The frost reflects a navigator moon and sparkles like ten trillion spider eyes on slender blades of grass that stiffen straight in the cold. The wind sneaks under the door and squeezes through the slats in the floorboards. The garden hoses bulge, snap and crack at their inflexible brass fittings.

Her blanket is too short and threadbare in some spots. Not the important ones, though. The neighbor hounds yap all through the witching hour again but this time she doesn’t mind. Tonight she’s snuggled close to a man with an unfamiliar musk. His boots are tucked beneath her bed.

His sinuous arm tingles numb with the procession of fire ants as it lies propped beneath her head. The burn doesn’t bother him. The stillness in the stale cabin air is too precious to shatter. Her warmth and soft curves as intoxicating as the whiskey fumes on his breath.

They’d met entirely unexpectedly. In fact they’d both set out in search of solitude that morning after waking up with a familiar, and acrid, taste in their mouth. It was the taste of reheated hotdogs and common snot caked in space dust. It reeked of unrequited lust and expired love forgotten in the back of the refrigerator behind the mayonnaise and the heavy cream. That old familiar taste sprung from mountains of debt and scattered envelopes stamped “PAST DUE” in bleeding ink. It dripped like unfiltered nicotine from the muddy lights of rat infested dive bars and crackled like AM radio talking heads through the contaminated ether.

When they first saw each other way out on the wonderland trail they instinctively hunched down and cursed under their breath as clouds of vapor expelled like cartoon thought bubbles and blew their cover.

In midst of the snow blanketed wilderness there were only two options remaining — Run away like the scared wildlife they were or summon the courage to turn and say hello.

It began as a simple wave like one that acquainted neighbors might share when passing on the street. That was enough though and with the force field broken the powers of attraction began to wield their unpredictable influence along the river wild.

He was a painter who mowed lawns on the side to make ends meet. She was a writer who couldn’t find her words and spent the days of her life keeping track of other people's money. They were both older than they tended to remember and they strained subconsciously to avoid catching glimpses of their graying selves in the mirror.

As they romped through the high country they never spoke of what had pushed them out into the woods that day. Birds fluttered in the trees and sent showers of powdered snow pouring from the bending boughs of coniferous trees. A pair of paw tracks cut across the partially obscured trail and disappeared into a patch of grand old sword ferns. Round rocks pushed back against the flow of the river’s clear water with stovepipe top hats made of snow that poked high above the swirling eddies at the waterline.

As they stood in traction at the river's edge a bulky bull elk mashed his way downstream along the far shore. Rocks scattered and twigs snapped under misshapen hooves as he bounded forward with a fire in his eyes that defied the icicles that threatened to form on the ornate points of his massive rack. The season’s first snow must have caught him off guard and sent him into a desperate search for relief from the elements out of his control. The undulating beast didn’t bother to pause as he passed the pair while fat snowflakes fell on their knit cap foreheads. The bull was only interested in finding refuge from the storm.

Beyond the point where the elk had passed she said there was a tree unlike any other. She told the man she’d been there before and had been longing to stand beneath its massive trunk and feel the ripple of its slow writhing roots against her skin. The last time she’d visited the gully the water had been low and warm from the summer sun, but she insisted she could pick out a hopscotch trail across the river rock all the way to the other side.

The man didn’t know, but he knew enough not to say no and watched in awe as she steadfastly hoisted her walking stick and began slowly making her way from one snow capped boulder to another. He didn’t know if he should follow, or if she was purposefully trying to leave him behind. She hadn’t given a hint. Either way, he remained captivated in place by her inauspicious approach to the considerable obstacles in her path.

As he brimmed with adoration and wondered if he’d ever see her again she let out a yelp that annihilated the fickle facade of the peaceful forest. Her walking stick had slipped in the current and the rush of the river rocked her balance like spinning carnival teacups. He lurched in slow motion as she listed in a momentary lapse of reason and then came crashing down into the river that pierced her skin like a pyroclastic flow of fine glass shards.

As she flailed frantically for something to steady her he pulled off his boots, doffed his jacket and cast his lot with the elements and a woman he hardly knew. When he pulled her from the river her teeth chattered like loose bolts on an old truck on a washboard road.

He wrapped her in his jacket and hobbled her down the trail toward the gravel pullout where he’d parked. In the car he averted his eyes as he helped her strip her wet clothes and blasted the puny heater of his decades old faded baby blue Volvo. He pointed the car back toward town but didn’t know where to go exactly as his passenger shivered to herself.

After awhile, though, she pointed down a spur road like any other and said that’s where she lived and that’s where they should go. At the bottom of the hill was a lonely cabin and an overgrown lot of invasive blackberries that scratched at the bottom of old growth evergreens. Everything alive seemed hellbent on encroaching on the sparse clearing around the cabin.

He skidded to a stop where her morning tire tracks disappeared into the fresh snowbank and helped her up the rickety stairs. He brought in wood to stoke the fire and put a kettle on the stove top and waited for it to whistle

The woman asked him not to leave and he was smart enough not to say no. They were both seeking refuge from the storm and they’d learned that solitude could only deliver them so far.

FISHIN’

This week’s cold snap has helped to bring are rivers back into shape much quicker than most would have imagined possible just one week ago. The freeze slowed the seepage into drainages and served to keep flows in check while clearing up visibility a bit.

Still, effort has been limited on most waters due to a combination of regulations and timing. Winter steelhead are making their way up both the Wynoochee and the Satsop rivers, along with the mainstem of the Chehalis River. Anglers willing to make a trek can also find steelies in the Humptulips and up above the lake on the Quinault River. Some late run silvers will also be in the Chehalis system but they are more likely to be the unclipped variety that’s not allowed for keeping.

On Wednesday the flow on the Wynoochee River above Black Creek was reported at 1,320 cubic feet per second while the flow at Grisdale was 454 cfps. On the Nisqually River flow was reported at 713 cfps. Anglers can also try their luck for salmon in Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound) where they are allowed to keep two salmon per day, while releasing all wild coho and Chinook.

On the mainstem Columbia River all salmon and steelhead fishing will remain shuttered through the end of the year from Buoy 10 up to Pasco. Angling opportunity is slated to begin again once fall Chinook are no longer present in the lower river. However, angling opportunity does continue to trickle along on area tributaries to the mighty river.

According to creel sampling conducted by the WDFW last week results were muted on most rivers. Nine bank anglers on the Grays River released two steelhead, four bank anglers on Abernathy Creek had not catch, and six bank anglers on Germany Creek had not catch. On the East Fork Lewis River seven bank anglers kept one coho while two boat rods had no catch and two mainstem bank anglers and four boat rods had no catch. However, 38 bank anglers on the Elochoman River kept six steelhead and released four steelies, two coho and 11 coho jacks.

Stats for the Cowlitz River left much to be desired again as 14 downriver bank rods kept just one coho jack and released one steelhead. Closer to the Barrier Dam six bank rods had no catch at all to report. On Monday river flow below Mayfield Dam was reported at 4,740 cfps, but by Wednesday that flow had jumped all the way to 9,600 cfps. Water temperature has dropped a few degrees down to 49.8 degrees and water visibility is down a bit to 11 feet.

At the Cowlitz salmon hatchery separator last week crews retrieved 691 coho adults, 273 coho jacks, 26 cutthroat trout, three fall Chinook adults and four summer-run steelhead adults. Those crews then transported and released 179 coho adults, 61 coho jacks and one cutthroat trout into Lake Scanewa in Randle, 34 coho adults and 44 coho jacks at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood. Another 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.

Remnant fish from the Black Friday stocking effort continue to buoy lake and pond angling prospects. Locally, both Fort Borst Park Pond and South County Park Pond (Ol’ Wallace Pond) both received plants of hatchery trout in advance of Thanksgiving. Other areas lakes with recently stocked fish include Black and Long lakes in Thurston County.

Elsewhere, kokanee are reportedly biting in both Merwin and Yale lakes. In spite of the cold weather warm water fish are still rumored to be biting in Silver Lake and panfish have been active in Kress Lake and Ol’ Wallace Pond. Tiger muskies have also been providing some opportunity in Mayfield Lake, although it’s harder to spot them than in the summertime.

HUNTIN’

While all is clear and cold now you can rest assured that it won’t be long before the rains return to our great spongescape they call Southwest Washington. Storms along the coast have triggered the great migration of northern birds as they make their way down the Pacific Flyway for a climate that better suits their (lack of) clothes.

“Success rates should continue to improve as more northern birds move into the region,” said Eric Holman, a WDFW wildlife biologist, in a press release. “The best hunting early in the season is around the Columbia River and other large bodies of water, but the birds disperse when seasonal ponds begin to form on the farmlands.”

Populations of northern ducks are reportedly well above their long-term averages this year. Likewise, numbers of white and white-fronted geese have also been counted at near record highs. In response to those calculations the WDFW has implemented new bag limits that allow for upw to four Canada geese, six white geese, and ten white-fronted geese per day.

Hunters in Goose Management Area 2 (Clar, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties) are required to obtain a special permit and Dusky Canada geese are off-limits in that area. Goose hunting will remain open through Jan. 27 in most of the region. In Pacific County and the western portion of Grays Harbor from the coast to Highway 101 closed on Dec. 2 but will 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 through Jan. 27. Hunters would be wise to stalk the muddy shores along 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.

While waterfowl are the target du jour many hunters are still trying to tag their deer or elk for the season. Late archery seasons for black tailed deer will run through Dec. 15 or Dec. 31 in assorted GMUs. Likewise, late archery season for elk will run through Dec. 15 in many Western Washington areas while late muzzleloader season for elk will run through Dec. 8, Dec. 15, or Jan. 20, depending on area. GMUs 658, 672, 673 and 681 typically provide the best opportunities for elk in the Willapa Hills.

Pheasant hunters will be able to keep after it in the general season until Dec. 15 at the Skookumchuck, Fort Lewis, Kosmos, Scatter Creek, Belfair, Whidbey Island, and Lincoln Creek release sites. Up in the hills upland bird hunters will be able to target forest grouse through the end of the year. Forest grouse are particularly plentiful in the timberlands northwest of Oakville and up into the Olympic Peninsula. Crow season will remain open through the end of the year along with turkeys in GMUs 101-154 and 162-186. Coot and snipe seasons will close statewise on Jan. 27.

Openings for cougars will also remain open in applicable areas through at least the end of the year. After that the WDFW will compile harvest data and announce any quota based closures.

Seasons for bobcat, fox, raccoons, rabbits and hares will stay open through the Ides of March 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’

During the last round of razor clam digs back on Thanksgiving weekend turnout exceeded 6,000 diggers for both the Friday and Saturday night digs.

Clamhounds will have another opportunity to descend on the coast in mass beginning Thursday thanks to a multiple day clam dig that was approved by the WDFW last Wednesday.That four-day set of digging tides will take place on the following dates, tides, and beaches:

Dec. 6, Thursday, 6:01 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

Dec. 7, Friday, 6:40 p.m.; -0.7 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

Dec. 8, Saturday, 7:16 p.m.; -0.6 feet; Twin Harbors, Copalis

Dec. 9, Sunday, 7:53 p.m.; -0.4 feet; Twin Harbors, Mocrocks

There is one other set of razor clam digs proposed for the rest of the year but those are contingent upon a round of marine toxin testing closer to the actual digging dates. Those proposed clam tides would be offered on the following dates and beaches if approved:

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

The most notable date in that proposed set of digs is the one-day opening proposed for Long Beach. If approved that dig would break a long dry spell on the self-proclaimed “World’s Longest Beach” as the WDFW has kept the beach shuttered for much of the last year due to a bout of low water salinity that reportedly caused the clam population to plummet.

“I'm jazzed about the December 22 clam dig in my front yard,” wrote master clam tenderizer and connoisseur of all things marvelous, Mike Robinson in an email to the FishRap command center. “I will be home if you want to see for yourself if the clams are rebounding here on the peninsula.”

This is an offer that will likely be accepted as soon as official confirmation of the digs is announced.

Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the WDFW, provided some additional insight in an email last week to the command desk.

“We have a one day harvest opener planned at Long Beach for Saturday December 22. It’s a good tide (-1.4 feet at 6:20 pm). If the weather cooperates, we should get a good look at how much clams are grown across most of the beach and that will inform plans for future openers,” explained Ayres.

However, Ayres admitted that there has not been any tangible progress attained toward establishing digging dates at Kalaloch Beach. The WDFW has previously stated that digging opportunities on that sliver of the western Olympic Peninsula would be considered this winter.

Ayres always recommends that diggers hit the beach one or two hours prior to low tide for best digging results. He also insists that old fashioned lanterns cast a more effective light than high powered LED lamps and reminds diggers not to turn their back on the ocean when chasing the succulent bivalves down their sandy holes.

All diggers age 15 and older are required to possess a fishing license. All diggers are also required to dig their own clams and keep them in a personal container. The daily limit is 15 clams per person and no high grading is allowed.

CAPTURIN’

The WDFW has resumed a predator-prey study in eastern Washington that requires them to capture deer, wolves, cougars, bobcats and coyotes and them outfit them with radio collars. The study began two years ago and is expected to run at least five years in order to better understand the impact of wolves, cougars, and other predators on elk and deer.

Over the coming winter researchers intend to capture at least 30 white-tailed deer in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties. Those animals will be captured using methods such as bait trapping, drop nets and darting. In an official press release there was no mention of how the wolves would be captured.

In Stevens, Pend Oreille, and Okanogan counties researchers will also capture and collar wolves, cougars, bobcats and coyotes. Tracking dogs will be used to capture cougars while box traps and footholds traps will be used on bobcats and coyotes.

Wildlife managers are asking hunters and other out of doors enthusiasts or area residents who may encounter radio collared animals to repot their sightings by phone to the Eastern Region office in Spokane Valley (509-892-1001).

BIRDIN’

As the seasons turns toward the wet waterfowl are beginning to flock through the region with increasing regularity. Geese, ducks and swans can no be seen cutting a V across the skies of Southwest Washington with congregation zones along the Chehalis and Columbia Rivers, as well as Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay.

The migration of winter birds coincides with the Christmas Bird Count, which will run from Dec. 4 through Jan. 5. That annual event is sponsored by the Audubon and is considered the world’s longest-running bird database. Both veteran and novice bird-noters 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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