Return to Second Wind

Natural Selections


Lucia Falls
Battle Ground, WA

Okay. I admit it. I'm a fair weather camper. I don't mind cold, or even a little snow. But I hate rain that comes and sits on top of you for days.

So I fled Kalalock, and the coast in general. When I hit I5 a bit of blue appeared. By the time I reached BD's place in Battle Ground, the weather was sunny and summery again. Hah! I'm a steely-eyed Rver. I laugh at weather. Hah!

And then I run like hell on wheels.

I stayed in BD's driveway for a couple of days. I can't believe he wants to sell this place. It feels like home to me, though I've never been here before. The house is backed up to the south bank of a hill covered with old timber, and there's a line of firs planted along the sides and the road. In the middle of that box, four acres or so are clear, a gentle slope of mowed greensward. The trees and hill give privacy, and the open center draws your eye upward to a wonderful view of the southern and eastern sky.

If BD could bottle this place, his fortune would be made. Call it Soul's Rest. An elixir you'd want to keep on the top shelf, like any addictive thing, but you could take it down for a restorative sip now and then, whenever you were feeling low. Heck, I might even spring for a traveling flagon or two myself, if it weren't too dear.

On Friday, BD volunteered to show me the many sights of the great city of Battle Ground, WA. While we were at the Post Office, I noticed a brand new one ton van with a lot of expensive lettering on the side, advertising a home delivery pet food service. Now I know there are shut-ins enough to justify a general delivery service for groceries and such. And there are catalogues for mail order items. But can you really make a living home-delivering pet food alone, in a spread-out semi-rural area like this? Evidently someone thinks so.

I mentioned my amazement to BD, and he told me about a fellow who makes something of a living out of owl pellets. It seems that when an owl swallows a mouse whole, as they are wont to do, not all of it is processed through the gut. Stomach juices eat up everything but the hide and the intact skeleton, and these are rolled into a little ball and regurgitated. They usually get rid of it promptly each evening, when leaving the roost to hunt again.

Now it may seem counterintuitive, but there is a market for these little balls of hair and bone. Somebody packages them commercially for high school biology classes, with an explanatory brochure, a pair of tweezers, and perhaps a small blunt probe. Apparently they are all the rage, and each owl pellet can bring as much as 25 cents wholesale. In old barns, the sort that are collapsing all over the country, you can find windrows of them. Piles. Thousands. If left too long they will dry out and deteriorate, so you have to shovel and rake through all this stuff and find the layers of nice moist ones.

Wear a mask. It gets mighty dusty in there.

Yes, friends, it seems it is possible to fill up garbage sacks with owl-vomited mouse mummies from many an old barn or abandoned building. And then package and sell them. It's just a matter of getting permission. Or sneaking around, which is a romantic touch. The notorious Owl Pellet Gang.

Think about this the next time you believe you are dissatisfied with your present job. It may not be the berries, but maybe...just's still a cut above "inside man at the owl vomitorium". Some people will put anything in a resume.

I found the story truly inspiring. There's just no end to human ingenuity, when it comes to making a buck. God bless us every one.

We talked about all this over lunch, believe it or not. Afterwards, BD took me on a tour of some of the local county parks. We got an unexpected bonus at Lucia Falls, near the headwaters of the Lewis River. Steelhead trout and salmon were spawning, and trying to climb the falls.

It was a remarkable sight. These fish have come hundreds of miles from the sea. Up the Columbia, up the Lewis River, into smaller and smaller tributaries. Their journey ends here, or perhaps a mile or two further up. The falls are in ragged steps 6-10 feet high, the river is running strong, and the pools below are all froth and roar.

You can't see a thing down there, but in the extreme shallows on the north bank you can watch them lining up, sometimes touching, their upright black dorsal fins showing above the water. Are they conserving their strength? Gathering courage? Or are they like a line of children in school, each daring the others to do something truly outrageous?

There's a leap every 5 minutes of so, sometimes several at a time. The salmon were larger. Suddenly out of the foam a muscular two feet or so of shining silver and black will rise straight up, 5 or 6 feet above the water. Sometimes they seem to hang there in the clear air for a moment, a dazzling display of hope and will and beauty, before gravity claims them.

They have no thought of failure. They hold nothing back. So when failure comes, it is truly awful. They fall badly, flailing sideways onto the sharp rocks, bouncing down to the next tier, and then below. At every bounce they flop and twist and struggle as though expecting to find purchase even there, to swim through the air. Then they're gone.

Some must succeed. But we could not tell. Their failures are repeated public catastrophes. Their victories, if any, are private, swallowed by the water. They don't come back to brag.

In the shallows downstream, well below the falls, a few female salmon gave up the climb. This was it. Good enough. No time left. They circle and circle, guarding small patches of sand on the bottom. Their bellies are a deep dull red, distended, gorged with eggs, their fins beginning to turn a deadly mushroom white from the edges in.

They are nervous, eager, combative with each other, looking for a male. Their urgency is obvious. They have only hours left, maybe minutes, to spill their eggs, and for the male to spill his milt over them, into them, and then the job is done.

They are worn out. They will begin to die almost immediately.

But it was a glorious run.


Return to Around the Campfire
Comments are welcome in the rec.outdoors.rv-travel newsgroup,
or to
© Copyright 2003-2008 Bob Giddings, All Rights Reserved
Webspace provided by Arcata Pet Supplies