s nothing like wrestling 350-pound fir rounds into position for splitting into “manageable” sized chunks. Even with the help of modern hydraulics. And especially when you have to follow that with loading, hauling and unloading the results. This is Neal deep into my exclusive FirewoodFit Workout Program. Ladies, he didn’t get those guns just from kettle bells and burpees.
Funny thing is, I showed up at the work site with my maul, sledge and wedges thinking I’d bust up the rounds by myself and start hauling it all back home. The trees were described as “pretty big” by my friend, Dale, who took them down. But that turned out to be quite the understatement. Or I underestimated his assessment powers, which is somewhat predictable, considering the last time someone called about a “decent-sized tree” down across their driveway, it turned out to be a three-inch sapling which I dragged into the bushes with one hand.
These were three enormous, old second-growth firs, with dense, tight-grained wood from growing in deep shade. No knots, either. Another result of the shade. Perfect. And better yet, I could drive right up to the pile of logs. Awesome. But there was no way I could lift the rounds, and no way I could split ‘em up with hand tools. So I ran up the hill, grabbed the hydraulics and went to work. When Neal showed up–reinforcements!–I was already beat. But with his help, we got through about half the pile. Next session to come after a four day recovery period. I am now accepting applications and deposits from the select few elite athletes who might qualify for this workout program. Might even offer a discount for this Friday’s class. Let me know if you want to sign up.
Well, the warming outside temps finally allowed flies to start hatching, and the shop is clearly not fly proof. So…fearing some kind of awful maggot incursion, I was forced to move the curing duck breasts into the refrigerator. Perhaps the salt content would have kept the fly issues at bay, but I just didn’t want to risk it. So much for my “mankind has been curing meat in the open air for thousands of years” bravery.
Main problem with the fridge, from what I can tell, is that the temps and humidity are generally both too low. I put a bowl of salt water in with the duck and it’s raised the humidity quite a bit. Reset the internal thermostat, too, but it’s just barely above 40 degrees, which is probably on the low side. Not much else I can do at this point, just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.
Kind of a bummer since the conditions in the shop–minus potential fly or rodent issues–appear to be perfect. 60% humidity, 50 degrees fahrenheit. Might have to build some kind of curing box with 1/4-inch hardware cloth sides, covered with mosquito netting? Or perhaps window screen material would stop both types of vermin. But then, I wonder if there’d be enough air flow? Ah, the complications of translating ancient food prep techniques with modern food safety knowledge and/or wussification…
Day five of The Great Duck Prosciutto Experiment. To avoid any possible rodent issues and keep the duck breasts out of the way, I hung them from the shop ceiling. Temperature and humidity appear to be good, although, as stated before, I still have some trepidation about just leaving meat out like this. I have to keep reminding myself that humans have been curing and aging meat in the open air for thousands of years.
And I’m reassured by the incredibly delicious aroma that’s filling the shop now. Smoky, savory and…duck-y are the only descriptors I can think of, but it’s good enough that my mouth starts watering every time I wander into the shop. Tom Petty had it right, the waiting is the hardest part. Based on minimal shrinkage, though, I’m guessing it’s going to be at least another week. Man, I’m ready to try this stuff now!