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The Buckhorn

Copyright (c) 2010
Winters Express
312 Railroad Avenue, Winters, CA 95694
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Witnessing Salmon Whisperer on rescue mission

By Donald K. Sanders
I’m a Putah Creek Council man. In case you don’t know who they are, here is a statement from their web page: “The Putah Creek Council (PCC), a nonprofit organization, helps protect Putah Creek through restoration projects, tree planting, biomonitoring, workshops, and other events.” Soooo, for about a hundred years, I’ve been a part of the volunteer labor force that helps with the restoration work in cooperation with the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA), an organization once sued by the PCC. Different story.
OK, while doing volunteer work in the name of PCC, I often find myself under the supervision of SCWA employees Rick Fowler or Duc Jones. I cannot say enough about these two working fools. (I mean that in a good way!) Between these two guys, they are about to work me to death. In my younger days, I might have been able to keep up with them but now I just tag along and do what I can.
Duc Jones supervises a majority of SCWA’s work with volunteers. By disposition, this work he is well suited for. Volunteers like his friendly, easygoing nature and his professional attitude towards creek restoration work. Rick Fowler, on the other hand, is a loner by nature who would just as soon have someone poke a stick in his eye as to work with a volunteer. He always tells me, “If you get in my way I’ll run over you!”
Anyway, I’ll get on with my story:
About a month ago I hurt my back, pinching the Sciatic nerve, which causes a constant terrible pain from my butt to my toes. I’ve been around the block a few times, but I’ve never experienced pain of this magnitude. Every move I make sends a burning pain down my leg. I can’t even put on my shoes by myself but this story isn’t about me, it’s about old sour Rick Fowler.
As much as it pains him, he will call me when he needs a little help. He calls me because all the other volunteers are afraid to work with him. They think he is a wild man, which in truth is a good description of him. So, the Wild Man in cahoots with Putah Creek biologist and photographer, Ken Davis, aka. “Creekman,” have been concerned about the late arrival of spawning salmon. Fowler wants to go look for them, which can be a dangerous task with the high flow of water in the creek right now.
I know he hated doing it, but for safety reasons he had to call me to go along. (This tickles me to no end!) I get the call. I really don’t want to go on a canoe trip right now because I can barely put my pants on for the sciatic pain shooting down my leg; it was awful.
I agreed to go anyway because I know that if I don’t go, he’d go by himself. I began having flash visions of him, all alone, trapped underwater by the creek currents.
Oh well!
Next morning he calls and says, “Hurry up! You’re late!” So an hour later, without breakfast or coffee, I find that I can barely get into the canoe before Fowler shoves off the bank into the swift current. My pain is so intense that Fowler is paddling twice as fast as I am, causing the canoe to shift from port to starboard into the blackberry bushes that line both sides of the creek. I can see that by the end of the day, those berry vines are going to make Fowler a bloody mess. He knew it too — that’s why he was mumbling vulgarities under his breath.
For a couple of hours, we paddled like hell to control the canoe in the high currents. Suddenly, just like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” he turns to me and with a scratched-up bloody face he says, “There they are!” There must have been 10,000 salmon trapped behind a beaver dam, all swimming in a circle waiting for Fowler, who they knew would come for them. Now Fowler was standing in the canoe with his arms outstretched saying, “I’m here babies! It’s Fowler to the rescue!”
I was breathless at the sight of all those huge fish swimming in a circle around Fowler.
Anyway, singlehandedly, the Wild Man gets out into the water, tears a hole in the beaver dam, and the fish are swimming between his legs while going upstream. Fowler was talking to each fish as it passed him by, one after the other. As I watched in amazement, there was a shining light behind Fowler’s head and I knew that this guy was something special to the fish world.
I’m willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that those fish knew exactly who he was and why he was there. Unbelievable! You had to have been there...
Afterthought: That night I hobbled home, wrote this column, and posted a video online, and emailed it to everybody I knew that was involved in the creek works. Everyone has worked so hard to see the salmon spawning in a healthy creek, I thought they deserved to see the good results of their labors. I wanted to share the news with them.
So, there it is. Hope everybody enjoys the salmon, but please keep your distance and let them spawn in peace. We don’t want to disturb them right now.
Oh, if I should turn up dead and lying on a muddy road somewhere, Rick Fowler probably ran over me.