By Janice Kelley
Saturday, October 28, 2017, 7:20 am, 52 degrees
Why do boats line up on the eastern side of Fair Oaks Bridge? Seven boats sit in line on the American River (from east to west). Fishermen always anchor their boats on the north side of the river. Is the water level deeper on that side? The south side where the boat launch ramp is located tends to be shallow almost half way out.
Two walkers pass. An older man calls out to me, “It is cheaper to buy salmon at the store than to go fishing in the cold. It is freezing out there on the water.” I turned and replied, “Then you miss the experience. You cannot buy the experience.”
It is a rare opportunity when I can ask fishermen why they venture into the cold river before dawn to catch salmon. For devoted fishermen, catching a wild salmon, watching it jump and wriggle and try in vain to escape is the thrilling culmination of a fishermen’s joyful anticipation and planning. Some salmon get away. Their struggle to escape can be stronger than the fishing line. At the final moment after catching the salmon, skillful hands cannot hold the thrashing fish. The salmon wins to fight another day.
I watch the fishermen as they find the best spot and cast their lines. They share fish stories and talk across the water to other fishermen in nearby boats. Many arrive before dawn and eat breakfast on portable grills. These are experiences that no one can buy in a store.
I return to watch the ducks swim by, creating their own small wake in the river. Next I see a circle of pigeons flying above the bridge. Canada Geese swim under the bridge. An Egret flies and lands on the boat launch ramp. Ducks are busy finding breakfast on the boat launch ramp and under the water. I remain in awe how various species of birds take flight and land, using their wings and feet in different, yet very precise ways. Ducks dunk and stay upside down for two minutes searching for food underwater. They paddle their feet to keep them balanced. When ducks come up, they float a while and dunk two, three or four times before moving on to the next spot.
Many waterfowl gather to feed on salmon. I don’t smell the scent of their decaying bodies as much as I have in the past. Two dead salmon lay at the river bottom below the bridge.
I stand and watch a series of circles in the water created by Canada Geese who rise and flap their wings in the air for 20 yards before ever lifting out of the water and rise into the sky. I listen to the sound of the tiny bird, Ti Too. Ti Too as it rests on the truss of Fair Oaks Bridge.
A long time Fair Oaks resident, Janice Kelley is an award-winning author and naturalist, passionate about sharing the wonders and curiosities of the natural world. She provides the creative spark, provocative questions and passion that invites individuals, youth and families to make meaningful connections with the world outdoors. She draws inspiration from the life and quotations of John Muir, Aldo Leopold, Joseph Cornell and other environmental champions.
Janice captures her outdoor experiences in blogs and photography on her website, https://naturelegacies.com. “Mornings on Fair Oaks Bridge, Watching Wildlife at the Lower American River,” is a full-color book featuring a selection of 75 of 200 blogs posts on her website.