It had been forever since she’d felt that way. It was safer to just keep busy and keep her heart chained to the bedpost.

“All I do is work, and hunt, and head up to the mountain. Not a lot of time for much else,” she told inquisitive men in order to thwart their particular thrust.

They always asked too many questions and she found it easier to disappear. That was her nature. The woods have always offered a rare respite from the meetings, and memos, and calls, and texts. It never ended unless she ignored it.

So she did.

Outside in the sun, or the snow, or the ephemeral shard of sunset that tears the traditional shroud of gray from the western sky, she felt at home. All alone, but with everything.

She was a lipsticked skeet shooter with a foul mouth and smart glasses. She had a bloodshot bullseye aim and a tattooed heart with an unquenchable thirst for blood. She didn’t care if she had to beat it out of you, so long as it was raw. Or, maybe that was what she preferred.

She’d given up on flowers and now smelled only hot rain on the horizon. It lingered like the moment preceding fear, or the sinapse after sex fills an otherwise empty room. Her attention was the dissipating second before sacred silence is shattered, or an intimate dream the instant before being rudely awoken.

It was all gone forever, but real when it was happening.

A brown eyed hawk swooped and squawked from cranky branches where he’d held watch since morning’s first light. It flexed and posed and squeezed a final gasp before pecking and pulling hot guts from a whimpering red headed woodpecker. A scatter shot tree indulged its long knotted revenge. The brail of its bark told its neverending story of suffering.

But nobody noticed the difference. Only the satiated hawk and the satisfied tree. The woodpecker was dead and the grass grew around its bones.

And she kept on taking target practice while her phone flashed silently. Only the trees and mountain birds knew where she was. She felt at home in the woods, so long as she could keep busy.

FISHIN’

There’s not a lot shaking on area rivers this time of year as salmon runs have run out of time and steelhead are still waiting to make their big winter push.

Salmon fishing closed on the mainstem Chehalis River on Nov. 30 and will not reopen until May 1. However, steelhead are currently open for harvest on the Chehalis system, as well as trout and bass. Steelhead will be open for harvest until April 15 and sturgeon will be open to catch-and-release fishing on the mainstem Chehalis until that same date.

Regardless of regulations, the conditions on the Chehalis right now are not conducive to success for any type of fish. The banks are high and the water is brown, with a full on flood watch called for Grays Harbor with the brunt of the flow coming from the Satsop River. Elsewhere on Wednesday the river flow on the Wynoochee River was reported at 5,710 cubic feet per second above Black Creek and 1,640 cubic feet per second at Grisdale.

Conditions and results on the Columbia River have not been any better for salmon fishing with opportunities closed on the mainstem all the way through Pasco. However, there are still uninspiring openings on tributaries to the mighty river to consider.

In creel samples last week the WDFW found only a pittance of action. There were three bank anglers with one coho released on the Grays River. On the Elochoman 35 bank anglers kept five steelhead and released seven coho jacks and two boat rods had no catch. Abernathy Creek had no catch to show for one angler and one angler was also skunked on Mill Creek while four bank anglers came up empty for the WDFW on Germany Creek. On the Kalama River eight bank anglers had no catch while two boat rods released two coho. On the Lewis River 12 bank rods showed no catch while 15 bank anglers released one steelhead.

On the Cowlitz River, a typical respite for depressed winter anglers, the results were as bad as anywhere. From the mouth to the I-5 Bridge five bank rods showed no catch while 12 bank rods up toward the Barrier Dam reported releasing just one coho jack. Chinook salmon are not currently legal for harvest anywhere on the Cowlitz system.

The return at the Cowlitz River salmon hatchery separator has also been muted recently. Reports show that last week crews retrieved 691 coho adults, 271 coho jacks, 26 cutthroat trout, three fall Chinook and four summer-run steelhead. Those power company employees also released 106 coho adults and 45 coho jacks into the Cispus River near Randle as well as 179 coho adults, 61 coho jacks and one cutthroat trout into Lake Scanewa. Another 34 coho adults and 44 coho jacks were deposited at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood and 189 coho adults, 119 coho jacks, one fall Chinook adult and five cutthroat trout were put into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton.

On Monday river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 4,740 cubic feet per second. By Wednesday that flow rate had increased to 7,980 cubic feet per second. Water visibility has been around 11 feet with a temperature of just under 50 degrees.

HUNTIN’

Last chance opportunities for deer and elk are turning short here in December with only a few days left for most bow and musket openings.

Most late archery and muzzleloader openings for deer and elk are set to expire on Dec. 15 or Dec. 31 if they haven’t run out already. For archers and muzzle stuffers in Western Washington only area 407 will remain open until Jan. 20.

Cougar hunting will remain open in all applicable areas until the end of the year. At that time the WDFW will crunch harvest numbers and determine which area will remain open into the new year.

With big game openings waning many hunters have turned their sights entirely onto waterfowl. That being said, the first swans of the season have been spotted along Highway 6 near Adna so hunters should be sure to accurately identify their big white breasted targets before blasting away since swans are illegal to hunt.

Hunters in Goose Management Area 2 (Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties) are required to obtain a special permit and Dusky Canada geese are also off-limits in that area. Goose hunting will remain open through Jan. 27 in most of the region. Currently goose hunting is closed in Pacific County and the western portion of Grays Harbor from the coast to Highway 101 but those areas are set to reopen from Dec. 22 through Jan. 20. East of Highway 101 geese will be fair fodder on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays through Jan. 13.

Duck season will continue in western Washington through Jan. 27. Hunters who know where to look often head for the boggy shores of south Puget Sound near the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, as well as Henderson, Budd and Eld inlets. The old coal mine outside of Centralia is another popular place to look for ducks, along with the swampy backwaters of the wallowing Chehalis River and the mighty Columbia.

Pheasant stalkers are also running out of time as Dec. 15 marks the end of the late season at the Skookumchuck, Fort Lewis, Kiosmos, Scatter Creek, Belfair, Whidbey Island, and Lincoln Creek release sites. Forest grouse of the blue, ruffed and spruce variety will remain in the crosshairs until the end of the year with prospects turning particularly sweet in the woodlands near Olympia and north of Oakville toward the coast. Old crow season will remain open through the end of the year along with wild turkeys in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186. Coot and snipe seasons will close statewise on Jan. 27.

Openings for bobcat, fox, raccoons, rabbits and hares will stay open through March 15 while coyotes are fair game for hunting all year round. However, coyotes can’t be targeted at night while big game seasons are open.

Trapping season for beaver, badger, weasel, marten, mink, muskrat and river otter began on Nov. 1 and will run through the end of March. And, roadkill salvage is legal in Washington for almost all critters with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW.

CLAMMIN’

The long dry spell for succulent bivalve diggers on the Long Beach peninsula is likely to come to an end next week. That’s because the WDFW has scheduled a series of razor clam digs, including one on Washington’s longest beach on Dec. 22, with final approval expected to arrive any day depending on marine toxin testing.

The last opening at Long Beach was on April 22 with just sporadic openings through the winter and fall before that. That lack of opportunity has been blamed on a greater than normal outflow from the Columbia River which is said to have diluted the salinity of the ocean water around the peninsula. That dose of low salinity has blamed for widespread stunted growth and overall lack of abundance for razor clams on the Long Beach Peninsula.

Prior to that, though, it was domoic acid toxicity that kept diggers away at Long Beach. That chronic case of toxicity kept diggers off of the beach for almost all of the previous digging season dating back to the fall of 2016.

“We're going to open this and cross our fingers and hope they’ve grown,” said WDFW coastal shellfish manager, Dan Ayres. “The idea is to try to give people a chance for some Christmas clams.”

Ayres noted that the results of the anticipated opening at Long Beach will be used to set any possible late winter or spring digs for the peninsula.

“We promised the Long Beach community that there would be some digging days around their razor clam festival in April,” noted Ayres, who remained hopeful that the department would be able to fulfill that promise.

The next batch of razor clam digs are proposed for the following beaches, tides, and dates but are awaiting final approval by the WDFW:

Dec. 20, Thursday, 4:51 p.m.; -0.3 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Dec. 21, Friday, 5:35 p.m.; -1.0 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

Dec. 22, Saturday, 6:20 p.m.; -1.4 feet; Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Dec. 23, Sunday, 7:05 p.m.; -1.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

Ayres said that while the tides may be in the favor of diggers the weather may not be.

“I think we might have some weather issues that could impede some digging. Like today is a 17 foot swell and you wouldn’t want to be out there digging,” said Ayres.

Ayres noted that his department is set to meet with National Park managers at Kalaloch Beach on Friday in order to discuss the possibility of clam digging opportunities on the Olympic Peninsula for next year. No headway has been made on the issue as of yet.

As always, Ayres reminds diggers to bring a light source for these evening digs. He also suggests using an old school lantern instead of a high powered LED light for a more even field of vision. Most importantly, Ayres says diggers should never turn their back on the ocean while digging.

State law allows diggers to keep the first 15 clams they dig, regardless of size or condition. Diggers are also required to dig their own clams and carry them in a personal container. Diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a license and no digging will be allowed before noon on any beach this year.

SNOWIN’

The long wait is finally over for area powderheads as White Pass has announced that they will open their slopes in one capacity or another beginning Friday. Just which areas are open to skiers and snowboarders, though, is yet to be determined.

“That’s the game plan as long as mother nature cooperates, we’ll be open daily starting Friday. In terms of what terrain and what lifts we’ll be operating, it kind of depends on how much snow falls between now and then,” said White Pass marketing director Kathleen McGuire-Goyette. “With this nice parade of storms it’s just getting better every day.”

White Pass has been making snow with machines on the lower slopes with natural pow-pow stacking up on the higher reaches.

“Up top this morning we were at about 34 (inches). The lower areas are more like 16-20 (inches) and at the base areas we’re looking at a lot more man made snow of course,” noted McGuire-Goyette.

She noted that boarders and plankers should beware of early season conditions with rocks and trees still exposed in some areas.

McGuire-Goyette added that designated tubing areas will not be open this week as they await more snow. However, the nordic portion of the mountain could be open this weekend depending on snowfall. Weather forecasts predict that nearly two feet of snow could fall before the heart of the weekend has passed.

Up to date information on conditions at White Pass can be found online at https://skiwhitepass.com/snow-report or by calling, 509-672-3100.

ADVISIN’

The WDFW is soliciting public comment on their policies for Columbia River sturgeon and salmon at an upcoming public meeting in Olympia.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to take comments during a two-day public meeting on Dec. 14-15. The current Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy was put in place five years ago. The most recent review of the policy is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/.

The committee will also listen to comments on sturgeon management for the lower Columbia River along with comments on a proposed land grab by the WDFW of 140 acres near Merrill Lake in Cowlitz County. That purchase would contribute to the Mount Saint Helens Wildlife Area, with about 30 acres donated by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. The rest of the purchase would be covered by a grant form the state Recreation and Conservation office.

A full agenda is available online at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings.html. The meetings will be held in Room 172 of the Natural Resources Building at 1111 Washington St. SE, Olympia. The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Friday and at 8 a.m. on Saturday.

VISITIN’

America’s National Wildlife Refuge Areas have announced their free days for the upcoming year. Those offering will include Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 21, as well as four other free dates.

Typically trips to pay-for-use refuge areas cost between $3-8 per vehicle. The full offering of free days includes:

January 21 – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

February 18 – Presidents’ Day

September 28 – National Public Lands Day

October 13 – First Sunday of National Wildlife Refuge Week

November 11 – Veterans Day

“National wildlife refuges provide habitat for species as diverse as bison, whooping cranes and monarch butterflies. They also provide unique places to hunt, fish, observe nature and simply enjoy the outdoors,” said Refuge System Chief Cynthia Martinez, in a press release. “Wildlife refuges also provide green space to the millions of Americans who live in urban areas. If you have never visited a national wildlife refuge, these fee-free days offer perfect opportunities to see what you’ve been missing.”

A press release stated that the National Wildlife Refuge System, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the world’s largest network of conservation lands. That network includes 567 refuges and 38 wetland management districts. There is at least one area in each of the 50 states and almost 500 national wildlife refuges and wetland districts are open to the public. An approximate 53 million visitors check out those land each year, generating some $2.4 billion in economy and supporting more than 35,000 jobs.

BIRDIN’

While we wade into the murky months of winter waterfowl are starting to wing through the area more persistently. Geese, ducks and swans are flapping their way cross the Pacific Flyway and congregating along the banks of the Chehalis and Columbia Rivers, as well as Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay.

The migration of winter birds, including but not limited to classic waterfowl, coincides with the Christmas Bird Count. That volunteer bird tallying effort will run through Jan. 5. The annual event is sponsored by the Audubon and is considered the world’s longest-running bird database. Both veteran and novice bird watchers are encouraged to track their observations over a 24-hour period and then report their findings.

Additional information on bird counting circles can be found online at http://www.audubon.org/join-christmas-bird-count.

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