Up the Beach — Lots to do at the beach to chase away those weary winter doldrums


The lassitude of this winter season in-between-time on the beach seems like a good time to forget that our February weather has changed in recent years from gorgeous sunshine days to piddling glimpses of wan sunlight. It’s too early to look forward to windy March beachcombing jaunts. This weary lethargy that accompanies winter doldrums does not make one good company on the home front.

Keep your eagle eye out

So, what is one to do?

Go look for eagles that’s what.

For weak-eyed folks, eagles are a winter bird watching treat as the bare deciduous trees make for better viewing of these magnificent birds perched in snags over Lake Quinault. Washington and Oregon have more bald eagles than any other place in the U.S.; approximately 2,000 or a little over 300 nesting pairs in the two states. Lake Quinault is one of the traditional wintering grounds for the birds, and for local folks, they know the eagles are less affected by the vast numbers of outlanders to the area in the winter than the summer.

Sometimes the immature eagles are thought to be other forms of hawks. Bald (which by the way comes from the word “balde” meaning white) eagles do not get their pristine, white head and tail feathers until they are about four to five years old.

Those who live on the beach also are fortunate to see Golden eagles often. They are more likely to be spotted in the Humptulips drainages perched lower to the ground or on fence posts.

Bald eagles seem to prefer chum salmon but doesn’t mind lunching on other varieties, as well. They eat small animals and are scavengers. Perhaps that is why the crows seem to hate them so much. It is not unusual to see the beach’s huge, black crows hassling an eagle.

Canoe racing history

If tromping around in the wet doesn’t have much appeal, you can always call the Lake Quinault Museum (360- 288-2317) and arrange a tour of the facility located in the Old Quinault Mercantile. Take a gander at the Justine James Sr. racing canoes display and learn about the long, great tourist attraction those canoes’ history provides.

The collection of 100 years of photography is well worth inspecting to learn about the folk history of this area that is rapidly turning into an extension of the flatlanders’ urban areas.

Gaton Creek falls is full of water bouncing and gurgling over the rocks. All four of the falls on South Shore Drive are always worth taking your camera out for photos to send to folks living in all those dry, southwest states. It’ll make ’em weep!

Elk crossings

Of course, if you get up early or stay until late afternoon exploring the north neighborhood, chances are you’ll see some of the elk herds. What a glorious sight for local folks who never get over being able to see them up close and personal.

Personally, what this writer wants to know is — what did the original elk look like before the Rocky Mountain elk were imported? Old timers told tales of a far different critter than what is seen today. Now that is a topic worth hearing about over a good cup of coffee.

Chow Chow leaves a lake

Drinking coffee and gazing at Lake Quinault is a good way to forget the doldrums and wonder about why in the heck that lake is there. The Hoh and Queets areas have seen successions of glaciers slide down the mountainous flanks of the Olympic Mountains forming various valleys. Not so Lake Quinault. It has only seen two major glacial advances, the Chow Chow and the Humptulips, the later advancing to about two miles from the Pacific Ocean.

During the retreat of the glacier an area growing in a lake-like appearance was created. After a time, the Chow Chow glacier created moraines with silty, glacial large rounded boulders. At the foot of the Olympic Mountains it formed the nearly six-mile basin that is now Lake Quinault.

In the upper Quinault Valley at the northwest of the basin, there is a bench lying against the mountain that was deposited during the retreat of the Chow Chow glacier. This is an area where Black bear and elk herds often can be spotted.

While local folks think of the lake as being “tourist” land, it actually belongs to the Quinault Indian Nation. The early exploration and settlement of the area contains many stories of those who lived, walked and worked this land for subsistence and survival long before tourists began coming to see it.

And those early settlers were not enamored of the 132-inch overall annual rainfall either. Talk about the doldrums — a basically windowless cabin surrounded by massive trees miles away from a neighbor with that kind of rain pouring out of the sky at the end of February must not have been conducive to creating merry housewives with kids and husband underfoot.

Salp sightings

At least they didn’t have to put up with the strange salps showing up on the coast. Allan Rammer, fount of interesting info about all sea phenomena, has been educating folks that these five-inch jellyfish-like creatures aren’t some monstrous accident of nature. Marine biologists have known they are extremely efficient filter feeders that eat particles ranging through four orders of magnitude in size; kind of like eating everything from a mouse to a horse in their microscopic world.

Now scientists understand that as salps move through the water, they remove carbon dioxide from the water, and then expel it in fecal pellets that fall to the bottom of the ocean, thus allowing more space on upper levels of water for carbon. That limits the amount of carbon dioxide that goes into the atmosphere. Who says just because things are ugly they aren’t worth their weight in gold? And, boy howdy, weren’t all the clam diggers happy when Dan Ayers announced the Feb. 22-23 clam dig at Twin Harbors and Long Beach. Since one clam was selling in a grocery store recently for almost $13, diggers and eaters ought to be happy.

Happy also are concerned people that the Quinault Indian Nation has been reminding folks that marijuana is still illegal on reservation lands, regardless of the changes in state law scheduled to go into effect this year.

But, living on the beach you just really don’t need happy grass… There are simply too many things to see and to wonder about, even when the lethargy of the weary winter doldrums blot out the winter sun.

Gene Woodwick can be reached at (360) 289-2805 or via email at genewoodwick@coastaccess.com.