Life at the Lake

a diary of living at a small lowland lake


Early moonrise over Lake Ketchum

Visit Us at Life At The Lake

Archive Search
This page is powered by Blog Studio.
and s-integrator

Barn seen from Pioneer Highway


All cities are the same!

I don't know if this is a true statement, only a poetic one. But there is definitely a city environment (perhaps a cliché) of fast-food restaurants, bars, strip joints, pawnshops, and panhandlers. I've seen enough of them over the years not to want to see any more.

Life in the country is not entirely bucolic. It has its seamy downside, too. But it has greater possibilities.

I live in the country by choice, after decades of city life (Seattle) of necessity. It is where I made my living as a writer and an editor. Once I thought I had my life in balance: I alternated living in the city with extensive trips to the country, ostensibly for its fishing. (I now wonder if fishing was not merely an excuse to get to the woods and water, as it is for many men.) I published a book about this—the going back and forth between country and city, finding in each important benefits to what I thought was the good life. (The book is appropriately titled, Country/City; A Year at the River. still carries it.)

But now—five years later—country has clearly won out. I go to the city rarely, and only under duress. I miss its benefits only slightly. Most of them, I've learned, can be found online or on something other than network television.

If not there, though the ordinary mail. Walmart will deliver to my home practically whatever DVD I order by email. The turnaround time is less than one week. For my fifteen dollars a month I generally get two DVDs per week; by careful time-management I can sometimes stretch that into three. And for about three dollars more I can increase that quantity to three DVDs, mailed one at a time as soon as I have returned each one.

Books, either new or used, can be ordered online and delivered through the mail easily and often more cheaply than at a city bookstore, to which you must find some way to travel.

I pity people who live smugly in cities and want to ask them, "How do you know which city it is, when you wake up in the morning, they are so much alike."

- - Comments ()

Blogger sketch of Buffleheads in Flight



One bufflehead, did I say? More like five. Birds of a feather, all females, showed up the next day. All work the same area and seem highly congenial.

When I walk down to my dock, off they go—low, like so many skipping stones.
- - Comments ()

Female bufflehead with characterisitc oval mark under her eye



Are you a naturalist? Might be. Let's see if you are. You don't have to go to college and study some science; all you have to be is alert to the world around you and subject that world to serious scrutiny.

Who says? I do. Are you a naturalist? By my own definition I am. Let me show you how and why I've come to this conclusion.

For the past week a solitary female bufflehead has been fishing off the end of my dock—where I myself regularly fish in the summer months and where I take a certain set of measurements for the county and have a mesh trap for micro- invertebrates for Portland State University, who is ever vigilant for zebra snails (none of which have been sighted in the American West). But I catch other things in the mesh.

This duck duck-dives neatly under the surface steadily. I time her. She stays under water about 22 seconds. I time three such drives with the sweep hand of my wristwatch and continue watching until I am certain the interval between dives in steadily about the same.

The water is two meters deep there, or about seven feet. The lake is still low and I can now see bottom in just short of two meters of water. So she is fishing or feeding just where the visibility drops off.

I do not see her emerge with anything in her beak, time after time. Either she is a very poor fisher, or else she is eating something other than fish. It must be so, and whatever it is is small enough for her to swallow while she is still under water.

What can it be?

Snails. We have so many small, hard-backed snails that the bottom of the lake seems salted with them, and in the spring the newly planted rainbow trout quickly (it takes them about a week) discover them and start feeding heavily on them. They like them so much they bypass hatching insects.

When I pick up a trout in order to release it, the body of the fish seems hard and lumpy. Once I killed and cleaned one, and found it was fairly stuffed with snails. Since then I grope the body of a trout often before I release the fish, and most all the time I can feel the bulk of snails. It can be nothing else, and I need no further autopsies to confirm what the trout are eating.

So, thus I reason, the bufflehead is feeding on . . . snails.

Like the naturalist I think I am, I will cling to this notion until sufficient data indicates I am wrong. Then I will begin trying to figure out again what's going on.

- - Comments ()

Cormorant on a snag


Among the delightful signs of approaching winter is the arrival of the double-tufted cormorant. He is a deadly fisher and consumes a great amount of spinyrays and fat trout. Underwater he is as much at home as he is on the surface or in the air.

We have had relatively few of these visitors on Lake Ketchum in past winters, maybe a half-dozen at most, at any given point in time. But when we have our annual meeting of lake monitors for the county, I hear horror stories that leave me feeling most thankful.

Many of those lakes receive a plant of "legal" rainbow trout that number in the tens of thousands. One lake monitor swears the the cormorants follow the hatchery trout form the rearing ponds. I think he exaggerates, but only by a little. Anyway, when the trout arrive in the tanker trucks, the cormorants soon appear, and gorge to their hearts' content.

Today but one cormorant bobbing out on the center of the lake, then disappearing with a neat tuck of his sleek body, leaving hardly a ripple or splash. My how long he can stay underwater: my eyes widen the diameter of the search as time goes by because I know just how far he can range underwater.

A hundred yards? That easily. And when I see him pop to the surface without a fish caught crosswise in his beak I breathe a sign of relief.

He will be luckier next time, I know.

- - Comments ()