Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sitting Along the Umpqua River

        When we first arrive at a boat landing along the Umpqua River, Oregon,  I disturb a raucous crow family.  Two crows caw in a nearby tree and two more fly by facing into the morning sun.  A rosy glow highlights the forward edge of their wings and head; rosy, not because I got up early enough to greet the sunrise, but rosy because the sun is softened by wildfire smoke. The dirty haze hangs in the river valley, gradually softening forms farther and farther away.  The moon glowed yellow last night and the sun rose as a bright red fireball this morning.  It is one of our smokiest days this summer.

The fires aren't near.  I don't even know which fire has dirtied the sky.  A big fire to the southwest, over 150 miles away has been burning for weeks; a smaller one, about  30 miles southeast, is under control, but may be still smoking; and 100 miles to the north another has been burning for several days.  I'll breath a deep sigh of relief when the fall rains finally come. 

I'd forgotten how pleasant the Umpqua River is at this time of year.  The Umpqua is low, way low, but the water that rushes down the middle, between the bare rocks of the riverbed, is clear and cold.  Along the edge where I'm sitting on a cool rock I look down into clear, shallow, quiet water.  Big fat bullfrog tadpoles like the shallows, and so do some four inch bass.   Skittering on top of the water are two types of water striders, 'tiny' and 'tinier'.  

Tiny is a 'riffle bug.'  They are less than a quarter inch long and hang out clusters. Their legs are blunt and they are constant motion machines.

Tinier isn't a cluster-bum like the riffle bugs.  There are several, but lots of space in between.  Tinier's body is less than an eighth inch; his legs are ever so thin.  First impression is they float just above the water's surface, but then I see a tiny dimple where their legs touch the water. 

A great blue heron hunts the shallow water not far from shore.  He spots us and flies to a rock father away. Time to preen.  Nearby a family of common mergansers have also come out onto the rocks. 

It's going to be another hot summer day, but signs of fall have started.  Ash leaves are yellowing and starting to fall, fewer dragonflies are flying, and a noisy flock of Canada geese fly in from upriver.  They land in the river but soon come out of the water onto the far shore.  Turkey vultures and osprey are still here.  Soon they'll be heading south.

When I first came down to the river edge, the rocks were cool.  The sun has been warming them and now out comes a young lizard, probably a fence lizard.  I was hoping one would come along while I paint.  They usually hide when I approach, but I'm sitting quietly.  He is curious little fella -- comes right up to within a foot of my shoe.  I sit still, feeling privileged to be part of his world.


  1. I can almost imagine myself sitting next to you with my toes in the cool water, thank you for such an atmospheric description.

  2. Wonderful as usual. You sum up what I see too, better then I can sum it up. It's been horribly smokey here. We do need some rain soon. Is this the south or north umpqua? Or are you below both?

    1. I'm downriver from where the rivers join ... So its just the Umpqua River. We're about 20 miles west of the little tiny 'town' of Umpqua -- if two buildings make a 'town.' There is a post office in one of the buildings so I guess it is a town.