Tomales Bay 95

Friday's packing seemed unusually laborious for some reason.
Perhaps we'd been doing it too often. In the morning, we rose
late as always, to start only 5 minutes late. Drove from the
sunshine into fog, arriving at Miller County park 15 minutes
late. Larry and Shelly, the trip leaders, were waiting for us
with the only other Saturday arrivee, a girl called Beth. We
loaded the boat quickly amidst the confusion of all the salmon
fisherman launching their sea-going boats. Fog and quiet
water on the short paddle to Hog Island, where everyone else
was already camped from Friday night. Many
willing hands carried all our stuff, including some that should
have stayed in the boat, up the short hill to the campsites.
Spanish moss choking the trees, the entire island one flat
grassy pleasant campsite. We pitched on the topmost hillock,
with views in all directions, mostly of fog.

Not everyone went on the day's paddle. Met Wayne and Jenny
who were with Beth, the three of them paddling in some
combination an aluminum Grumman and a funny little thing
called a Poke Boat. Those staying behind included Bill, a
marine biologist (I think), his wife/? Shelley - they went crab
potting to catch some dinner - and Rod Hall & his wife whose
name I can't remember.

Started off up the east shore. I saw an osprey flying overhead,
then it turned over and plummeted into the water. The dive
seemed to move much faster than gravity could account for.
The wings didn't simply fold up against the body, rather they
seemed to crook backwards into a downward-pointing V
shape. Went through an oyster farm, yards and yards of small
black metal cages suspended in the top few inches of water.
Rafts of pelicans, cormorants, terns, and seagulls loitered
hopefully around the farm. Seals poked their grey heads up to
look at the canoes, subsiding slowly backwards - nose last -
into the water if we got too close. Powerful fishy smells from
the perches of the pelicans and cormorants. Pelicans diving
for fish looked like a sack of feathers thrown in the water, an
ungainly flop and commotion, most unlike the swift elegant
movements of the osprey. Helen was taking compass bearings
on every point of land just in case the fog came down. 

Beached the canoes at another Audubon reserve. Dead seals
had washed up on the shore, the little girls went off to
investigate and collected old seal bones to take to school for
show and tell. We walked up a hill to sit at the edge of a cliff
to have lunch. Turkey buzzards soared around the hills, once
we saw a marsh harrier, distinctive white rump patch
flashing. A seal community was resting on a sand bar half a
mile away. Their grunts and whistles came quite clearly
across the water. Chatted to Beth about birds, two good
friends of hers had done Phd's in ornithology, one of whom
was now studying the Carolina wren. She had a doctorate in
something related to environmental chemistry (?).

Went out, closer to the seals, but stayed beyond the 200 yard
limit to avoid disturbing them. We passed some others
relaxing on a sandbar, bodies arched with heads and tails
above water. These rushed into the water as we approached.
Paddled across the bay to the other shore, riding through a
swift riffle where the tide was running fast over a shallow bar.
A yacht from Oregon was trying to get up into the bay but
getting his keel stuck on the bar. This went on all the time we
were there. 

We all got out and fossicked around the rocks and
seaweed, finding anemones, starfish, hermit and ghost crabs,
etc. Paddling up against the tide we stayed close to shore in
the slack water, passing over a great variety of seaweeds. In
one favoured place that looked like all the other places, there
was a concentration of starfish in orange, red and yellow, a
sudden underwater garden. On the fronds of kelp at the
surface were creatures called (phonetic spelling here)
'nudelbrains', snail-like, with sky-blue filaments moving in
the currents. Arrived at the white bluffs visible from the
island and looked for tule elk in the hills. They were
somewhere else. The fog hung over the water in a cool wind
that tattered its edges but did nothing to dispel it. A marsh
harrier flew low, only a foot or two up, above the grasses
around the muddy flats of low tide.

Back at the island, the mist was driving through our campsite
on the breezes. Chilly. Opened a beer and started thinking
about dinner. Bill had a cooler full of big crabs while Rod's
Dutch oven simmered over a batch of beef stroganoff. Felt
quite shy about our humble stew. A loon called, out in the
channel, and we walked over to watch it drift in with the now
flooding tide. Talked with Bill for a bit about loons, crab
potting, and fishing. Dinner began at 6:30 over a fire of
artificial logs composed of sawdust and wax. Most of the
people there were old friends, so there were some 'in' jokes.
Much was made of Larry's bandaged head, the story went that
Shelley had closed her car trunk on him and half killed him.
Shelley didn't say much about this, just giggled a lot in an
embarrassed way. It turned out in the morning that it was
actually an operation to remove a skin cancer, but as Larry
said, the car trunk was a much better story. He'd told a
second-grader at his school that he'd had an operation to get a
new brain, as the old one wasn't working too well; the child
believed him and disrupted his teacher's class the whole day
with stories of Mr. Deckerd's new brain. 

It was Kit's birthday , 60th, which I couldn't believe at first. Fran had made a cake
which she and Chloe went to fetch after dinner. Chloe then
started a campfire circle whisper to sing 'happy birthday' to
Kit when the cake came. This message got no further than me
and Kevin. Helen whispered it to me, then I leant over and
cleared my throat as if preparing to make a speech. Kevin
started grooming his beard and hair with his fingers in
preparation for this romantic encounter, and we all started
laughing too hard to say anything. The singing was
nonetheless general when the cake arrived. I'd eaten far too
much, slumped stuporously over my aching belly.

Wayne, Beth and Jenny went off and found that the water was
alive with the luminous algae that sometimes showed up in
the bay. Any movement in the water ignited a green
phosphorence, even the small lapping of ripples on the sand
glittered with sparks. Rocks or sand thrown in blossomed in
pale fire. We took the canoe out, with Jenny as passenger in
the middle. Helen of course worried about finding our way
back to the island. It was like paddling through Fantasia, or a
dream. The paddles struck light deep into the clear water, the
little waves of our passage flowed back in smooth lines of
green. We startled a school of small fish, which scattered and
fled, their paths like so many submarine fireworks.

After that I almost didn't mind doing the washing up. Took
my sore belly to sleep. The fog never shifted, all through the
night. In the morning, we breakfasted slowly while chatting
to Kit, Kevin, etc. Kit was born in France, at his Dutch
father's dairy farm. They left in 1940, just ahead of the Nazis.
He told us the story of being separated from his parents at the
railway station, then being thrown bodily over the heads of
the crowd by someone unknown, through the window of their
compartment. Figured out from this that he could easily be
60, although he looks late 40's at worst. Must be all the
paddling. Jennifer didn't emerge until 9, the poor child has
my sympathies, I'm not good with mornings either. Chloe was
climbing the trees and had to be rescued once or twice. A spit
of sand arcing out from the island had filled up with birds as
the tide rose. Chloe and Jennifer rushed out yelling to flush
the whole flock, much to their satisfaction.

We thought we were going to need our compass bearing to
get back to the dock, but the mist lifted at about 10 so we
could see it dimly. Paddled slowly and reluctantly back, to
catch Helen's plane to Ohio at 2 pm.