Story last updated at 9/16/2009 - 11:48 am
It's a gorgeous sunny Southeast Alaskan afternoon. I'm happily tending my garden next to my waterfront cabin when I hear a short, deep sort of whoosh in the distance, followed closely by two more reports. No doubt what that is! I hurry down to the beach and locate three orcas traveling by in rhythmic shallow dives, their resonating exhalations producing the familiar show of blowhole water vapor. Aha!
I hustle Splashy, my red kayak, down to the water and paddle out in hot pursuit. The killer whales have passed by the north entrance to the strait and are heading toward a cove with (what a coincidence!) a salmon spawning creek. When they swim back out, I'll be ready with my camera.
Once I am about halfway to them however, second thoughts begin filtering through my enthusiasm as I consider my plan a little more at length. The pod has commenced splashing and thrashing violently next to a small cliff. They might divert any moment in my direction with unpleasant results for me.
This insightful feeling is further supported by the shipwrecked harbor seal just ahead, positioned on a lucky bit of rock way out in the water. The seal stares uncertainly at my approach but holds its ground, apparently considering me a lower risk than a pond full of aquatic wolves.
It's a rare treat to get so close to a stationary seal while paddling, but I now seem unable to push on toward the main attraction. Some intervening primal instinct compels me to keep a healthy distance from hungry, unpredictable killer whales.
But you don't have to chase whales to have fun paddling! Imagine cruising along the water's edge at high tide under the soothing aroma of draping cedar branches while enjoying the company of countless wild friends like kingfishers, stellar jays, mink, otters and eagles. Hug the shore at low tide for a glimpse into the world of sea cucumbers, fabulous multi-colored starfish and shuffling crab.
Canoe paddling can be exciting as well. I recently engaged in an expedition down the Thorne River with my two adult sons. Lacking their young, stark bravery, I was good with the middle position. But sitting on the bottom of a canoe is considerably different from the posh seats provided for the rowers. I really was trying to curb my tendency toward alarming noises and helpful advice but some of the shallower, rocky stretches tested my resolve. The admonition to "Calm down, mom," became redundant.
On the good parts of the river we floated serenely along through a lot of beautiful country, noting sightings of high bush cranberry, false hellebore now past flowering, lopsided cedar trees and salmonberry patches.
At one point we made landfall, as it were, and amazingly detached ourselves from our vessel for a hike up a mountainside full of wonders. Right away we discovered a fine, sturdy newt sitting on a cushion of moss under a huge, old-growth spruce. Watermelon berries quenched our thirst and recharged the dauntless paddlers.
We had brilliantly predicted the future with the help of a tide book so the ride back into the bay and up to the boat ramp was assisted by a general flow in our direction. Just as importantly, we prepared for unexpected situations with extra gear and always wear our life jackets.
What a great way to get out and share a little adventure.
Carla Petersen is a remote-living freelance artist and writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org