I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve rowed, paddled, or motored the Sammamish Slough. It’s not my closest launching ramp—it’s a half-hour drive from my Seattle home—but the slough is well protected from wind and never stirred up by powerboat wakes. I can always get a good workout by kayaking 5 miles upstream to a gravel bar where I have to turn around and paddle back. Last summer, I did that out-and-back two or three times a week.
A few days ago, I needed to take a long-overdue break from all the things I had yet to do, not only for work, but also around the house. I was tempted to take a nap, as I had been doing with increasing frequency, but that never seemed to put me back to rights. Exercise is usually a good remedy, but I was finding it difficult to muster any enthusiasm even for my favorite workout, paddling the slough. I’d seen it all so many times that I could visualize what lies on the banks of every bend. I balked at going to all the trouble of gathering my gear, changing my clothes, loading the kayak, and making the drive to the launching site. I didn’t have it in me to paddle my usual 10 miles, but I knew I’d be worse off if I gave up entirely and stayed home.
I loaded my lapstrake canoe and, along with the usual boating gear, brought a sleeping pad, two pillows, and my cagoule, thinking I’d take a nap on board.
From the ramp I paddled just 3⁄4 mile upstream to a small inlet I’ve passed many times, but never entered. The entrance was only about 15′ wide, and the bight ended just 50 yards in, where it was just wide enough for the canoe. I stepped out onto the bank of spongy marsh grass that compressed almost 1′ as I put my weight on it. If there was solid ground beneath the mat of last year’s now tawny stalks and leaves, I couldn’t feel it. I dragged the canoe out of the water and settled it in the marsh.
I cleared the gear from the forward end of the cockpit and rolled my sleeping pad out on the floorboards. I stepped aboard and lay down on my back. The paddling had already lifted me out of the morning’s lethargy, and I was content to look up at a patch of empty sky, only vaguely catching sight of the lacy, leafless treetops at its perimeter. The floaters in my eyes made the vault of blue look like pond water under a microscope that’s not yet in focus. Translucent specks and chains, like jellyfish and algae, drifted back and forth as if washed by waves. After several minutes, I noticed two pepper-black specks among the other varied shapes that weren’t drifting with the same rhythm, but instead were slowly orbiting on opposite sides of a common center between them. As I watched, the specks grew larger, and each became oblong until I realized they were the wings of two eagles. Even before I could make out their heads, their tails flashed white as each curved northward and the sunlight glinted through their tailfeathers. The pair drifted by, some 200′ above the marsh, without a single flap of their wings, crossing the sky from west to east. They passed by the half-moon, chalk white dappled with the ash gray of its dark plains.
A fly raced past directly above me and in my darting glance, all the floaters chased after it. Muscae volitantes is the Latin name for floaters—flying flies.
It was warm in the cockpit where the sunlight slanted into the hull and the breeze crossing the coaming cooled only my forearms as they rested on my chest. Beyond the bow, a stand of birch trees was newly in leaf and the clustered trunks and angled branches were not yet masked. The leaves at the crown, fluttering in the wind, sparkled like lime-green sequins.
I stayed until the sun settled to port into the spindly tops of as-yet-leafless trees a few dozen yards down the slough from the inlet. I stowed my gear, dragged the canoe around to launch bow-first, and stepped aboard to paddle back to the ramp.
In all my outings on the slough, I have been there for some purpose: exploration at first, then regular exercise and occasional blackberry picking, and this time to take a nap. Paddling had awakened me so I could rest without sleeping; I was content just to be present. I had arrived exhausted, opened myself up to experience the slough without purpose, and returned home restored.
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