Six Canada Geese greet me with a chorus of characteristic honks as I arrive at Jim’s Bridge by bike.
They join a dozen other ducks already scouting breakfast on the rocky shoreline. True to their nature the geese are late arrivals for the morning ritual. Squirrels are busy finding their breakfast in the trees.
During a quick trip to the boat launch ramp, I see no waterfowl anywhere. No fishing boats sitting in the American River. Today I continue my ride east toward the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. This is the prime salmon spawning area come late September through early December. I used to see a dozen ducks bobbing in shallow rapids for food as I ride by. None today.
I arrive at the picnic area at the river’s edge, far off the bike trail, where last fall I saw 100 seagulls feasting on dead salmon. The small island located in the middle of the river channel that was big enough for fisherman to anchor their boats and stand alongside them in hip deep water is now two thin and barely visible stretches of rocks.
I spy a cormorant sitting on a rocky island hanging its wings to dry in the early morning air. It stands motionless for 10 minutes before flying away. I see ducks hide alongside green shrubbery of a nearby island jutting out from the western riverbank.
Except for an occasional distant quack from a lone duck, this area is quiet today. Here I am far away from homes hanging on the Fair Oaks Bluffs, traffic and people congregating on shorelines. I hear a distant hum from another roadway bridge alongside the fish hatchery, less than a mile and completely out of sight.
With no homes on the opposite shore, I see a mix of oaks, shrubs and grasslands. I could say they are in a natural and undisturbed state. Little along the river channel was left untouched during winter floods. Remnants are still visible everywhere along the river.
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.