June 28, 2015
We pulled into the recreation area at the southern end of Bear Lake, and marveled at the warm, turquoise water. At Rendezvous Beach people were enjoying the final hours before sunset, in heartland American fashion, with a burger and raspberry shake in the sand beside the lake. From what we saw in town a little later when we went shopping at the grocery store, the raspberry shakes here are famous. Everywhere you looked was a restaurant or burger stand advertising that they had the best raspberry shakes.
We drove to our campsite, which turned out to be in a field right next to the camp host, even though there were many other open sites, including two on a quite little loop right beside Big Creek. We figured that the high school girl working the office had just picked a site for us at random, so we drove back to the office and asked for the exact site we wanted, Big Creek #39. With no trouble at all we were able to secure this awesome spot, where a bald eagle chilled in a tree, just on the other side of the creek!
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was clearly a resident, who nested with their mate and year-old chicks in a tall snag in the center of the campground. The chicks were fully fledged with all their dark brown feathers. Their heads won’t be the distinctive white of the American icon until they are four or five years old. They probably return yearly for the lake’s abundant fish.
As we walked down to the lake, I admired the way this yellow flower directly contrasted with the cyan color of the lake. The lake owes it’s stunning color to the naturally occurring mineral calcium carbonate particles that wash in from the creeks in the Bear River watershed. The calcium carbonate in the water has amazing chemical properties that keep algae levels in the lake very low, which makes it ideal for swimming or mud fights! Whether you’re a Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) or human ape.
Low amounts of algae aren’t just aesthetically pleasing, they’re essential to the health of the lake’s ecosystem. Algae sucks oxygen out of the water, the same dissolved oxygen that the fish breathe. Lots of algae grows in creeks when fertilizers run off lawns and large scale agricultural fields. Too much algae in the water can cause fish to die off. Whatever hurts the fish also hurts birds that rely on eating fish to survive, like the eagles and the grebes. The chemicals that cascade into Bear River from the creeks, whether they’re calcium carbonate or fertilizer or DDT (in the “good” old days), directly impact the lives of the fish and birds. When DDT was used to kill insects, their poison laden bodies were washed into the creeks and eaten by the fish. Then the insecticide accumulated in the bodes of the birds, like the eagles, who ate hundreds of fish that were fattened by thousands of insects that were each killed by just a little DDT. Earlier in the last century, the number of eagles dropped dramatically. America’s icon was endangered. Something invisible was making it impossible for eagles to breed successfully. Scientific studies revealed that the DDT made the eggshells of eagles and many other species of birds so brittle that the parent’s broke their own eggs when they tried to incubate them. When DDT was banned in the USA, eagle populations rebounded. Without the grassroots movement against DDT that was launched by Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring,there might not be eagles casually nesting beside Bear Lake in 2015.
As we walked along the shore, we found two ground scores: a goofy foam piece of someone’s toy, and a tiny white feather that floated up to us, which we felt had good energy and still hangs on our van’s rear view mirror.
The sunlight falling on the grass rippled back up out, reflected on tiny filaments that remind me of fiber optics cables that carry our modern communications at the speed of light. Suddenly I find myself wondering what signal, what message would be carried through the inflorescence (the flower head) of the grass.
As the sun set back at camp, I thought about how normally, in my mainstream life, I’d still be checking emails at this gorgeous time of day. Thinking about things I didn’t want to think about, and unable to shut out the intrusion of business into my evening.
Instead, now I was admiring every small detail of the evening, from the shifting fiery shades of the sunset all the way down to the numerous, minuscule blooms on the native grasses. Just being able to have time for these observations is one of my definition of luxury. This is also why when Alexander the Great asked what he could give Diogenes (my favorite Greek philosopher/ a guy who lived in a wine barrel), all the bum wanted was for the rich king to step aside slightly so he wasn’t blocking the sun. My van is nicknamed Barrel in homage to Diogene’s humble home and lifestyle.
We had planned to spend just one night here as we passed through to Montana on the way to Spokane. But with one day over, and still not nearly enough time spent in the inviting water of Bear Lake, we decided to stay and spend tomorrow on our inflatable kayak, paddling the lake and enjoying the weather. I didn’t have the camera out while we were kayaking, but I wish I had pictures of how we paddled first one of us then the other, and then both. I rode behind Morgan on the back of the little inflatable as he paddled us down to the burger stand and back. However, I did get one final picture from our campsite of a dove and a kestrel perched peacefully together.
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