Outdoors

Riparian Repast

Lunch on the South Fork

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A great blue heron squawked maniacally overhead as we marched around a concrete road barrier onto the South Fork trail. 

“That bird sounds hangry,” said the Lady of the House, pausing briefly to get a bead on it through the treetops. “Perhaps we should invite it to lunch.”

“That’s your prerogative,” I said, amused to find myself slipping around so much over a greasy mat of wet leaves. “But I’ve got dibs on the pastrami sandwich.”

Pretty soon, the initial squawking dissipated and a new round of squawking started up. This time, the sound was shrill and seemed to come closer, gyrating around us. 

“Something weird is happening up there,” I mused, shuffling around like a tap dancer.

“Well,” chimed the Lady, close behind me, “you’re right about that. I don’t know what you outdoors experts call it, but this section of trail is slicker than snot.”

“Think it’s snotty now?” I wanted to say. “ou should have tried splashing through all the puddles in here 10 years ago—before hundreds of volunteers from local conservation-based organizations pitched in to help make major improvements.”

Instead, all I said was, “Once we break out of this red alder forest about a half-mile ahead or so there’ll be plenty of clean, boot-packed gravel for our soles to grip again.”  

“Cold comfort,” she sighed, squooshing stridently through the silage. “But by this point, I’ll take all the gravel you can give me.”

At the stream crossing below the beaver marshes we encountered the first of many coho salmon we’d see that afternoon. It wasn’t too big—just a spry little nibbler—but when it leaped up between the stepping stones, glancing off the Lady’s precariously balanced outstretched right shoe, it generated just enough impact to put her shin-deep into the drink.

That cold water tingled her toes and her shoes got soaked. But afterward, while seated on a half-rotten log wringing out her socks, she assessed the phenomenon with appreciative regard.  

From there we followed the trail into a stand of second-growth conifers that seemed to twist and turn forever through a mossy, root-gnarled enthrallment of dense coastal greenery.

Inevitably, while bushwhacking around to one of my favorite acceptably concealed riverside lunch spots, I soon became entranced by the phosphorescent glow of my chief totemic forest-dwelling life form—bearded lichen.  

I stroked one spongy-soft strand on a low-hanging vine. Then another. And another. Finally, I grabbed a whole bunch and pulled them together like a curtain in front of me.

“Dear lord,” the Lady gasped, bashing toward me through the brush. “What have you done?”

“Call me Methuselah Usnea,” I bellowed, stroking my temporary chin whiskers. “Follow me to the riverbank and I’ll give you the best seat in the house.”

Settled by the river, lunch never tasted so good. Herons squawked. Eagles glided low through trees. And the coho—what seemed like thousands of crimson-bellied beauties—kept swimming and digging and leaping for home somewhere between the slippery rocks.

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