I opened my front door to see the end of the brilliant pink strips of sunrise just before they faded to gray. By the time I reached Fair Oaks Bridge, bright white and scattered clouds showed no sign of the intense colors they held only moments before. The sun was already shining yellow over the horizon. Today the chilly air feels heavy with moisture.
Today is the final day of fishing in this part of the American River for the rest of the year. I saw so no one catch salmon and missed their leaps high enough out of the water to be seen. I missed seeing their struggles to set themselves free – seeing only a few random splashes instead.
Other bridge visitors told me that salmon were swimming out in the river, but more of them had already reached the weir at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. I will be looking for leaping salmon at “the narrows,” passage upriver in November during the heaviest part of the fall run.
I am surprised there is still no scent of decaying salmon. Nearly 100 seagulls gather and wait in the American River and on the sandbar a mile east of Fair Oaks Bridge. I watch and wonder when will the salmon show themselves?
The Great Blue Heron poses like a statue in the American River. It stood on the stub of a branch before I arrived and continued to pose and study the river long after I walked off Fair Oaks Bridge. Water is still. The sky pale blue and clear. Not a wisp of a cloud. A dozen ducks swim by, creating their own wake. Pigeons fly in dancing over the bridge and quickly depart.
I walk to the boat launch ramp and see the ducks gather at the end of the ramp, looking at me with curiosity. They are likely wondering, Do you have food for us? I have no food to share. I hear an unseen woodpecker softly drumming on a nearby tree.
This peaceful place is an escape from other crises of the day. As I stand here and enjoy its beauty, catastrophic wildfires consume other areas of California – places of peace, joy and beauty where people and wildlife have lived and loved for years.
All is quiet this morning. Boats are gone. Phoebe calls from the top of Fair Oaks Bridge. I finally identified the bird that greets me with Ti Too! Ti Too! I stand in the cool, moist air with no breeze. My hands are chilled. White clouds scatter across the sky reminding me of spilled milk. Clouds reflect in the American River. My camera’s eye sees the reflections more clearly than mine. Occasionally I hear a splash and look to see the concentric circles in the river – the sign of a salmon leap.
Where are the Buffleheads? I have yet to see even one swim through the center of the river channel, diving for breakfast.
A few ducks and a single Canada Goose swim downriver. Their wake extends half way across the river. Five Canada Geese fly silently overhead heading west. Then the Phoebe calls again. It is the only sound this morning besides the hum of Sunrise Blvd. traffic about half mile to the west.
Chickens are quiet in Fair Oaks parks. None of them are out searching for food on Bridge Street. Birds whistle and chirp, hidden in trees near Fair Oaks Bridge. Ice clings loosely to the car windshield. I wear my hooded jacket, leggings and gloves.
Heavy mist hangs in the air as if suspended by invisible wires. The blanket of mist begins behind a curve in the river corridor at far right of photo. Ducks create their own wake as they swim in the still water. I hear the call of a seagull in the distance. So few of them are watching and waiting near the boat launch ramp. I have seen far less salmon this year than last year or the year before.
I watch the mist cloud roll slowly forward along the surface as waves gently cover the shoreline at a beach.
Thin strips of golden clouds line the sky just above the emerging yellow sun. Bridge deck is dry even though the air is filled with moisture. Strips of water crossing the deck marking the site of upright posts is the only clue of moisture in the air. A dozen cyclists pass by. No walkers. I walk to the boat launch ramp to enjoy a closer view of the ducks and random seagulls flying in.
One seagull stands alone on a rock next to the ramp. It calls out and I imagine it saying, Where is everyone? Where is the food? Two seagulls circle overhead and vanish.
I see a Bufflehead swimming in the center of the river. Then three appear, swimming together in the swirling mist. Another bird calls. Scattered clouds in the eastern sky form the shape of a cyclone in the sky on this peaceful morning.
As I walk down Bridge Street I see a chicken and rooster pair searching for food. I see no growing chicks with them. First there were five little peeps. Later only two followed behind. Weeks later, I saw only one small hen scratching the ground with them. Today the pair is alone. I wonder if their chicks died at the paws of a predator, from dehydration or not enough to eat?
Pale orange stripes of clouds cross the sky at sunrise. Higher cloud cover blankets the sky in small round puffs revealing patches of blue sky through the openings. Are they dots and dashes of code or cotton batting stretched out? White clouds reflect in the river below. Mist rolls along the surface of the river and around the bend.
I disturbed a Great Blue Heron standing on the water’s edge of boat launch ramp because I stood too close. It scolded me with a chortle while flying to the opposite riverbank.
A single gull circles over the river in front of me several times and then flies east around the bend. Four ducks fly in from their hiding places and ski into the water. Everyone is looking for breakfast. Today I see three dead and decaying salmon lying at the end of the ramp. This is the first week I have smelled the scent of decaying salmon in the air. I expected this fishy smell to saturate the air weeks ago. On my walk back to Fair Oaks Bridge, I hear the distant call of a rooster roaming on Bridge Street.
Salmon completed their fall run this month. Most finished their journey home before Christmas.
This group of salmon swim through the narrow, shallow river channel. I watched them swim in the morning and sunset. Their journey continues. Some stop here to spawn, while others keep swimming. The weir (fence) at the Nimbus Dam blocks further passage up the American River. Salmon find their way to and up the fish ladder at Nimbus Fish Hatchery about 2 miles upriver from Fair Oaks Bridge.
Sitting in the rocky area near the small island in the center of the river, these seagulls patrol the water instead of standing at the shoreline wondering where is the food.
Two fishing boats sit waiting in the water on this chilly first day of the year.An Egret flies in from the west and settles briefly on the riverbank before flying to its next stop upriver. A few Buffleheads swim in the center of the river corridor. The resident Mallards stay close to shore.
The true highlight of this New Year’s morning is the resident chickens celebrating with songs and a small parade to greet the day.
I hear their loud chorus on Bridge Street from the middle of Fair Oaks Bridge. Two fluffy chickens roam the street. A rooster is perched high in tree branches and another sings loudly while completely unseen. Their chorus goes on and on all the time I stand at the bridge.
Swiftly moving water under a densely clouded sky and bitter cold are my morning greetings. Whoosh! Whoosh! Is what I hear as the water bubbles and swirls under Fair Oaks Bridge.
Walkers and runners dressed in warm layered clothing engage in their own conversation as they pass facing forward without stopping for a second to look left to right. A single bird calls. I hear honking Canada Geese in far off in the distance and then they quiet down, still unseen. The waterfowl are still hiding so far. Two ducks flap their wings on the riverbank to my left (north). Most have left the area for calmer and shallow water.
Folsom Dam releases water in response to recent storms. Water rushes through the Lower American River and through the gates of Nimbus Dam. The water level under Jim’s Bridge half a mile downriver appears only a foot or two below the deck. I suspect with more storms, the entire bridge may temporarily disappear under the river.
This activity or the absence of it, is common for winter on the river. All spider webs are washed clean. Grass grows between every board on the bridge deck from one end of the bridge to the other side. When was the last time I saw turtles sunbathing on the river? The long branch that extends from the riverbank over the river just under the bridge is empty. Where did the turtles go?
A single bird calls. I hear the sound of Canada Geese honking in the wind and then silence. They remain unseen. Wildlife hide in nests safely away from the rising river. All spider webs have vanished. Do not remember the last time I saw turtles on the fallen branch that rests directly under Fair Oaks Bridge. As I stand observing the river, a succession of runners dressed in red t-shirts, all ages from new parents to older adults walk and run in training for a run.
At the boat launch ramp, resident ducks and Canada Geese search for tidbits of food. They find little – all washed away by the rain.
A cold and very frosty morning! Slipper ice lines the deck of the bridge.
Sunrise emerges behind clouds that envelop the sky in a huge, gray blanket. A quiet and peaceful morning. A few walkers are out and we are all bundled in jackets and gloves.
I hear birds and wildlife that remain unseen. The river seems lower than this morning – water is periodically being released from Folsom and Nimbus Dams during winter rains raising the level of the river and expanding it on the riverbanks and up the boat launch ramp. I hear the sound of the water and the wind as my face is chilled in the morning air.
Walking along the American River near Fair Oaks Bridge to write, take photos and share these experiences is as much as a healing journey and a reconnection to nature, as it is a time of quiet observation. The river is my place of peace and joy to share as a gift.
This special place at the river…
I believe this sense of peace is a shared feeling for many other visitors who stop on Fair Oaks Bridge to look, reflect and photograph. I see cars park on the road leading to the boat ramp. I see the drivers sit inside and enjoy the scenic views. I see visitors resting on the bench alongside that road facing Fair Oaks Bluff to admire the view.
I am fascinated by the changing patterns of clouds in the sky, and how they filter the sunlight to create vibrant colors of pinks, blues, gold and flaming orange.
I find joyin watching the rhythm of a duck’s webbed feet paddle underwater. I love watching its body sway back and forth as it walks up the boat ramp.
I breathe easily and breathe in deeply. I listen to the sounds of birds, embrace the sweet scent of flowers in bloom, and feel a cool breeze against my skin.
I think of the salmon’s enduring struggle as they swim upstream to spawn. I watch the antics of wildlife as they try to catch a salmon as it swims past them, They guard their dead salmon as a treasure to assure no one steals their feast.
I reflect on its history – a critical resource close to the heart of California’s Gold Rush. To remember the history of seasonal flooding long before Folsom Dam was ever built. To remember the earliest settlers who established Fair Oaks Agricultural Colony by purchasing small farms. Fair Oaks was one of many emerging farm communities in outlying areas of the City of Sacramento.
I recognize all the people who work tirelessly to manage a wild river so it can remain a stable habitat for wildlife who make their home here. This river is also a place for anyone to ride, walk, enjoy and become connected with the outdoor world – and Sacramento’s past, present and future prosperity.