Paradise started here on Saturday morning. This is the put-in point for the six rafts that carried nearly fifty of us down a remote 13-mile stretch of the Nisqually River. Thanks to the work of the Nisqually Land Trust and its conservation partners, the photograph above captures just one of the many variations of river, trees, rock, and sky that greeted us with every gentle meander. From the Nisqually-Mashel State Park near Eatonville to Wilcox Farm near McKenna, there were no signs of development or human habitation.
Oh, but there was actually one sign--a home we might have missed had a young girl not waved and shouted hello from her back deck. We waved back and the Meriwether-wannabees in our boat shouted a hearty "Which way to Puget Sound?" and "What county are we in?" She responded with a befuddled "Huh?" We left it at that.
I'm glad she didn't answer. Though we had good maps of the territory, I was happy just being on the Nisqually, floating, meandering, feeling its course, riding its riffles, lingering in its pools, imagining the whole river from the its source to its mouth, and being there in the middle of it for a wonderful while.
The Nisqually River is 78 miles long. It begins 5,300 feet above sea level at the toe of the Nisqually Glacier in Mt. Rainer National Park and ends in the newly restored Nisqually Delta, where it meets Puget Sound in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The headwaters and the mouth are protected. Some 3,400 acres of the Nisqually Watershed is protected by the Nisqually Land Trust. Great care is being taken to protect this river, its forests, floodplains, and wildlife. You can feel this care and protection. You can feel the joy when someone in your boat points out an osprey nest, a water ouzel, a western tanager, an especially regal Douglas-fir, or tells of previous sightings of bald eagles and river otters.
Over thirteen miles of any river, you would expect to see a fishing camp or two, a derelict shack, a picnic table, a pile of rusty appliances, a new tent, an old mattress, a cigarette butt. I looked hard, but saw nothing that shouted or even whispered "careless."
Though I wished for a blue-sky day for our float trip, I found the spitting rain, mist, and spongey gray clouds relaxing. The light was soft, the wet green foliage gave off its own rich light, the water didn't sparkle as much as it glowed. No one was squinting or turning pink.
After a leisurely catered lunch on a wide gravel bar, the clouds (perhaps sensing I was falling in love with the river) put on a show that was, well, distracting. I was a bit irritated at having to juggle my camera and my paddle, but I figured out that I could do both if I only took photographs in the calm pools after we had successfully navigated the raging Class .5 whitewater.
And here are the clouds that, for a long while before anyone can remember, have been blowing in from the Pacific Ocean, moving eastward across the lowland, rising up the flanks of the mountains, becoming rain and snow, and then, under its own frozen weight, glaciers that carve a paradise drop by drop.
Everyone should learn more about the float trips, conservation work, and volunteer opportunities of the Nisqually Land Trust .
Everyone should see the toe of the Nisqually Glacier on the easy 1.2-mile "Nisqually Vista" loop walk at Mt. Rainier National Park.
Everyone should visit the Nisqually Delta on the new boardwalk at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Everyone should fall in love with this river.