Life at the Lake

a diary of living at a small lowland lake


Early moonrise over Lake Ketchum

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St. Helens blows steam following first Presidential debate


Mt. Saint Helens was about 1300 feet taller when I first was introduced to it. This was 51 years ago, I was a soldier, about to be sent to Alaska, and a buddy and two girls I didn't know decided to climb it in early June, 1953.

We overnighted in celibate fashion at the timberline one-room bunkhouse and rose early the next morning and made the old summit under a scorching sun by noon. It was grueling and we shared a can of tomato juice and two oranges, the four of us.

We were testing a new sunblock, that proved worthless, and afterwards one of the girls went to the hospital with serious facial blisters, while the others of us simply suffered it out. I took my peeling face to Anchorage and astonished new casual friends by removing large white pieces of skin with my fingernails. As I recall I was sporting my first, and only, crewcut.

The mountain erupted in 1980, on a calm Sunday morning, spewing ash and dust all over Washington State and portions of Oregon and Idaho. I followed its white snowlike trail East to the Grande Ronde river for my annual steelhead fishing trip a couple of months later. The dust continued and I remember that we all bought new air filters for our cars on our return.

And now a lowered Mt. Saint Helens has erupted (on a minor scale, to be sure) again.

Oddly, it was the day following the first of three Presidential debates. I wonder if it is simply a coincidence, or if it isn't truly a reaction of Nature to the nasty, unseemly nature of the political campaign. That is, the mountain didn't exactly blow its top. More like it belched or spit up a little.

In disgust.

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My biggest trout from the lake to date


You ask about the fishing. It is good. I used to keep a fishing journal, and when I made a trip, I dutifully recorded what happened, the fish I caught, though there was a tendency not to record trips where I didn't take a steelhead, or else lose one.

I no longer do this. For one thing, I fish for steelhead but rarely. And I fish this lake often, but never for very long at a time. This is how I like to fish—often and briefly. It is, in my opinion, a part of the good life. Only a part, mind you, but an essential part, albeit a small one.

Yesterday noon, a nice trout off the dock, though on bait. But at dusk, in an intense twenty minutes or less, while the Mariners were scoring a surprising clutch of runs, two yellow perch on a #14 Pheasant tail nymph and then, back to back, two yearling large-mouth bass of just under a pound each. All released, of course.

This is a lake that becomes temperature stratified in summer and, in fall, "turns over," as it is professionally called, which means the layers of descendingly cooler water, with progressively less dissolved oxygen, become mixed. The cool comes to the top, the middle mixes, the bottom slightly warms. And the DO mixes, also, which is healthy. And the cooling water from brisk nights makes the trout active again and they begin to feed. In another month, the trout will shut down again.
But it is presently a wonderful time, the spinyray population still feeding on insects and the trout beginning to feed again on whatever they can find.

Like all good things (Zen again?) they will end. They are presently to be enjoyed ephemerally and well.

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Rosy moonrise at the lake


Jakushitsu writes to his old friend, the High Priest Rin:

When I fraternize with you wise friend
I forget my age

One evening
thoughts stirring
body tired
fist for a pillow

I saw you clearly in a dream

Now the hearth
listening to the snow
we were talking Zen

(Page 23, a Quiet Room)

Nice, huh?

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The Three Otter Fountain at my place on the Lake


Four basins comprise the fountain. At the top sits Otter Number One; he bears correspondences to The Buddha. Note how he sits on his hind quarters, his front paws or fins tucked up much like a woodchuck. He gazes imperiously at the world. His expression reveals nothing at all, except (and this is stretching things) a slight bemusement. I may be imagining it, though.

Basins two and three are unoccupied. The basins grow progressively larger, as do Man's Burdens. (Don't think about this for very long, please.) Each has a spout pouring discolored water from the basin above it. The basin occupied by The Buddha contains no water at all, yet it is where the stream of water enters the fountain. There is a small electric pump that delivers the water from basin four to the top. This is called a "closed system."

Water has to be periodically supplied from a garden hose in hot weather. In winter, though the basins are sheltered by a leafless cherry (what else?) tree, enough rainwater seeps through the bare limbs to keep Basin Number Four (the source of all good things) full to the rim.

As for Basin Number Four, it contains two otters. One looks respectfully at The Buddha. I call him Jakushitsu, after the famed Zen Buddhist monk, whom I think he slightly resembles. Jakushitsu's excellent book, "a Quiet Room," (no cap to the "a" in my edition) is a good read. I recommend it.

And what about otter number three at Basin Number Four? He is nearly prone, his back somewhat turned away from The Buddha, gazing fixedly in the opposite direction. He seems a companion to Jakushitsu, but that may only be a trick of perspective—an optical effect created by close juxtaposition. So the closeness may be meaningless.

I'd like to think otter number three corresponds to myself. But that might be only another form of self-flattery.

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