Greeted by the chatter of the kingfishers and the cry of the ospreys, we rose early to cloudy skies. Our unwelcomed neighboring campers did not stir; they were up late, menfolk swilling beers and exchanging insults.
I made a pot of coffee and got breakfast together before Steve was up, enjoying the quiet murmur of the morning sounds. Steve got coffee served while still in his bag, but eventually joined me in the lounge chairs. Three cedar waxwings flew in – we solemnly watched each other. My experience with waxwings are the chattering, fussing flock that would breeze through my yard every spring, feasting on the Cotoneaster berries along the fence. But, these birds are silent and still, making it easy to examine their fierce black eye markings and the flashy red “wax” of their wingtips.
We decide to move on, getting well ahead of our discourteous neighbors. A few of the group had started moving as we enjoyed our morning coffee, but it would be hours before they got themselves and their dozen coolers packed up and back on the river.
A baggage boat from another trip floats by our camp – they passed our camp yesterday, too, but they had landed well before we planned to stop. This is borderline river etiquette – sending baggage boats racing ahead of the main group to snag campsites ahead of other groups. While this assures that a large group gets a large enough site, this also violates the social mores of keeping all the trip together. It spells out the difference between commercial trips, controlling the uncertainty for their guests, and the private parties, like us, who are there to experience what the river brings, and not to maintain an itinerary and schedule.
The oarsman on the baggage boat tells us that they are headed for Buckskin Mary, one of the last, large camps before the BLM drive-in camps above Maupin. We had vaguely considered boating down to Buckskin Mary ourselves – it’s one of the last shady places to stage before the last run to the take-out. We contemplated other options, not wanting to leave too many miles to cover tomorrow to Maupin.
Soon after we pushed off from shore, we saw a family of kestrels. Like the osprey, the fledglings were nearly full grown, but still certain that their parents were responsible for their meals. It made me wonder about the success rate of the transition to self-feeding, and if there are those who never make the transition. I find myself wishing the success rate is high.
As the morning unfolds, the clouds break up. This stretch of the river is more open: fewer ospreys and kingfishers, and many more crows and signs of human habitation. Another family of kestrels and a family of Canada geese, and plenty of mergansers, ducks, and turkey vultures; one single red-tailed hawk.
We checked out a couple of camps once we cleared the private property, and pulled over at Hole in the Wall for a “comfort break.” Steve pulled out his rod and started casting. A flotilla of noisy Boy Scouts came around the bend – the group attached to the baggage boats. They only had paddles and minimal gear in their rafts; to be on this stretch of the river meant you had to have camped at least one or two days on the river. That sealed it for us: if there 18 noisy Boy Scouts headed to Buckskin Mary, then we were not. We unloaded the boat right then and there, set up our chairs in the shade and pulled out lunch and the cribbage board.
The clouds began to darken in the west, and suddenly there was a flash of lightning and crack of thunder in the distance. We waited to see if this would build to anything of substance. It did. The wind began to gust, and we jumped up to set up the tent as the clouds began to spatter rain. A gust picked up the tent, complete with our sleeping bags and clothing inside, before we could get the corners staked down. By the time we got everything gathered and secured, climbing into the tent was like climbing into a small, ripstop nylon sauna. The incoming front had not dropped the temperatures, and when our tent is buttoned down, there is no real circulation of outside air.
It rained hard, but briefly. We were soon back out in our (damp) chairs, with a flock of bushtits picking off all the little insects accumulated in the branches of the hackberry tree above us. They were unconcerned by us, and came back several times to glean bugs from the tree. We watched chukar among the rocks on both sides of the river, and were treated to the song of a canyon wren as the sun slid closer to the horizon. Frenzied hatches of caddisflies circled the tops of bushes and the tops of our heads – we wondered if they would disappear before the bats came out for the evening. The moon rose, a dazzling display on the water for such a not-nearly full orb.