January 26, 10 am.
We are geared up and ready to go. The kayaks are loaded with paddles, seats, and our tools. We pull them out into the water and jump in. We are dressed warmly: raingear, boots, and layers, to keep the water and chilly air out. As we paddle out into the still water we are struck by the beauty of this wetland. It is lovely to be out in it, looking back at the land of tall oaks. We head towards the Outlet Creek channel.
There is no current as we glide over the 3 feet 5 inches of inundation (which we measured with our measuring tool). The wetland vegetation is under us, plants like Alisma and Yampah only have their tallest dry stalks showing. One of our missions is to find some beaver chews, places where a beaver has been eating on trees. We know there is a beaver in the south end of the valley but want to make sure that there is also one on the north end.
This is where we have started on our kayak adventure, entering the creek channel, the current picks up and we have to paddle harder. Very shortly we find many beaver signs, some recent chews and some older significant places where large cottonwoods whose trunks have been girdled. There are willows with bark stripped off and alders with big chunks out of them. This is an industrious beaver, but then that is the way they all are!
We head up the creek to another destination, a willow mat, created by my colleagues to help with creek erosion and to encourage more willows to grow. The creek channel is tricky to navigate, there are log jams with lots of trash floating in them from Willits yards, garages, and driveways. We can get through most of it but we decide to go out into the flat expanse of the lake instead and make our way through the field gates.
We paddle out into the tules, scaring up Wood ducks who make their sweet calls as they fly away. Other ducks join them, American wigeon, Mallards, and a large flock of Canadian geese, which fill the air with their honking. It is a sight that makes me feel as though I am in a different place, not in Willits. We are floating out in the middle now surrounded by water on all sides. Easy gliding through this smooth surface. When we finally enter the Outlet Creek channel again, it is moving quite fast. There is no vegetation to get in our way but the paddling is hard. We laugh as we comment about the workout we are getting.
As we near the willow mat, some of us pull out the kayaks and decide to walk the rest of the way while Jacob powers on to the end! We have a lunch break, feeling exhilarated and satisfied to have made it up this far. Heading back, riding the current easily, we cross over a grassy area, and slowly make our way back over the calm flat expanse of the Willits valley Little Lake. The afternoon lighting is soft and warm, making the trip back pleasant.
We look out across the valley as we pull the kayaks out, knowing we won’t see this land the same way now.