Life at the Lake

a diary of living at a small lowland lake


Early moonrise over Lake Ketchum

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Cute little guy, eh what, but such sharp teeth!



First there was a bulge out on the lake, near the far shore. Something there was that looked oddly menacing about it. Not a duck—assuredly not a duck diving. But it was familiar.

Then the small head came to the surface. Quickly the creature dove again. It stayed under water a long, long time. "How do they breathe?" I wondered, not for the first time.

It was an otter, all right. One, maybe? Even one is an ominous sight. Big animals, otters eat a huge number of fish, and they don't bother with the fry or fingerlings, as do the grebes, cormorants, and mergansers. No, they go after the broodstock, the lake's future generations of spinyrays.

That's not all they'll eat. Once, back in the duckweed days, when we were visited by huge migratory flocks of widgeons, I saw an otter nail and eat (on my neighbor's dock) a duck.

I hadn't realized that a bird could be so bloody. The otter devoured the duck as a man might eat a Big Mac. The sight wasn't only slightly horrible.

So it is nearly winter again, and we may be visited by packs of traveling otters. I've seen as many as eight. They hunt as a group in a highly coordinated effort. It looks as though a herd of soccer balls was being activated—all those black/brown heads bobbing as though synchronized swimmers. Then down they go, one after another, to stay submerged for minutes.

I repeat, how do they breathe? The sight takes my own breath away, it does.

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Paul Cezanne, Abstract Landscape from 1906



Three rosy finches at the near feeder, soon displaced by three times the number of Oregon juncos, displaced themselves five minutes later by a single male red-winged blackbird, loomed huge, at least in comparison.

Belted kingfisher on the tip of the tall ornamental hemlock near the beach. The usual suspects, three pied-billed grebes near the icy shore, looking for snails or some sedentary bass fry warming themselves in the shallows.

Four transplanted domestic ducks afloat out deeper—all that's left from the original "gift" of six brought here unrequested.

Three spooky mallards, all flushed by some unknown source.

No sign of the two resident herons, who flew so near the other morn that I unnecessarily ducked their shadow.

Lake a cornflower blue, with brilliant slanting sunlight that hurts the eyes. In short, a perfect morning, though a bit colder than any of us would like.

No complaint, though.

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Cold, foggy morn, followed by bright sunshine



No more trout this year, I fear.

Yesterday, after a string of frozen nights, the temperature of the lake was 8 degrees C. This translates into 46.6 degrees F. (Formula is: 1.8 X C. reading in degrees, plus 32, which is the temp water freezes at.)

My last trout—an average one at 11 inches—was caught earlier in the week, on a slow afternoon. And yesterday I fished but briefly, then sadly took the temperature. When I used to nymph fish Seattle's Green Lake, the trout hit on decreasingly short periods, into early November; these were from a fry plant made in May.

There the water got colder, the fish bigger (2" per month growth), the strike period shorter, until there was only a flurry that lasted for a few minutes. Then, seconds. Then. . . nothing.

So I'm not surprised. I'll put the rod away until very early March. March 6th, my deceased father's birthday, is the earliest I've ever caught a Ketchum trout. I didn't take the water temperature (nor my own), but it must have been around this same point: 46 degrees. (I've caught steelhead when the river was down below 40, but that is a whole different case.)

That trout in the first week of March hit promptly and fought very well. It was also about 15 inches long.

That's a size that will keep you coming back.

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Winter Sunset at Lake Ketchum



A bit of haiku for today (or rather a tanka, which has five lines, not three):

Snow geese flood the fields
Pressed flat by November rain,
Aping a blizzard.

Where do we go, Old Wise Man,
When the December thaw comes? 

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Hard Drive Crash


We had a HD crash!

This doesn't mark the End of the World, only seems so. So we were down a week, and had nothing to post or to publish. No, that's not right. We had it to post or to publish, all right, only no means of doing so.

We were left with all our words still in our mouth, so to speak. Worse, we could not access the Internet nor read and send our email. Loss, loss, loss.

But now we are back online, with a new HD that churns happily (and nearly silently) along. And we managed to copy most (but not all) of our critical files before, yesterday, the old HD gave up the ghost. Sounded like coffee being ground.

I'd like it to appear as though we were some sort of computer whiz, but it ain't so. The older we get, the more dependent we are on the help of family or friends in order to function daily. Most often the help comes from our Eldest Son; he is also our only son. He came to our rescue with a new HD and the know-how to install it. And to copy over all those files and applications.

This took many hours. We provided what little help we could, as he toiled away. It was mostly food. God, I'd forgotten how he could eat.

Meanwhile the lake continues to be just that: the lake, oblivious to our paltry endeavors. Oh, yes, I caught five trout earlier in the week, two the next day, and yesterday, the second of November, a single eleven-inch rainbow specimen.

He (she?) was giving up the fall spawning coloration that hatchery-planted trout from Eastern Washington have uniquely. (Most all rainbows and steelhead spawn in spring.)

We put the fish back, after a pretty good fight. Well, the water is cool now, down in the low Fifties, and the fish are doing a bit of last minute feeding before their digestive systems shut down for the winter.

Not mine!

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Low-water Autumn Twilight on Lake

How Different We All Are!


We come to the lake with different sets of values. We who live here, as I've said before, each see a different lake. Part of the difference is because of where we live, and the window through which we view the portion of the lake seen mostly through our windows.

But we see it differently, too, according to who we are, what we believe, and what we project onto the lake. And each of us, I am afraid, is self-righteous in our particular vision. We believe we are right and what we believe it ought to be believed in by all the other people.

No wonder we don't get along.

Our colony on the lake is perhaps typical of people throughout and across America, but with a particular Pacific Northwest bent. I won't try to define that quality except to say we are not especially chummy. Maybe nobody nowhere is. I remember reading John Updike short stories and novels as I grew up. (We are approximately the same ages, John and I.)

Updike's people seemed incredibly social; they were always getting together and having cocktail parties and, in the summer, cookouts. Of course were professional people, doctors and lawyers, and their main purpose in all these social endeavors was adultery.

They were lining up their next serial partner.

I always read Updike with my tongue in my cheek. (Perhaps this is how he wrote most of those perfidious stories.) I discounted the amount of sex that went on. Sure, in my English department, when we were all mostly single, there was a lot of sleeping around, but after we paired up and married, it was supposed to stop. Of course it didn't, but people didn't screw around to the wide-spread extent that Updike's people did. I still believe I was right. His is the stuff of fiction.

I stray from my point. That point is simply different points of view of different people. I haven't said a whole lot, I am aware. Okay. My wife is a Green. I am semi-Green, which is a shade of bile, I'm afraid.

She will not use a biologically, potentially harmful product on our property and wishes fervently that other people wouldn't, either. I wish her lots of luck and caution her not to try to convert any of our neighbors; I tell her that she will only offend them, since everybody's mind was made up long ago and is next to impossible to change in any basic orientation or direction.

Yesterday I complimented a new neighbor not quite next door on how green his yard became after he bought the property.

"'Weed'n Feed,'" he replied, with a grin, "and lots of water." His predecessor was notorious for his niggardly sprinkling. He hated his grass and paid a man to come in and cut it for him. He rarely went outside his house. He was large and largely sedentary. He was polite, shy, and people tended to take advantage of him. Not this new guy. Already he and my direct neighbors are arch enemies.

Good thing my Green Wife wasn't present when New Neighbor spoke proudly of his knowledge of fertilizers and pesticides, and their uses. She might have tried to convert him to the Green Way.

She would have had no luck. We are all semi-permanently cast in our molds, alas. Nice guy, Jim has a nice lawn. He probably has a lot of other nice things and will soon become the envy of all his neighbors.

Well, of most of them, anyway.

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