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Stories from the valley

Exploring the American River, Part One

Contributed by Lewis Kemper

Thanksgiving morning, and there was plenty to be thankful for. Twelve days ago, when I went out to go kayaking, I wheeled my kayak down to the river engulfed in smoke from the Camp Fire approximately 80 miles away. The air was so bad, that I was having trouble breathing, and I could barely see 50 yards in front of me. I took a few images of the bright orange sun above the tree tops, turned around and went home. But on Thanksgiving morning the air had finally cleared, after a much-needed rain. I was hoping the weather conditions were making it easier for the fire fighters, who had been relentlessly working to contain the fire.

The clouds were departing from the following day’s rain, and the morning light was beautiful as it streamed in at sunrise. I put my kayak in the river and headed down stream anxious to see what awaits me. I have been kayaking regularly on the American River for over five years now, mostly on the same mile and half stretch of the river, and yet every time I venture out, a new adventure awaits. It wasn’t long before I photographed a Snowy Egret, a Great Blue Heron, and a beaver. I was impressed with how nice the autumn color looked, considering the color has been well passed it’s prime in most other locations around the country. The yellows, red and golds of autumn were reflecting on the river adding a vibrant backdrop to my images.

I found beauty all around me from the grand landscape to the intimate details of leaves floating by in the current. It was great to be back out on the river! Being an “outdoor guy,” my time on the river is a spiritual time for me, renewing my energy and filling me with joy.

As I kayaked around to all my usual locations, I spotted a deer enter the river from the big island behind Rio Americano High School. The deer swam across the river and exited on the mainland side and quickly disappeared. I realized it was time for me to disappear too, wanting to get back home to help prepare for the Thanksgiving meal.

As I paddled back to my takeout location, I spotted a Great Egret and decided to make one last stop for pictures. But as I was paddling towards the bird, I heard the familiar sound of an otter and quickly turned towards it. I was so fortunate to find four otters playing, diving for crayfish, and hanging out. I used to see otters often, but after the flooding of the river in 2017, they have been scarce in my area. Today was one of the best otter experiences I have had in a long time! I spent about 15- 20 minutes with the otters and got home a little late, but I had a great morning and was very thankful this holiday.