By the time I arrive at Fair Oaks Bridge at 7:15 am, the sun has already risen high above the trees, glowing yellow and hot in a cloudless sky. The bridge is already filled with sunlight.
Morning walkers pass by. We exchange good mornings and smiles. Garage doors lift and shut as residents of the village drive on to the street and away to begin their workday.
A young boy alongside in a boat struggles with his fishing pole sitting in one of the boats alongside two men who are also fishing. The boy gives up, tosses the pole and begins to explore the boat, walking back and forth, checking its bottom for something interesting to examine
Five boats filled with fisherman cast their lines into the cloudy green water. The boats sit at some distance apart on the east side of the bridge. Thousands of salmon will be arriving soon, jumping randomly out the water. They have not yet arrived from their long journey from the Pacific, through the Delta sloughs, up the Sacramento River and into the American River. Many will end their journey near the Fair Oaks Bridge.Read more
I finally acknowledge the passing of summer’s long, warm days when the cool mornings of October arrive. With sunlight and bike rides along the American River that last until 9 pm. Dew covers my car windshield in the morning now. The air is chilled at 645 am. My first Sunday morning on Fair Oaks Bridge, I wore shorts and a t-shirt, warmed quickly by the sun. Today, Friday I wear my denim jacket and slip on a pair of jeans. Yesterday’s morning temperature was 55. Today it is 53. As days grow shorter, and fall blends into winter, morning temperatures will drop further to 45 and then 35 and sometimes the high 20s. I will enjoy these mornings on the bridge before the chill of morning gives me a reason to stay longer at home.
Usually I wake gently as I walk to the bridge, listening to the morning symphony of roosters. Today my morning explodes with deafening sound as I walk down the street as a motorcycle with his radio turned up comes up from behind. I am jarred awake. My morning “fog” instantly evaporates.
Determined fisherman sit in their boats waiting. I have no idea when they arrive. Each morning they are already here. They must come before dawn to catch the salmon as they rise for breakfast. I notice the moon in the sky. During my first Sunday, the moon was full. Today, hardly a week later, the moon is now half visible.Read more
The sky is covered with what looks like strips of pale blue and white cotton candy. At 6 pm, no sun to be found. The air feels cool and I wear my zip up hooded sweatshirt.
No birds are out. A few ducks are out for a leisurely swim. I hear splashes in the water and look to the sound and see rings of concentric circles. Must have been a salmon jumped out and dove back in quickly. Since my last visit I see that rain has fallen on the bridge. The intricate networks of spider webs and flytraps are washed clean away off the bridge upright and cross beams. Not a trace is left. The air is heavy with the scent of moist dirt, yet clean and refreshed by gentle rain.
Two boats and a kayak sit in the water. A few cyclists pass and some walkers out for a evening stretch before sunset. I walk to the boat launch ramp and the ducks see me coming. Today I have no bread to throw.
A dozen ducks gather and walk up the ramp and wait. They look at me impatiently as if to say, “Where is the food?”
After a few minutes when they realize no food is coming, they all retreat back into the water. In minutes some have disappeared to hiding places on either side of the ramp. The dabblers decide to find food on their own.Read more
As I stand looking at the river, I see a man that could be a grandfather walking with his young grandson. My mind instantly wanders. I wonder what lies ahead for salmon in this boy’s lifetime? What is the future for all wildlife that depends on the health of the American River – and rivers everywhere when the morning begins as a new day.
I see cyclists crossing the Hazel Avenue Bridge – a newly expanded and modernized bridge to accommodate additional cars. I see a complex network of structures – a bridge for cars and bicycle trails, the dam on one side and the weir on the other. Looking at this network reminds me that I am still in an urban area congested with traffic, people, businesses, retailers and a host of other community services and amenities. This place is less than 20 miles from city, county and state government leaders who make long term decisions that affect the health of this river and all other California rivers.
These intersections on the river where salmon come home, cyclists ride, and people drive, is part of the larger story of our environmental challenges – water supply, climate change, urbanization, noise and sustaining healthy habitats. Yet, here where the salmon come home presents so many opportunities to inform, educate and inspire positive change.
As I arrive on my bike this afternoon, I notice the sun has flipped to the opposite side of the bridge this afternoon as the sun travels to the western sky. The river is quiet and weather is a warm 80 degrees – a warm day for fall. Resident ducks are enjoying a lazy day at the river. Birds are gone. After their morning flyover, I see birds spending their days gathered on the river scouting for food.
A gentle breeze carries the sound of rap music from visitors gathering on the riverbank to the east side of the bridge. This large open spot on the riverbank is among the most popular “hangouts” for groups to gather for parties on the river.
Years ago, when I first started visiting the Fair Oaks Bridge. Nearly every evening for months on end, I heard the beat of bongo drums from the riverbank.
Drizzle rain stops and starts again. Still very few people outside at 11 am. A warm rain. River is very quiet with cloudy skies and no rain. Ducks search the river for food, wings flap. Faint quacks. Canada geese change position and fly away. A cloudy sky and all is quiet. Boaters sit calmly in the water. The gentle, nourishing rain is a refreshing and welcome change.
Earlier boaters in their rain jackets have sped away heading east toward the weir positioned at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery where the salmon converge to spawn – either in the river or inside the hatchery. Birds patrol the sky. Turkey vultures wait patiently, ready to pounce on whatever has died. I find salmon heads cast off into the rocks. Soon these remains will be consumed by hungry turkey vultures, seagull or other wildlife that find them first.
The sky is still dark with only a hint of the approaching dawn. Roosters crow limply this morning. I walk shining a flashlight all the way to the bridge. A very misty morning! Looking at the sky with a few streaks of gray clouds, the dawn seems darker this morning. The orange glow from the rising sun begins to spread across the sky. Two ducks fly east. The river is still. Hardly a ripple. Mist hangs over the river like a canopy in the distance. The coldest morning yet – a chilly 48 degrees.
The American River closed to fishing November 1 through the end of the year. This is my first visit without fisherman lining the river before dawn.
Next week, hundreds of salmon will begin their leap into the fish ladder as spawning begins at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery less than two miles upstream to the east.
I love to hear roosters sing in the morning as I drive into Fair Oaks Village! No better wake up call.
Arriving at 730 is still early. Yet with Pacific Standard Time, I still feel like the morning activities are an hour later. I doubt the roosters know the difference. The sun is far above the horizon. The temperature is still 54 degrees and feels warm.
The little bird that used to greet me each morning with “ti too, ti too” has returned for a brief good morning greeting – it stays two minutes and flies away.
The sun shines brightly on the bridge deck already this morning. I always watch the changing shadows on the bridge as the sun moves over. Air feels fresh and crisp. Today, unlike other days, the bridge deck and rails are completely dry. Not a drop of moisture anywhere.
River is still as can be. A few ducks swim slowly through the water. I find random spider webs attached to the bridge rails. Occasionally a salmon leaps high to form a series of ever expanding concentric circles, as if a pebble dropped into the river. Seagulls call in the distance. Ducks fly in and land as if they are on water skis. Canada Geese fly in from the east and fly under the bridge honking until they glide in for a landing. A Great Blue Heron flies in to sit on a rock at the edge of the water.
The buzz of a motorcycle carries for a mile in the wind. When cyclists cross the bridge, it sounds the same as a car’s flat tire, bump, bump, bumping over the deck. The morning has warmed to 58 degrees by the time I return to my car at 820. The roosters have flown into the streets and the park to sing their good morning songs.
Continuing my afternoon bike ride traveling to the east side of the Fair Oaks Bridge. I approach a tall and long dead tree on the side of the path that I have passed by hundreds of time. The trunk is ghostly gray with a dozen dead branches laying at its feet. Why is this tree still standing?
Riding by the tree I hear knocking and stop to look. A family of three woodpeckers are lined up on the trunk drumming on the tree. The trunk from the ground to the uppermost remnant of the trunk is covered with scars from the woodpeckers. At the very top of the tree are two more woodpeckers. They have created a nest out of the hollow at the top of highest branch. From now on, I will be on woodpecker watch passing this tree.
The sky is awash with shades of pink fading in the sky. As the pink turns slowly gray, I see the mist hovering over the water as if this is Brigadoon hiding its secrets. The southern sky is woven with pale stripes as the sun rises. The mist gently moves along the river towards the bridge. The movement so gentle it reminds me of fog blowing across a stage in a theater in unseen currents of air.
I wear gloves. My hands still feel like ice. The boat launch ramp is empty. A group of four ducks are just now coming out to swim. A single seagull flies west over the bridge. The little bird that used to greet me every morning has returned to sit at the top of the bridge frame and sing its song, “Ti Too! Ti Too!” Geese fly under the bridge, honking, honking loudly, landed on the west side of the bridge in their traditional water skiing style.
Alas, two empty beer cans sit on the bridge. Runners arrive wearing hats, jackets and gloves. The bridge rails are covered with dew. The deck is moist enough to reveal footsteps. An intact spider web is suspended between two bridge rails. Six dead salmon float next to the riverbank to become food for hungry gulls, as Canada Geese and turkey vultures monitor the river.
I walk to the boat launch ramp and stand alongside two Canada Geese pondering what they will do today. One turns around and spies the river. The other stands and whispers, “Honk, honk” to me over and over again. What a treat it would be to know geese language. The best I can do is say good morning in “people speak.” The river’s resident Egret is sitting on the north shore in its usual spot.
A single seagull flies over my head. Its circular flight path is 100 yards long, over and over again. The gull is far too high above me to hear the flap of its wings. Yet I do hear it whistle as it circles above me six times. The two Canada Geese decide to fly over the river and vanish into the mist. Ducks appear, land in the water and quickly liftoff once again to fly away to another part of the river corridor.
I leave the boat ramp and walk back over the bridge, always giving the river a last glance for the day to hold it in my memory. Arriving at my car at 810 am, the morning temperature has only warmed to 49 degrees.