Friday, March 3, 2017


                 “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Leonardo da Vinci

A wave of storms has battered the Pacific coast this winter, hitting California particularly hard with heavy rains, mountains of snow and destructive flooding. It has all come after severe a drought that parched much of the state for past six years. So while my area paddling chums are happy with the moisture recharging our area reservoirs and river. All this water, is too much of a good thing, keeping many paddlers away from usual peaceful waters that are now closed off to boating.

So between rains last week, with my familiar neighborhood location's water levels either too high, to treacherous or prohibited to paddling, I found myself at Folsom Lake State Recreation Area's Rattlesnake Bar on the north arm end of the lake. While taking in the flow from the North Fork of the American River, the lake in this past couple of weeks has been either up or down while accommodating California's rainy winter so far this season.

Now there has always been a long portage well past the gate at the boat ramp, as long as I've paddled there. It's been an either lengthy trek down the ramp or an arduous trail along a steep bank to the water. The guidebooks say watch for rattlesnakes, hence the name. However, it should've of warned me about the thick layer of muck and slimy goo left behind after periods of high water blocking my path to the lake.

The easiest path, past the long boat ramp, looked like the La Brea Tar Pits. An oozing 100-yard field of muck, quicksand and flooded weeds before yielding to the lake. Going through there with my kayak in tow, I imagine myself quickly being sucked under like a scene out of Tarzan movie and entombed as a fossil of the lake.

The other path, much longer, of course, is a steep mountain goat like trail until you hit a slippery slope sediment and rock about 20-yards or so down to the water.  Choosing this track with my kayak on my shoulder, I slid through the gunk down to the water edge like I was on ice skates.

Even away from the muddy shoreline, I was not far from its dinge. The fluctuating lake levels of this winter season had left the water a silty and turbid brown. It will, of course, clear up by summer, but now, it appeared as the color of coffee and cream. It was similar to my days on the Red River between North Dakota and Minnesota. There, I watch the blade of my paddle disappear with every stroke into the murky water, only to reappear after leaving it.

I have paddle upstream here before, even portaged through shallow rapids just past where the North Fork of the American River flows into the lake. However,
on this trip, the current was confused agitated, pushing my sea kayak in all different directions. Gone were the idle pools of summer, replaced by boils, hard eddy lines and perturbed water that had other ideas.  After the first mile of going upstream, my kayak and I bent back, yielding to its flow and followed the lake's rocky shoreline.

Like the veins of blood returning to the heart, the water gushes back into the lake. Tiny capillaries of ravines, fissures and crevices inundated with water, stream back to the vital artery of the river. It's plumber's nightmare. That constant resonance of running water from either that slow meticulous drip, drip, drip to the sound of that rushing cascade.

"Water does not resist," wrote Canadian poet, and environmental activist Margaret Atwood, "Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing, in the end, can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does."

Drifting alone, along the shore I find stream after stream flowing back to the lake. In one spot, a surge of water was passing through a green meadow, in another the water was rushing through a rocky gap, looking a mountain stream of crystal clear effervescence. The unexpected waterfall comes after twisting through the meandering channel just across from where I put in. A sweeping stream had cut away the side of the bank producing a mini version of the horseshoe-shaped Niagara Falls spilling over an embankment. It was the payoff for my afternoon paddle.

As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can. -- John Muir