Hidden waters

Posted by Ken Campbell June 10, 2009 0 Comment 638 views

Along the Oregon coast, the big rivers form extensive sloughs before they reach the sea. The Nehalem and the Tillamook are both good examples of rivers that are held separate by sand spit formations, allowing the last mile or so of river course to wander as it reaches the end. Salt water and fresh intermingle, creating a vast intertidal area that swells with life. The waterways formed by the meandering streams are classic estuaries, reeds down to the water’s edge in many places, ideal habitat for fish and fowl, and the perfect location for kayaking life forms.

The Washington coast doesn’t feature as many examples of this estuarine environment. Still, with all the paddling possibilities of Puget Sound, the San Juans and the Columbia River, most kayakers don’t feel much sense of loss. We have an embarassment of riches when it comes to world-class paddling, making the Pacific Northwest the center of the sea kayaking universe. Rightly so. Anyone who tells you differently is wrong, and is probably trying to sell you something.

There is, however, an excellent example of the rivermouth slough ecosystem running through the tired little town of Copalis Beach. The Copalis River snakes under the highway bridge and moves steadily toward the Pacific. Shuttered storefronts and overgrown lots line the highway as it bends along the waterfront. Clearly, times are tough on this part of the coast. The breakers can’t be seen from the put-in, but I can hear them calling from over the dunes. I launch from a vacant lot not far from the Green Lantern tavern, sliding into the cockpit and adjusting my spray skirt as the current takes me to the sea.
The shoreline is a mass of green, living things. I paddle next to the reeds and the grasses that buffer the edges, where the flowing water meets the intertidal flora. The boat glides with the current, and the shore moves quickly past me. I’m not going to the ocean today – I’m saving that for tomorrow – so I turn before I reach the beach and work my way back upstream. The current is not overpowering and there are ample eddies to assist me as I go.
I stay on the north side of the river as I move back upstream, past the point where I started and on under the bridge. It’s quieter here, with the sound of the waves muted by distance and not many cars on the road to add to the soundtrack. I paddle up to where a heron is standing on a mud bank and I’m almost on top of him before I even realize that he’s there. He rises noisily to the air, squawking his strong opinion of me in his husky primeval baritone. I do not take offense – he’s correct, for the most part.
It’s not a long paddle and before long, I am finished. The odd car revs past me as I load the boat and gear and prepare to drive north to Taholah. They pass over the bridge and race along he shore, getting through town as quickly as they can. They don’t see the slough, they don’t hear the songbirds, the sparrows and the blackbirds, whistling in the marshes.
Often, the best hiding place is somewhere in plain view.

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