PAT NEAL: Youngsters on the river

THIS IS A magical time of year when you see a lot of youngsters on the river.

It started with a hatch of merganser chicks that mysteriously coincided with the appearance of the first baby salmon to emerge from the gravel where they were spawned last fall.

Mergansers eat fish. I don’t like mergansers very much.

Although I do admire their parenting skills. A mother merganser can care for 20 chicks or more.

Each of these babies has to be fed constantly while everything from crows to eagles to otters tries to eat them.

We once watched a mother merganser fight off two eagles who were attacking her brood.

The eagles gave up but likely came back.

Later, the same chicks were observed without their mother.

The otter pups have come out of their dens in the log jams to swim about in the river where the eagles are hunting them.

One day we watched an eagle dive into a family of otters trying to snatch one out of the river. It was a battle royale the otters survived by swimming back into a log jam.

The kingfishers have hatched. Kingfishers are a river pest that seems to have been designed by a government committee.

With a beak too big for its head and a head too big for its body, the kingfisher insists on hovering in a manner that defies the laws of physics before plunging head first into the water for fish.

Which is why I don’t like kingfishers very much either.

Their call sounds like someone shaking a tin can full of rocks.

Kingfishers like to fly in circles around the boat uttering this annoying, grating call in a vain attempt to lure us away from their nest.

The kingfishers are convinced this decoy technique is effective because we always float away leaving them to return to their nest victorious.

The calf elk have emerged from the sword ferns to venture out to the river with their mothers.

Cow elk know the shallowest places to cross the river. Sometimes a cow elk will babysit other calves while their mothers are off feeding somewhere.

Once the cow barks an alarm the babies stick to her like glue following her across the river like a row of ducklings.

The cool days of June-uary are an excellent time to observe bears.

We once saw a bear digging into a rotten stump along the edge of the river looking for insects. She had three cubs. That would have been a record sighting in my books, for the most cubs ever seen with a mother bear.

What should have been a celebrated moment in the history of motherhood was marred by a misogynist stereotyping of an uninformed passenger who said the cubs, “Probably all had different fathers.”

Stereotyping and profiling have no place on a nature float.

Unless you are talking about the American teenager.

Given their dependence on electronic devices it is quite possible to float an American teenager through the middle of the scenarios previously described without them bothering to look up from their device.

The only thing worse than dealing with a device-dependent teenager is the crisis that ensues when the batteries go dead.

This happened on a recent float trip.

Mommy and daddy had forgotten to charge the batteries.

The teenager was forced to go without the device for longer than an hour.

Our children represent our best hope for the future. They deserve to have their batteries charged.

This shameful example of bad parenting should never be tolerated in America, the richest, greatest nation on Earth.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal