Outdoor Writing Contest: Superfund time on the Duwamish

There’s no bonding experience quite like a father-son fishing trip.

I recall canoeing in Z Canyon with Dear Old Dad, interrupted by nothing but the distant hush of the falls, and by the swish and plunk of a paddle brushing the glassy water.

Swallows swarmed to their nests on the towering rock ledges above our canoe where we drifted for shade.

Most fishermen measure success by the jolt of a pole as a family feast fights for a morsel of a meal.

Not us. I didn’t really care that we never got a bite. It was all about heading off to a peaceful, isolated place to share an outdoor experience.

This is the same atmosphere I expected at the Duwamish River Park, which is described as “quiet and secluded” by the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation website. Perhaps the description is meant to provide a false sense of security to the many drug dealers who frequent the area. It must be much easier to catch them off guard and unprepared if they come expecting a concealed, remote place where they can conduct business without drawing attention to themselves.

Or perhaps the article was simply written to shift some of the negative imagery that comes with the government-issued “superfund” title for heavily polluted land.

The Hansen family, drunk with anticipation of a successful trip, would drop a line in a can of gasoline if there were any possibility of catching a fish.

We’d heard rumors of salmon, which are the only fish recommended for human consumption in the Duwamish, due to their use of the river only as a brief passage to spawning territory. Supposedly they were being caught on every cast. I have heard stories like this my whole life, and they are usually just the typical fishermen’s hyperbole. But Dad and his brothers were anxious to give it a try, so we tore off in Uncle Keith’s pickup.

As we drew closer to the put-in at the park, with the truck windows rolled down to cope with the scorching summer heat, the neighborhood racket grew from a slight annoyance to an onslaught. I could only hope that we had a ways to go. The thought of that ruckus being part of a “peaceful” family outing made my stomach churn. We kept driving closer and closer until any conversation was interrupted by a barrage of BEEPing, CRASHing and BOOMing.

“Dad,” I shouted, “What do you think tha-BEEP?”

“It’s a constr-BEEP- site,” Dad said “They’re re-BEEP-ing a bridge. Or it could -CRASH- that hydraulic car-BOOM-pactor. It’s down by the BEEP-fer station.”

We slowed to a stop between the transfer station and the bridge construction zone on jet-black asphalt almost completely covered by shards of glass, discarded needles and spent cigarettes. Dad said proudly, “Well, we – BEEP, CRASH – here.”

Reassuring myself that it couldn’t possibly be what I thought, I scrambled for a good interpretation of that sentence. Did he mean, “We can’t stay here”? “We are lost here”?

I cupped my hand to my ear and shouted, “What?”

Without bothering to answer, Dad jumped out and unloaded the rowboat with my uncles. The BEEPing stopped and I heard him shout over the ringing in my head: “I said, ‘We put in here.’ ”

Dad and I split off from Uncle Keith and Uncle Rod at the launch, leaving them to fish from shore while we scouted out the best areas in the rowboat.

“This’ll be fun!” the old man said.

Yeah, this is great, I thought. Oh the beauties of nature. Just look at the day’s first light glimmering off the rainbows of oil slicks.

Watch that army of ants teaming up to salvage every last drop of soda out of that broken bottle.

Listen to that sweet hiss of the hydraulic press before it reduces a ton of metal to a cube.

Smell the pungent odor of …

I was still soaking in self-pity when a forceful tug pulled me out of a gloomy slouch.

I had never understood what people meant when they talked about the adrenalin rush of a big fish on the end of a line. It was like being zapped with a defibrillator.

I cranked at the reel with a frantic front circle punch as if I were batting at a speed bag. The old man excitedly talked me through the fight. “Set the hook! Don’t horse it in!”

Just as I wrestled my salmon to the boat, there was a yank at Dad’s line, too. We switched roles, and I shouted words of encouragement as he forced the second fish through the Duwamish River’s murky surface to the net.

The trip carried on like this for an hour. Our short, sudden cries of disbelief with every new catch grew louder and louder until the clatter of construction and destruction on the Duwamish was being interrupted by our noise.

“This place is great,” I said to Dear Old Dad. “Look at the day’s first light glimmering off the rainbows of oil slicks. Watch that army of ants teaming up to salvage every last drop of soda out of that broken bottle. Listen to that sweet hiss of the hydraulic press before it reduces a ton of metal to a cube. Smell the pungent odor of …”

“Snap out of it, boy,” Dad interrupted. “You’ve got another fish on.”

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