Upcoming Book Events

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I am honored to have Closer to the Ground chosen by the Timberland Regional Library System as a Timberland Reads Together book for 2014. It’s humbling to look at the list of recent books and authors chosen for this great community reads program, and to join them is pretty awesome. Better yet, they’re putting together a series of fun events at several branches, where I will talk and read, sign books, answer questions and show some slides. They’ve even commissioned the Bushwick Book Club of Seattle to write some music “inspired by” Closer to the Ground. Here are the times/dates:

October 1st, 2014: Tumwater Library, 6:00pm.

October 2nd, 2014: Aberdeen Timberland Library, 2:00pm.

October 2nd, 2014: North Mason Timberland Library in Belfair, 6:30pm.

October 4th, 2014: Centralia Timberland Library, 2:30pm.

For more information click HERE. If you can make it, please come on out. I think we’ll have a great time. Hope you are well.

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After School Snacks

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As we make it through these first few weeks of school, it’s a tough adjustment: For the kids, whose carefree summer days are now ruled by alarm clocks, schedules and classwork; and for the parents, who now have to make sure the kids stay in synch with all of the above. Plus, I miss having Skyla and Weston around all day, and the option to go do whatever we want, whenever we want.

So I look forward to their return from school each afternoon. Mostly because I love hanging out with them, but also because it’s a perfect time to share our favorite snack. As I type, I’m less than an hour away from another round. La Panzanella rosemary crackers, cream cheese and cured salmon caviar, or ikura. The arrival of this year’s Honeycrisp apples came just in time, too. What a combo!

And it’s not just my kids that love ikura. So far, pretty much every friend they’ve brought over has asked for more after the first bite. And on that note, it’s almost time to go meet the kids. Better get the snacks ready…and you know, sample a few before they get home and eat it all.

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Elwha River Uplift

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The kids and I decided to squeeze in one last, close-to-home, weekday excursion before school started, so we headed over to the newly dam-free Elwha River for a little float. The last piece of the upper dam was removed last week, so it seemed like a good time to go see what had changed since I was there earlier this summer. And I wanted the kids to experience a river being reborn. That’s Weston and Skyla starting out, courtesy of our friends at Olympic Raft & Kayak.

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The first thing we noticed was the amazing clarity of the water. Opponents of the dam removal predicted the river would be constantly dirty with sediment for years to come, and yet, even just days after blowing the last of the upper dam, we had at least eight feet of gorgeous, blue-green-tinted visibility. Even more surprising, through that clear water, we saw hundreds of Chinook salmon migrating, staging and spawning. Their motor-boat wakes peeled away from the raft in the riffles, and we could see them spawning in every tailout and flat. There were fish everywhere. The river bottom, again contrary to what many predicted, was made up of clean, large cobble and gravel rather than soft silt and sand. Perfect spawning conditions. In the picture above, the lighter-colored bottom areas are Chinook salmon nests, or redds, where the spawning fish have turned over stones. The sheer quantity of fish thrilled us all, and knowing there had been no salmon in this part of river at all for 100 years made it even more uplifting.

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Here, the kids are standing on what used to be the bottom of Lake Aldwell, just above the lower dam site. As you can see, the river is carving a new path, with all the natural riffles, runs and pools one would expect. The line of low vegetation to the right is part of the restoration effort, a mass of native plants put in place to (hopefully) prevent invasive species from taking hold. Large woody debris, key juvenile salmon habitat, is piling up along the banks and channels throughout the river system.

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After our float, we drove down to where the Elwha meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As we walked toward the river mouth, there were flood ponds and tide pools scattered throughout the new delta. We stopped on the banks of one little pond and watched uncountable numbers of juvenile salmon feeding on the surface. Rings of rising fish formed and overlapped as tiny, silvery salmon flew into the air chasing insects.

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The delta has grown even larger since I was there with my good friend Matt Stoecker back in July. What used to be a sediment-starved, single channel pouring into the Strait is now a complex maze of wetlands, sandbars and tide pools stretching across acres and acres of new land. This, the biologists tell us, is the exact habitat juvenile salmon need during the critical time when they’re adjusting to saltwater. As the rising tide came in, it formed streams pouring into the little ponds, and we watched the baby salmon move toward the current and slide out into the sea. I grew up during a time when most of our salmon runs, not to mention other natural resources, dwindled away year after year; for my kids to be here now, witnessing the process of something getting better, lifts my spirits in ways I can’t begin to express. The Elwha is a river again. The salmon are back.


Turning Fish Into Food

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The big box of fish I brought home from Willapa Bay resulted in a flurry of salmon processing. Pictured above is the second smoker load of the week, just out of the brine and air drying before going into the smoker. Collars and belly strips on the left, fillet chunks on the right, and an extremely interested party in back.

The day after returning home, I filleted all the fish and cooked some prime center-cut chunks for dinner. Then Skyla and I made our smoking brine, cut the fish into serving sizes and started the first batch soaking. When that one was in the smoker, another round went into fresh brine. We also separated eggs from membrane to make ikura (salmon caviar) and started that curing in the fridge. The vac-sealer came out for more center-cut fillets going into the freezer. Meanwhile, we were already deep into salmon salad sandwiches, and when it was ready, eating smoked salmon and ikura two or three times a day. Happily, that pace has yet to let up.

Finally, I started vac-sealing and freezing smoked salmon…mostly to keep us from eating it all on the spot. Half the ikura went into jars for freezing as well. For the same reason. Whew! In all, it was about seven days of processing from two days of fishing. But all the good eating along the way–and in the future–made it more than worthwhile.