For more than 100 years, the mouth of the Elwha River was a sterile chute dumping out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Shortly after the dam removal began in 2011, a century’s worth of sediment began to flow downstream in the newly freed currents. And now, five years later, the reborn delta is a complex, thriving tideland with acres and acres of ponds, sloughs and flats–ideal rearing habitat for juvenile salmon and countless nearshore critters.
This weekend, Weston and I found ourselves in Port Angeles for a basketball tournament (his, not mine) and we stole away before Sunday’s games to visit, walk, and throw rocks into ice-covered ponds covering this new-yet-ancient landscape. As with every visit, I found myself buoyed by the rebirth of the Elwha. It’s simply one of the most uplifting places I’ve ever experienced.
I’m not sure if Weston fully appreciates the significance of what’s happened there, or if it’s lost on him, but I know it’s not just a great rearing place for juvenile fish–it’s also perfect for juvenile humans. And adults, too. Visit if you can. Walk into the lower dam site, close your eyes and imagine the canyon filled with stagnant reservoir water, then open them to see the miracle of rapids, flowing water, and gorgeous steelhead runs. Drive down to the mouth and walk the delta beach and feel the power we have to undo past mistakes. I guarantee it will lift your spirits. Next up: The Klamath, the Snake, Matilija Creek, San Francisquito…
Sometimes it’s the short, dark days. Or the rain. Or the seemingly unending gray. Whatever it is, winter in the Pacific Northwest can dampen the spirits, especially when it feels like it’s already been a long one, and it’s really just starting. But then one morning, mumbling and bleary in the crowded galley of the ferry, you look up from your coffee and watch sunlight pouring through rolling storm clouds. You run to the bow, pushing through the doors into a blast of icy wind. You stand on deck gulping great breaths of cold, salt air and remember, this is why we live here.
Of course, it starts by packing two families into a rented minivan and battling our way through Bay Area traffic. This, after hours of planes, trains and automobiles (and ferry boats, in our case) by me and the kids, and my brother’s family, who came all the way from New York. And somewhat amazingly, it was a ton of fun.
We spent a few days with our dad and his wife, Jane, in Sonoma, swimming, playing ping pong, shooting pool and generally messing around, highlighted by a magnificent prime rib dinner cooked by Dad and Jane. Then we piled back into the minivan to join our mom and her husband, Carey, in Berkeley–arriving there just in time to help put the finishing touches on the days of prep work and cooking they’d already put in for the Japanese New Year Celebration. That’s the Dungeness crab I stir fried with black bean sauce, ginger, garlic and green onions–a Chinese dish, I know, but it seemed to fit the festive menu.
Then friends and family dropped by, all bringing more dishes to the feast. We had sushi, breaded flank steak, teriyaki chicken, more sushi, traditional mochi soup, more sushi, sweet beans, sunomono cucumber salad with octopus, all kinds of sweets, and yes, the traditional multi-layered jello you can see in the back. And that was just the beginning. Skyla and Weston had as much fun cooking as they did eating, and we all enjoyed the family time and good food. Now I really have to resolve to run more often, if just to burn off the calories consumed in a few short days. Here’s to a fantastic 2017 for all!
Sometimes the best foraging is right at home–in this case, in the very back of the freezer. I was digging around for razor clams to cook for Christmas dinner and came up with a long-lost package of hot-smoked king salmon bellies from 2015. September 2015, to be more exact, meaning they were more than a year old. I thawed ’em out and, incredibly, they were delicious. Perfect. Still firm, still dripping with fat, still smoky and salty and awesome.
And looking at the date, I remembered fishing Willapa Bay with my good friend Sweeney, and how the pelicans posed on pilings outside the harbor that morning, and how the sky turned black with sooty shearwaters in the evening. And how we had to scratch to find our kings, and how stoked we were when we put a couple nice ones in the box. Amazing what you can find in the back of the freezer.
Last month I spent a few days on the Clearwater River, outside of Lewiston, Idaho. I hadn’t fished it before, and wanted to experience a salmon and steelhead river so far from the sea. In an icy downstream wind, we found a fast-flowing coldwater river of broad riffles and perfect, cobbled bottom running through hills covered in pine, dry grass and rock. The steelhead were few and far between, but it hardly mattered–this was the kind of water I dream of, in a place of exhilarating beauty.
An eddy was littered with the bodies of spawned out king salmon, and it was hard to look at them and not think of what it took for them to get here. 450 miles. Eight dams. Uncountable threats. And these fish did it as six-inch smolts going downstream, roamed the Pacific Ocean for years, and somehow found their way back as full-grown adults.
The night before, there was a hearing in Lewiston on the removal of the four Lower-Snake River dams. Two weeks later, there was another in Boise on the same day as a crowd rallied and marched in Seattle to bring down these deadbeat dams. There is opposition, for sure, but momentum is building. I can feel it. We need to keep the pressure on, the interest up, and I think we can one day make the trip home easier for thousands of inland salmon and steelhead. I want to be there when it happens.