Floating Homes, Chinook History, and Kayaking Lake River
I paddled my kayak past the floating homes lined up along the shore of the Lake River. A slight breeze generated peaks upon glistening water. The sun warmed my cheeks. I studied the Ridgefield, Washington, homes floating next to me. There was an entire co-culture living on the water.
I paused and placed my double-bladed paddle across my kayak, and half-leaned my body over a rounded, plastic edge. My hand cupped cold, river water and I splashed it on my bare legs. Refreshed, I kicked my feet from inside the kayak and propped them onto the floating nose in front of me. The river’s current guided me. The call of a bird broke the silence.
Straight ahead, a man stood on a buoyant deck attached to a floating home and monitored a dropped fishing line. How does the home float? I thought, as I dropped my paddle alongside the kayak to push against the surrounding water and move it forward. Minute marks passed and the kayak glided in front of the fisherman's deck. “Hi,” I said. “Do you mind if I interrupt your fishing to ask how your house floats?
The man stood up out of his chair and shuffled toward one edge of the deck. He smiled and lifted a finger to direct my gaze. “Do you see the large logs under the house?" he said.
“Yes,” I said as I leaned forward, squinted my eyes, and looked at the old-growth cedar logs supporting his home.
“Well, the logs keep the house afloat. The wood can last fifteen to fifty years. Part of the log has to be above the surface, the other part submerged in water, allowing the water to soak into the wood from below and evaporate into the air." A long stride led him to his fishing line. "I purchased this house two years ago. I had eleven logs replaced," he said.
“Wow! How do you do that?" I asked.
“Scuba divers placed the logs under the home," he said.
According to the website Portland Waterfront Properties: "Many of the older floating homes in the Portland market were constructed using "old growth" cedar logs, which were cedar logs of unusually large diameter. Today's floats are built using the largest diameter logs the builder can obtain. The logs run the length of the float and are tied together using wood or steel "stringers" that are installed perpendicularly across the top of the logs to create a building platform.
”Older log floats were usually built by cutting ’notches’ into the top of the logs to accommodate the installation of the stringers. This notching method made it difficult to level the float. It often became necessary to add ’shims’ below the stringers to help level the float." - portlandwaterfrontproperties.com
A stray hair tickled my face. I wonder how much that cost? I thought. My new friend said, "Most of my neighbors have some connection to the water." He shared aquatic stories. I listened. Suddenly, he said, “Have you ever been to the Big Paddle? It’s the first Saturday in June?”
“No, I’ve wanted to go in the past, but couldn't make it. I’m hoping to go this year.” I said and backpaddled my kayak trying not to hit his dock.
“You should. The Chinookans have a long, wooden boat they bless before the event. After, they ride along the river. Around three hundred kayakers participate. The city provides a guide. The guide will show you where Ospreys nest, " he said.
My eyes brightened with a smile. I said, “I would love to write about that. I’m a travel writer and photographer."
The first kayaks were not massive pieces of rotomolded polyethylene - plastic - or fiberglass. Earlier kayaks, created by the Inuit (an Arctic people), were Eskimo light boats with a wooden frame covered with hairless sealskin, used as hunting equipment. Kayaks - or ‘qajaq’ as said in Greenland - became an essential part of Greenlandic culture and migratory roots. The literal translation for qajaq is “small boat of skins.”
“I traveled the world when I was young,” he said and delved into a tale of globe-trotting excursions never recorded. I thought, There were no social media accounts or travel blogs when you traveled. For years, people sold everything they owned and traveled the world. It isn’t a new thing.
“You said your name was Kirk, right?” I said, moving my paddle forward against the water.
“Yes, it’s Kirk. Like Captain Kirk.” he grinned, with his attention slightly diverted to his dropped fishing line.
I chuckled and said, “It was nice to meet you, Captain Kirk. Maybe I’ll see you on the first weekend in June.”
He yanked on the line and pulled a small fish out of the water. He said, "Look! I caught one!"
"That's great!" My voice trailed off as I paddled away.
The sun sank into the horizon. My kayak glided across the river's flowing water. A large dog and his master sat in their metal boat and floated past me. Birds flew overhead. A slight breeze cooled the air. I moved my head from side to side and stretched my neck. I imagined myself stooped over a keyboard writing a story about the floating home neighbors of Ridgefield, Washington.
KAYAKING IN RIDGEFIELD:
Drive down Main Street in Ridgefield, Washington, and you step back into a bygone era of pioneer history. Incorporated in 1909, but established by indigenous natives - The Chinookan Peoples - The City of Ridgefield welcomes you with tree-lined streets and homes that belong in storybooks. A handful of shops tempt you to spend money on coffee, antiques, and local fare. Every first Saturday during the year there is a celebration of Ridgefield's heritage and community.
A first Saturday event my family attended was The Big Paddle on Lake River. The event is in conjunction with National Trails Day and has several activities at the waterfront: vendors, live music, a wine and beer garden, and an obstacle course for families. It is not a large festival, so if you are looking for numbers, you will be disappointed. The festivities on the waterfront are free. You will need to pay a small fee to register for the Big Paddle on Lake river. You can bring your own kayak or canoe (there were also a couple of SUP boarders.) or register for a seat in a 30’ Canoe or a Chinook Canoe.
Once on the water, you will paddle to a specific spot before stopping your boat. There, you will float and listen to Chinook history from an ancestor of the Chinookan Peoples. One thing I wished the City of Ridgefield would have done is set up a microphone on the speaker. There were a lot of people on the water, and at times, it was difficult to hear him.
The speaker said about a Chinook paddling ritual, "It takes four days to get to the Columbia River. The reason it takes four days is that's what Coyote told us. It takes that long because we are visiting all of our ancestors, your relatives as you go down the river."
You will most likely talk with other kayakers as you paddle by them.
One fellow kayaker, Lisa, said about the plastic cluster of gliding kayaks, "The scene looks like colorful dragonflies doing their dance across the top of the water."
Beth provided a helpful hint about an off-shoot from Lake River to the Columbia. She said, "kayak it at the end of July through the end of September. No speedboats are allowed during that time. Because of that, you will see more wildlife." Her husband, Nick, gently waved his arms as he described seeing a bald Eagle bathing a few feet in front of them when kayaking the area from late summer to fall.
The Big Paddle was a kayaking day trip. If you are interested in kayaking for multiple days, research the Lewis River-Vancouver Lake Water Trail Paddling Guide published by Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation. Often, hiking trails are highlighted throughout the Pacific Northwest, but rarely the water trails that fill the area.
TIDBITS IN A SNIPPET:
1) After kayaking, eat at the historic Sportsman's Steakhouse and Saloon located in Ridgefield. The food is made fresh, and the atmosphere relaxed. I've never felt uncomfortable wearing my kayaking grubbies.
2) Not hungry? Warm up with local coffee or hot cocoa at The Old Liberty Theater. If you have time, check out their events schedule, as the 1946 theater is still active.
3) Are you staying more than one day? Head to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. If you are a photographer, bring a lens for wildlife photography. Not a photographer? Tour the Cathlapotle Plankhouse - a replica of a Chinook plankhouse - at the Refuge. The house is an educational and interpretive center open weekends and on a seasonal schedule.
4) Be prepared for construction when visiting. The neighborhoods of Ridgefield are growing.
5) Another water activity is to fish along the Lake and Columbia River. You can launch your boat from the Port of Ridgefield.
6) As I was writing this blog post, I received an email from 1889 Washington’s Magazine. They recently published an article: Home and Design: Seattle Houseboats.
Note: I am currently working on a compiling a list of Travelstoke kayaking spots to be published by Matador Network . Watch my social media accounts or sign up for my new newsletter to be notified when the list is published.
Here are my photos from another Ridgefield event held every August: Ridgefield's Farm-to-Table Dinner.