Up the Beach — Fall brings blazing beauty, cormorants, clams and coral


Finally … Rain, a small cold snap, anticipation and fall has brought forth some glorious color in the vine maples of red, burgundy, old gold yellow, and even some chartreuse green. The Big leaf maples are just beginning to shed their green except in higher elevations.

The bracken is burnished with golden hues and the white plumes of fireweed are waving heads from tan and ochre stems and leaves.

Looking from wooded banks to the ocean, one can see the beginning froth along the surf line. Depending on the day, the sea is either silvery pewter gray or Caribbean blue.

Saying goodbye

All that blazing beauty seems fitting somehow now that beachers are saying goodbye to some of their favorite people — those who leave comet trails across the memory — People like Francis Hoebucket, Taholah, of the beautiful, twinkling eyes; Richie Rhoads, who was always around Rhoads Grocery at Pacific Beach helping out his Mom and Dad, Cleo and Betty; and Bud Whiteside, an unforgettable character whose undertaking background was such a foil for his incredibly funny humor and his enjoyment of all sorts of people.

Historical homesteads reminders

The Satsop ads for bags-of-bulbs also brings back fall memories to many of the North Beach folks. For it was after a nice, crisp fall drive through the Clearwater and Queets country that old homesteads were visible reminders that many, many folks were given so little time to move out of their homesteads and farms, once the Roosevelt takeover for the National Park occurred.

For many years, especially in the 1960s and ’70s, in the spring, the same drive produced fields of daffodils gone wild, leaving behind thoughts of the women who “prettified” their yards.

Some have memories of wild cattle in the same areas. Of course, further north, Highway 101 still sported signs that warned of open range for cattle.

In the fall, elk suddenly thundering across the highway was always heart stopping, especially during times of rut; but, coming around a curve with a bunch of cows moseying on the highway nearly caused other, unpleasant bodily functions to kick in.

Displaced deer and coyotes

The influx of both deer and coyotes in yards and on curves between the Sandpiper and Pacific Beach is a new phenomenon to be wary of now. The critters, dispossessed by the clear-cuts on both sides of the highway to make room for more Seabrook development, are a reality as their habitat has become diminished. Drivers need to peel their eyes off the ocean and slow down.

Sweet smell of cedar sawdust

Fall is also a great time to roll down the window going past shake and shingle mills to take in the aroma of cedar sawdust. It will really be great when the Crane Creek Division of TMI Forest Products is up and running north of Amanda Park.

One thing will be missing for the old beachers who grew up with the sights and smells of a sawdust will be the burner ‘wigwams’ glowing in the early morning and evening skies. They just don’t meet today’s environmental standards.

But it is heartwarming to see the coastal forest areas sprouting their own version of the Microsoft-techie-like companies coming to life. That is one thing about the maritime climate that piles moisture up against the Olympics. The rainy days produce an area for growing trees like Kansas grow wheat.

Cormorants here and afar

One nice thing about fall rain is that it brings out the cormorants to perch on old piling, docks and driftwood. That black silhouette with outspread wings is a welcome bit of fall home sights. It is both comical and beautiful.

It also brings to mind little eight- or nine-year-old boys in Japanese seacoast villages that use the birds to fish for dinner. Before mealtime, it is their job to slip a ring affixed to a long leash over the cormorant’s neck. They then wade into the surf and send the cormorant out to dive in the ocean to catch a fish. The ring keeps the bird from swallowing its prize.

The boy brings the bird ashore via the lease, pulls out the fish, drops it into a small basket and repeats the process until the evening meal is sufficiently secured. Makes one wonder how many of their moms have fish for supper just to keep a normally ornery boy out of the house at the end of a trying afternoon.

Fall clams fat and tasty

The news from Dan Ayres, that we get two October clam digs sure has the sound pounders happy. The first dig has shown that the fall clams are fat and extremely tasty. Diggers are now anxiously awaiting the next opener.

Ghost net sturgeon

The river fishers find the most interesting news coming out of the net removal project in local rivers is the finding of sturgeon bodies in nets recovered from the Chehalis River – nine white and three green — plus one not yet identified. It seems that sturgeon numbers and species are as changeable as coastal weather when it comes to determining endangerment.

The Quinault Indian Nation’s Marine Resource Scientist, Joe Schmacher, took the lead in finding a solution to the so-called ‘ghost’ nets problems in the ocean, along beaches and in the rivers long before the 2010, $300,000 project became a reality. QIN has stayed at the forefront of the cleanup project.

Mud snails in Blue Slough

It’s too early to tell who will take the lead on dealing with the discovery of the invasive specie, New Zealand mud snails, found in the Blue Slough between Cosi and Montesano. According to US Fish & Wildlife, a single female, via cloning herself, can produce a population of 12 million in three years. They are not just voracious breeders but also voracious eaters that consume up to half of the food resources in tidewater-influenced areas.

Fishers of native trout and salmon can do their share regarding spreading of the little buggers. The Quinaults have, from time immemorial, have fished the river for both sustenance and trade. The mud snails have the ability to survive out of water, so cleaning boat hulls, gear, waders, life vests etc. with a good scrubbing is imperative. Learn more at.gov/18sBX1c

Sasquatch federally protected

Thinking about nature’s “monsters,” it may be comforting to know that the USFWS does have a plan for what the feds would do when the North Beach produces a real live Sasquatch, instead of just good stories. A Department of Interior news release from December 21, 1977—close to the time a Bigfoot scared the bejabbers out of a Grays Harbor Deputy Sheriff on the DeKay Road—explained it all:

Like the Komodo Dragon, discovered in 1912, and the coelacanth in 1938, other creatures may yet be discovered because of their existence in remote areas with limited populations.

“Long-term Federal protection of…Bigfoot would basically be a matter of following…regulatory mechanisms already in place for protecting Whooping cranes and tigers.” So now you know—along with whalebones on the beach, Bald eagle feathers from anywhere, leave Sasquatch alone or the Feds will get you, fine you, or put you in jail! Now that would really be worthwhile fodder for coffee cup talk on the beach.

Coral collection conundrum

Since fall has arrived and the Davidson current has begun its directional swing, beachcombers should find bits of coral in the surf line. Live coral is harvested and shipped around the world primarily for the aquarium trade, according to the USFS. They point out that there is legal trade in coral, but regulations also identify illegal catches and imports.

Confiscation of more than 22 pieces of coral at Sea-Tac airport last year became a massive problem of what to do with the live coral and how in the heck to identify species that would be legal to harvest.

Special agents face quite a challenge because when out of the water and in a dark room, the coral polyps retract into the coral. Each specie has a different polyp—some are lace-like, some have fans or leaves growing from the outer shell. It takes at least an hour for specialists to identify one box of coral, with the average shipment containing 40 boxes.

All in all, it’s a job that sounds worse than taking care of 40 kindergarteners full of Halloween celebration sugar.

Bet those coral inspectors would give anything to be out on the beach, looking at ribbons of kelp, trying to find an agate or driving around, gawking out a car window at fall colors.

Lucky beachers… They get to have it all right in their backyard. Who cares if it’s the beginning of the rainy season? That’s why weatherproof clothes were invented.

Gene Woodwick may be contacted at genewoodwick@coastaccess.com.