Clam Fever.

 Now that Thanksgiving is over, only the drudgery of cleanup remains. Don’t get bogged down in the details as an excuse for doing nothing.

A good place to start might be to shovel the holiday leftovers out of the refrigerator. As with any tough job, you’ll need the right tools to get it done properly. A hypoallergenic blue plastic tarp placed in a centrally located strategic location to encase the excess holiday offal can be a godsend in dealing with the problem. Unless your blue tarp is on the roof. It’s OK. Most housecleaning projects are simply a matter of delegating, prioritizing and moving on to the next disgusting chore, but remember, don’t put off till tomorrow what you can put off today.

Lately, I’ve discovered a new and easier method of avoiding housework altogether. It can short-circuit the brain muscle into thinking you’re doing something when in fact you’re sitting there doing nothing. It’s quick, easy and perfectly legal in all 50 states the last time I checked. It’s so simple even I can do it: It’s called “writing.”

What if you’re too lazy and ignorant to write? Just do what I do. In the fast-paced modern world in which we live, there is no problem in our lives too big to run away from and blame the government.

One of the best ways to forget your problems is to go razor clamming in the night tides on one of our Pacific beaches, especially since the limit has been raised to 20 clams. Clams are an essential ingredient in many clam dishes like clam patties and clam chowder, but you have to dig them first. To do this, you must spot the faintest dimple in the sand and dig for it.

Spotting the razor clam and digging them are two different things. Sometimes it’s a challenge to match wits with a clam until you remember they have no brain. It’s humbling to find yourself kneeling on a tide flat in the dark with your arm in a hole in the sand, trying to grab a clam, only to be defeated and outsmarted by a creature with no central nervous system.

That makes perfect sense in the evolutionary scheme of things. Bivalves have been around since the Cambrian Era — that’s more than 500 million years ago. Meanwhile, this whole time the clams have been evolving into stronger, smarter and faster organisms with complex abilities to survive in a hostile environment. Modern humans have only been around for 40,000 years or so. We seem to be getting dumber every year.

Razor clams move with surprising speed in wet sand by extending their foot or digger then flattening it out like an anchor. The clam pulls itself down to its anchor and repeats the process, digging down at a rate that is unbelievable to anyone but a clam digger.

There, you struggle with the fleeing clam as it tries to dig to China. In the heat of the battle, you hear another clam digger rush by heading back toward the beach shouting, “Wave!”

A decision must be made. Let go of the giant, mossy-back razor clam, the size of a maple bar, or hang on and get creamed by a wave of unknown height, bearing down on you in the dark of a winter’s night.

The best part about digging razor clams at night is that once you are sandy and wet from being tumbled around in the waves in the dark, the thought of staying home and shoveling out the refrigerator is not such a bad idea.

Things Could be Worse

We’ve heard a lot about supply chain problems lately. It’s nothing new to people who hunt, fish and gather wild crops to augment their food supply. Where it’s a story of feast or famine. Of too hot, too cold, too much rain or not enough. Our supply chains are constantly interrupted by the weather, bureaucratic edicts and the sketchy nature of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Things could be worse. The shipwrecked Russians on the Hoh River in November 1808 would have had a tough Thanksgiving celebration had they known about it.

All they had to eat was their dog, tree fungus, their walrus hide boots and gun covers of sea lion skin. Later they upgraded to dried salmon and salmon eggs packed in sealskin bags that congealed into a mass called “stink eggs.”

These days, even the poor people can do better than that. With a little luck and gasoline, we can get food that is finer than anything you can buy in the best restaurants.

At Thanksgiving, wild foods can be better than store-bought.

First, we’ll need a bird, and by that we don’t mean a turkey. They don’t live here.

The centerpiece of this celebration will be a grouse. Not just any grouse. We’ll need a blue grouse. One that was feeding on blueberries or blue huckleberries. Whatever you call them, berries give a certain flavor to the birds that eat them.

This is part of an ancient tradition that pairs meat and poultry with berries in everything from pemmican to cranberry sauce with turkey — which reminds me.

Now that we’ve had a frost, it’s time to pick the cranberries out of the Pleistocene bogs they inhabit. Redolent of pomegranates, these tiny scarlet orbs are perfect with grouse, but remember: whoever bites into the bird shot has to wash the dishes.

Coincidentally, the frost has nearly put an end to that other necessity, the golden chanterelle mushroom. Whether they are fresh, dried, frozen or canned, chanterelles are required to cook grouse and other holiday dishes.

Dried, these mushrooms can be ground into a powder that, when added to water, can serve as an infinitely superior substitute for the usual box of salty, industrial chicken broth filled with unpronounceable additives.

Dried chanterelle broth can serve the same purpose in gravies, stuffing and, of course, that king of the Thanksgiving side dishes, the green bean casserole, with tastier, healthier results.

But that is not all. The light frost puts the final touch on what many consider the king of root vegetables, the parsnip.

These have fallen from popular favor, largely because no one knows when to pick or how to cook them. After a frost, they are cored, cut up and parboiled. Then cooled and coated with a spectacular sourdough breading, fried and finished with a champagne sauce that, of course, uses the chanterelle gravy for a base.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, we must have appetizers.

For that, we’ll stick with the two standbys, oysters and smoked salmon. The oysters are steamed open. The top shell is removed. The remains of the bivalve are covered with steamed spinach and/or pesto, horse radish and parmesan then placed on the barbecue until everything is melted together.

The smoked salmon is mixed with onions, dill and more cheese. Yes, we put cheese on just about everything, all of which is toasted on buttermilk biscuit toast points. Add some mashed potatoes and venison mincemeat pie, and we have the poor people’s Thanksgiving dinner that sure beats dog meat, tree fungus and stink eggs. Happy Thanksgiving.

Why Salmon Jump.

It was daylight on the river. We were sitting in the vapors of a fog-shrouded valley trying to solve the central problems of human existence.

That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it. It’s my solemn hope that this grueling experience will provide inspiration to those who are faced with the same situation someday. It’s all about helping others who may have the misfortune to suffer from severe, chronic, reoccurring fishing problems. Usually along about autumn when the salmon run.

Sometimes, people with fishing disorders exhibit extreme personality changes and a medical condition commonly known as “meat fever,” which can combine the symptoms of cardiac arrest and Tourette syndrome into a perfect storm of poly-phobic, psychotic behavior with inappropriate comments and violent outbursts that can occur when a really big fish is hooked and starts peeling out line and racing upstream and around the bend, then throwing the hook at the top of a mighty leap. Ouch.

As an unlicensed relationship counselor, I am sometimes able to help people with fishing problems responsibly balance their lives and choose among work, social obligations and stuff and the option of quitting their job, moving into their car and going fishing.

As a guide who fishes more than 500 days a year, I’m not going to lie to you for money. Fishing has ruined more than one life. I am only allowed to talk about this particular instance now because the witnesses are dead and the statute of limitations thing expired long ago. So here goes.

Being autumn on the Olympic Peninsula, it was a little foggy that morning. The air was so thick you could cut it with a chainsaw. We were in a netherworld of water. You couldn’t see the shore. All we could see were salmon. They were jumping all around us, but not a one of them would bite.

It is often, at times like these, that a period of professional frustration can lead to personal growth. This was not one of those times. Instead, there was a free-for-all replay of the blame game, and it was all my fault that we were not catching fish while they were jumping all around us.

It is a known fact that salmon do not feed when they enter the freshwater rivers to return to spawn in the gravel where they were born. Since they do not feed, we don’t know why they bite a particular lure or bait. But sometimes they do, and then sometimes they don’t.

This is a mystery made all the more mysterious when the salmon are jumping. This curious custom was first documented back in Roman times when they observed fish jumping in the Thames River and named them Salmo, which means “to leap.” Salmon have been jumping ever since then. Causing questions like “why do salmon jump?” to be asked. There are many theories to this timeless question. Scientists say salmon jump to rid themselves of sea lice, a persistent parasite that hitches onto the fish in the salt water. The sea lice typically fall off the salmon a day or so after they enter the river, so why do the salmon keep jumping?

Others say the salmon jump to clean their gills and scales, but why would they need to clean when they are swimming in our crystal-clear waters? Some say the salmon jump to look for landmarks on their migration or because they are happy and there are lots of them.

I say there is only one good reason why the salmon jump. They are on the end of my line.

The ‘Miracle of the Salmon.’

This year’s big run of humpies, or pink salmon, in the Dungeness River is like a miracle. It brings to mind the first recorded “Miracle of the Salmon,” which happened at a Shaker meeting at Jamestown in 1921.

The Shakers are a Native American form of Christianity that began in October 1881 at Skookum Bay in Mason County when a Squaxin shaman, Squs-sacht-un, who was named John Slocum by the white man, knelt in the woods to think of the error of his ways and the evil days that had overtaken him and his friends.

Squs-sacht-un had lived a life of the “white man’s vices,” horse racing, whiskey drinking and idleness.

Squs-sacht-un became very ill and hovered near death for about two weeks while five Indian doctors tried to heal him. He died at four in the morning. His brother went to Olympia for a coffin and a grave was dug. Late the next afternoon, Squs-sacht-un recovered with a story to tell.

Squs-sacht-un then described an out-of-body experience where he looked down at his own dead body and saw he had no soul. He saw, “a great light from that good land,” where angels told him that he could not enter heaven, because he was so wicked. He had a choice of going to hell or returning to earth to warn people to change their ways.

Squs-sacht-un was told he was given four days to live. He prayed the whole time until another voice told him he could live four weeks if he would build a church. The church was built and Squs-sacht-un was told he could live four years if he lived right. He did, combining Catholic and Native American doctrine and ceremony into the “Shaker Church.”

They were called “Shakers” because their bodies would shake during the services as part of a healing ceremony that would rid a person of sickness, sin or both.

James Wickersham, a Tacoma attorney, said in 1892 that Shaker Church members, “practiced the strictest morality, sobriety and honesty. Their 600 members do not drink, gamble or race.”

The formation of the Shaker Church was occurring at the same time as the Ghost Dance of the Sioux, which resulted in their persecution and ultimately the massacre at Wounded Knee.

The Shaker Church was strongly opposed by their Indian Agent at the time, Edwin Eells and his missionary brother, the Rev. Myron Eells, who banished Squs-sacht-un and his associates from their reservation, then imprisoned them in chains in a single-room jail at the Indian Agency in Puyallup.

Then, with the passage of the Indian Land Severalty bill in 1886, land-holding, tax-paying Indians were no longer wards of the state or under the control of Indian Agents. Squs-sucht-un was freed.

The Shakers spread to Native American communities across western Washington. In 1890, a Shaker Church was built at Jamestown.

In 1921, the largest group of Shakers to ever assemble was at a convention at Jamestown.

No one thought there’d be so many mouths to feed. The Shakers prayed. As the tide went out, hundreds of humpies were stranded in the eel grass on the tide flats. It’s said in the old days, salmon were stranded on the tide flats every summer, but no one had seen this happening for 25 years before the Shaker Convention.

In 1967, an estimated 400,000 humpies ran up the Dungeness River. While this year’s run of humpies isn’t that big, the fact that there’s one humpy left after a century of gross mismanagement of this fishery is a miracle — the miracle of the salmon.

The Winter Forecast.

Autumn must be my favorite time of year. If only because it helps us to prepare for winter.

You remember winter? Maybe you were so busy complaining about how it was too hot last summer, you forgot what was coming next. Fortunately, we’re here to remind you that there is no time like the present to prepare for winter.

First, we need to analyze the predictions for the coming season using the best available science.

There are many tools available to today’s climatologists to formulate an accurate picture of the severity of the season.

According to the Office of the Washington State Climatologist’s September Newsletter, El Nino, that dreaded mass of warm water that creeps up from South America every few years, has hit the snooze button, allowing the tropical Pacific Ocean to cool in the last four weeks.

However, these observations are inconclusive enough to institute an “El Nino” watch in case it does show up.

The climatologist’s outlook for September in areas west of the Cascades predicts, “equal chances of below, equal to or above normal precipitation.”

In addition, these same State of Washington brainiacs say, “the three-month outlook for fall has equal chances of below, equal to, or above normal temperatures.”

How’s that for going out on a limb? That’s why they get the big money.

Other winter prognosticators have warned that it could get very cold here in the months of December, January and February — which would be news to no one who lives here.

That is why we are forced to ultimately rely on the exhaustive research of a humble wilderness gossip columnist to nail down a winter forecast you can hang your hat on.

Make no mistake: Winter is coming.

All of the signs are here.

Already there’s been a dusting of fresh snow on the Olympics.

The geese, ducks, sandhill cranes and shorebirds are flying by at a dizzying rate.

And I’m curing my fish eggs with pumpkin spice.

These are signs of the season that should not be ignored.

The deer are getting shaggy coats.

The spiders are large, hairy and more numerous than usual.

Their webs are spun through the forest so thick, the first person up the trail is soon mummified in a layer of arachnid silk.

In the twilight, we see squadrons of spiders riding the air currents on parasails they have spun from their webs.

Other insects tell a darker story.

The massive invasion of caterpillars that has plagued the Peninsula should have us all worried.

It’s not just the large numbers of caterpillars that are concerning, it’s their thick growth of hair, much of which is a disturbing shade of black.

If that wasn’t enough to cause added anxiety, the corn husks are extra thick.

There is a disturbing over-abundance of cones on the trees.

To top it all off, that other sure sign of a hard winter has reared its ugly head, the old guides’ woodpile is large enough to be seen from space.

We have only to observe the appearance of the orange-coated road hunter to know that winter will soon be here.

Then, we will have the first frost and that other unmistakable sign of the changing seasons, the stupid turning of the clocks.

Mother Nature plays hardball. We have to be prepared.

Preparation is the key to winter preparedness.

I may be wrong, but I am positive this winter will be cold, dark and wet. That is a prediction you can take to the bank.

Get ready, this winter will be a bad one. We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

Sympathy for the Fish Cop.

Thank you for reading this. You send the most interesting letters.

One of the best came as a response to my explanation of how our fishing laws are made — how our biologists emerge from their burrows beneath the State Capitol, where they have spent the winter hibernating.

If they see their shadows, they come up with another fishing law.

Favorites include the “Stationary Gear Restriction,” which says, “the line, weight, lure or bait must be moving while in the water.”

This makes it illegal to get snagged on the bottom.

The definition of wild Steelhead claims they have unclipped adipose or ventral fins, but tribal hatcheries clip the dorsal fin.

We are told in one section of the fishing laws we can use up to three hooks on a floating lure then told in another we can only use one single-point, barbless hook.

Who knew it was illegal to fish for jack salmon or steelhead after you caught your limit of adult salmon?

It’s illegal to keep a green crab. These invasive species could devastate our Dungeness crab and clam populations, but we must release them!

Our fishing laws are so confusing, no two anglers can agree on what they say.

It was wrong to call our fishing laws the “Fish Cop Employment Security Act.”

I know that now after being contacted by a retired fish cop who revealed that Washington’s whacko fishing laws victimize both the public and the officers entrusted with enforcing them.

Greg Haw started his 39-year career enforcing fish and wildlife regulations in 1985 in Forks.

As a young officer, Haw was obsessed, in his own words, with catching salmon snaggers and poachers while working 12-hour days, seven days a week. He thought he was making a difference.

His father, Frank Haw, was a fisheries biologist with 75 years of fishing experience who worked to improve recreational fishing opportunities back when the number of salmon anglers equaled the combined yearly attendance of Seattle’s three major league teams — when Washington’s recreational salmon anglers caught more than the sport salmon catches of California, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska combined.

This was accomplished by using fish hatcheries like the one at the Dungeness River, where in 1961, for example, 1,283,000 spring Chinook, 1,062,000 fall Chinook and 2,500,000 Coho salmon were hatched and released to migrate north and return, feeding a fishing industry and the orca on the way.

Upon retiring from fisheries enforcement, Haw entered a period of bleak depression.

He wondered if, after dedicating 39 years of his life working to protect the natural resources of Washington state in a hazardous profession, he had contributed nothing.

In his book, “Confessions of an Urban Fish and Wildlife Officer in Washington State,” (2019, Amazon) Haw notes that, “nearly all economically valuable populations of fish, as well as much of our native flora and fauna, are in a sorry state. Recreational fishing and hunting opportunities are shrinking.”

In his latest book, “Confessions of a Washington State Game Warden: An Insider Tells All,” (2020, Amazon) Haw says, “WDFW’s recreational fishing regulations pamphlet is best described as an oversized catalog of largely useless and misleading information. Courts don’t take our cases because of this publication. Our ability to prosecute violators is limited. This publication is used by defendants to beat charges.”

This, from a man who dedicated his life to enforcing the fishing laws.

How could such a disastrous collection of unenforceable laws be allowed to grow larger every year?

Go back and read the beginning of this column.

It’s enough to give you sympathy for the fish cop.

Don’t Get Lost.

Who says there is no good news these days?

A lost backpacker was found after four days by search and rescue teams made up of Olympic Mountain Rescue and Tacoma Mountain Rescue volunteers, National Park Service personnel, Washington State Search and Rescue Planning Unit and the Coast Guard helicopter crew that airlifted him to an Olympia hospital.

The search was conducted in the rugged high country, up the south fork of the Quinault River through an end-of-summer storm that brought high winds, lightning and 4 inches of rain.

Just camping in a monsoon like that can be a challenge, even if you have a blazing campfire burning.

While details have not emerged as to how the backpacker got lost, it’s easy to imagine how you can get turned around while hiking on a trail.

I blame the elk. Their trails look remarkably similar to the ones humans make.

Some elk trails have been carved into the landscape by centuries of seasonal migration from the high country to the lowlands and back again.

It’s easy to get confused between an elk trail and a man-made path, but elk trails all have one thing in common. They seem to disappear when you least expect it, leaving you somewhere in the woods with no idea how you got there.

Getting lost in the woods is a proud American tradition that goes back to before the days of Daniel Boone, who said, “I have never been lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.”

Back in the days of Daniel Boone, it was much easier to get lost in the wilderness since there was so much more wilderness to get lost in.

These days, there are more and more people getting lost in the wilderness, since there are so many more people.

The sad thing is that almost every year there are people who are lost and never found.

Jacob Gray disappeared on April 4, 2017, leaving his bicycle along the side of the Sol Duc Hot Springs Road, causing a massive search effort that covered hundreds of square miles. They found Gray’s remains Aug. 10, 2018 — 15 miles away at Hoh Lake.

How he crossed the Sol Duc and Bogachiel rivers and the many rain-swollen tributaries during a stretch of nasty wind and rain to get 5,000 feet up into avalanche country remains a mystery, and a lesson to us all.

With the autumn rains, we’re entering what is arguably the best time of year to get lost in the woods — mushroom season.

You walk through the brush with your eyes focused on the ground as you scurry from one mushroom to the other like a kid on an Easter egg hunt, until you realize you have no idea where you came from or how to get back.

None of that matters now as you see more mushrooms just over the hill and down the little gully where you cannot believe your eyes. You had no idea there could be this many mushrooms left on earth!

The mushroom fever has you in its grip. You are hopelessly lost. You try to retrace your steps, but the forest looks the same in every direction. As darkness descends, you walk faster in what you are sure is the wrong direction.

The best tip I can give to not get lost picking mushrooms is, don’t go mushroom picking.

If that doesn’t work for you, tell someone where you are going, when you’ll be back, and pack the 10 essentials for wilderness travel. Don’t get lost and make someone look for you.

Disaster Preparedness Month.

By now we’ve all about had it up to here with the nanny-state government telling us what to do. The last I heard, this was still a free country where we have the right to pursue happiness, whatever that means. For me, it means doing whatever the heck I want to preserve my precious freedom.

Then, I heard that September was declared to be “National Disaster Preparedness” month. Now, there’s a government program I could really get behind.

Into each life, a little rain must fall. That’s where disaster preparedness comes in. It can be something simple like checking the batteries in your smoke detector or getting one of those disaster preparedness kits they’re always harping about. You know, the kits with food, blankets, water, flashlights and a radio and stuff. Or you can take on a more substantial project to get ready. This month, in honor of Disaster Preparedness month, I rearranged my sock drawer.

There are, however, other steps we can take to prepare for the disasters that seem to be headed our way more frequently with each passing year.

• Stay calm. Don’t panic. Experts are always telling us to stay calm and not to panic when we are facing everything from murder hornets to the Internal Revenue Service. This is probably because they’ve never been faced with these threats. It’s easy for experts not to panic, but it’s bad advice. I say panic early and often. It’s never too early to panic. Practice panicking now before the disaster hits, so you get it out of your system when the real trouble hits the fan. Maybe you’ll panic enough to get a generator. Don’t forget the fuel.

• Migrate. Millions of birds are beginning their migration down our Pacific Coast from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. Get a clue. If these dumb animals have sense enough to figure out that moving to a more civilized climate is a good idea in the winter, what is your problem? One of the best ways to avoid a disaster here is to leave home and head south. Problem solved.

• Bulk up. Here is another tip we can take from our animal friends. Many of whom are incapable of migrating south. Bears, for example, spend the summer and autumn putting on fat to adapt to the colder winter weather. In addition to the survival benefits of having an increased blubber content, the larger you are, the more likely you will be seen by would-be rescuers when disaster strikes.

• Grow your hair longer. In addition to blubber, many creatures grow a thicker coat of fur in the winter. Longer hair will not only keep you warmer, it will save you money on haircuts.

• Hibernate. Once again, we can take a hint from our animal friends. I’m not saying that everyone can attain a state of true hibernation like our iconic Olympic marmots or members of Congress, but you don’t know until you try.

• Super-size fast food orders. This is a no-brainer. We’ve all seen demonstrations of fast-food morsels locked in glass cases for years with no apparent deterioration. Our modern-day chemicals and food preservatives are not only good, they’re good for you.

• Contact your neighbors. A good neighbor will loan you stuff. Find out what to borrow from your neighbors now, before disaster strikes. By then, it will probably be too late.

These are just a few of the many things you can do for disaster preparedness month besides panicking and rearranging your sock drawer. We’ll thank ourselves later if we do the right thing now.

Fall Chores.

Autumn must be my favorite time of year. When the Olympic Mountains stand so stark and tall in the smoke-free air, they almost seem like they are about to fall over, but they don’t.

Although there’s no time to stand around and admire the view when you have chores to do.

Autumn is the time of harvest. You can’t eat the view, so you’d better get to work.

The fact is, there are not enough hours in the day to get all of the chores done because the days are getting shorter.

Experts tell us not to get stressed out or bogged down by the details of life on the farm.

We should prioritize, delegate and move on to the next chore with the rhythm of the season.

Whatever that means.

I think it means now that the vines have died down, it’s time to dig the potatoes.

There are few things I enjoy more than digging potatoes.

To thrust the shovel into the mellow loam, exposing colorful tubers of varied hues of red, white, blue and yellow. Digging potatoes is a treasure hunt.

I was really looking forward to it.

Until I remembered loaning the shovel to a worthless clam digger.

It was a rare antique that was in really good shape. All of my tools are.

That’s another secret to life on the farm. Don’t use your tool and it won’t wear out.

I could never find a shovel that would fit my hand anyway.

It was time to prioritize, delegate and move on.

It’s time to pick a winter’s supply of apples.

An old apple farmer told me that once the coyotes started eating the apples, they were ready to pick. Lately there’s been a coyote party in the orchard every night.

People often wonder how the coyotes pick apples. They don’t.

The coyotes get the apples laying on the ground that the bear knocked out of the tree.

It turns out the bears figured out the apples were ripe before I did.

They must have camped out in the trees for a few nights and ate themselves sick, if the mess around the trees was any indication.

People said I should shoot the bear and tan the hide. Like I need another chore.

I tried to tan a hide once, using the old Indian cure that involved a greasy mixture of brains to do the trick.

It turns out that tanning a hide and writing a newspaper column have a lot in common. I ran out of brains before it was half done.

Besides, the bears have obviously read the hunting laws.

That’s why they never emerge from the blackberry tangles until at least a minute and a half after legal shooting light.

It was just another case of “if you snooze, you lose.”

All that was left of the apples was a few half-eaten ones that neither the bears nor the coyotes wanted.

It was a tragic end to another struggle to survive in the wilderness.

What could I do but prioritize, delegate and move on?

Autumn is also a good time to stock up on firewood.

Stacking firewood is another one of my favorite chores. But you have to cut and split the firewood before you can stack it.

That’s why it was too bad that I could not get the chainsaw started.

I was burning daylight. It was time to prioritize, delegate and move on.

That’s life in the wilderness.

We work through the rhythm of the seasons until salmon season starts — when, if any chore isn’t done by then, it won’t get done.

Labor Day Appreciation

Dealing with the crush of vacationing hordes that invaded the Olympic Peninsula this summer has stressed the tourist infrastructure to the breaking point. The problem is, many of our tourists have unrealistic expectations about their vacations. As a general rule, we like to advise tourists that the sooner they realize that their expectations are unrealistic, the better.

For example, every tourist wants to see a bear. And who doesn’t?

Unless you saw a bear like I did this summer. It was as big as a cow and cut right in front of me out on U.S. Highway 101 without even signaling. It could have been a disaster! Bears have no insurance. Bears, like most of our other wild animals, are irresponsible and unreliable. I can’t tell you how many times we have floated by Elk Creek without seeing an elk. That’s just wrong.

We have petitioned the Geographic Board of Names to rename it No-Elk Creek, but we haven’t heard anything back from them yet.

There could be many reasons for this record number of tourists. People were tired of being cooped up due to COVID. The Canadians wouldn’t let us in their country. And who could blame them? We wouldn’t let them into our country. Americans were trapped here so they decided to hit the road in everything from rental cars to the largest recreational vehicles on Earth.

There are only so many campsites and parking spots, and once these were taken, the tourists fanned out through the hinterland, blocking logging roads and boat launches with their fire rings and questionable bathroom habits.

Floating tourists down a river in a raft gives one a bird’s-eye lowdown on the tourist problem. I hear the horror stories. Like waiting for an hour for a hamburger only to wait for another hour to complain that you ordered it with no cheese. Or waiting hours to get into Olympic National Park only to have the park shut down because of a “law enforcement situation.” All the while trying to find the dump station for their RV before there’s an accident. That’s what it’s all about — creating family vacation memories that will last a lifetime.

Then there is the supply chain fiasco that has interrupted the flow of vital supplies needed for the production of apple fritters in Forks.

The only thing we can count on is the Hoh River, which will flow until the glaciers melt. While it lasts, the Hoh remains the last best river in America. Floating people down it is a rare privilege.

The most notable rafters this summer have been health care workers. They come to the Olympic Peninsula from all of our nation’s COVID hot spots to unwind and try to forget the horror of their working lives.

On the river, they often relax and tell stories of working 24-hour shifts while dealing with dying people they cannot help. They talk of arguing with people who insist they don’t have COVID while they are being intubated. They tell about the patients’ isolation from their families with no chance to say goodbye. They talk of being isolated from their own families and loved ones in an effort to keep them from getting sick. They feel victimized by people blaming them for the pandemic and guilty for feeling like they could do more to stop it. They spill their guts until they cry and so do I.

I can think of no better time than Labor Day to appreciate the selfless actions of these brave people. All of which makes me wish they could see a bear. It’s the least we could do.