Category Archives: On writing

Students ride the wind during salmon kayak tour

When 60 students from Central Kitsap High School took off in double kayaks to look for jumping salmon, they had no idea how the changing weather would make the trip more exciting.

Bill Wilson, who teaches environmental science, organized Tuesday’s trip on Dyes Inlet near Silverdale. Lead guide Spring Courtright of Olympic Outdoor Center shares the story in her words.

Reminder: Free stream tours from land are scheduled for Saturday. See the story I wrote for Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Wind pushes the kayaks along, as 60 Central Kitsap High School students return to Silverdale Tuesday after watching jumping salmon. / Photos by Spring Courtright

By Spring Courtright
Program Director, Olympic Outdoor Center

At 9 a.m. on election day, anyone peering through the fog at Silverdale Waterfront Park would have seen 35 bright kayaks lined up on the beach and 60 high school students preparing to paddle.

Central Kitsap High School environmental science students study salmon in class, then are given the option to paddle with jumping salmon on an annual Salmon Kayak Tour with the Olympic Outdoor Center (OOC). For the last two years, 60 students have jumped on the opportunity.

This trip started about 10 years ago with about half that number of students. I have been one of the lead guides for nearly all of these tours. It’s always an adventure, but this year was one of the more memorable trips because of the beautiful clouds and quick change in weather.
Continue reading

The ongoing adventures of an enviro reporter

I recently spent an afternoon with Eric Sorensen, former science writer for the Seattle Times who now works for the Washington State University News Bureau.

As we drove up and down the back roads of the Kitsap Peninsula, I showed Eric some of my favorite places, and I dredged through my memory banks for stories I’ve covered through the years. I found myself babbling nonstop, talking about one environmental issue after another, trying to tie together the geography and history of our peninsula.

Somehow, Eric was able to create a nice biographical story about me from our discussion and his review of my stories. You can read his piece, titled “Bearing witness to the sights and smells of our soggy backyard,” in WSU’s alumni publication “Washington State Magazine.”

His story begins, “If you cover the waterfront the way Chris Dunagan does, you have to expect a fair amount of smells. There’s the fresh, tangy scent of estuary and the mild musk of beach wrack. There’s the stench of rotting shellfish during the great Oyster Rescue of 2010 and the outsized rot of a beached gray whale….”

It seems Eric had some fun with this story, even if my reputation as a smelly type of reporter needed no help. Anyway, I think he did a wonderful job of capturing some of my adventures.

I found a brief bio and humorous photo of Eric in an announcement of a talk he was giving journalism students at the University of Idaho, just across the state line from WSU.

Eric has captured many wonderful stories related to the research and personalities of folks associated with WSU. You can find a list of his recent work on this search page of “Washington State Magazine.”

When “Washington State Magazine” went online, he wrote a thoughtful “Dear Reader” piece about magazines, the art of reading and the flow of information. Thanks to the Internet version of the magazine, anyone can read Eric’s story about me.

Amusing Monday: Toilet songs for the holidays

Knowing more than a few sewer operators in my day, I can tell you that their leading pet peeve is all the stuff that people dump down their toilets and drains.

I’ll never forget the courtroom description of a giant “rag ball” — some 30 feet long — found in Bremerton’s sewer. Rag balls are the accumulation of diapers, tampons and baby wipes that get flushed down the toilet and become caught somewhere in the sewer lines.

Bremerton’s famous rag ball became wrapped up in courtroom testimony during a lawsuit against a sewer contractor hired by the city to run the operation. For details, check out my story from April of 1998.

Steve Anderson

What I really wanted to share with you this week is a song called “O Christmas Grease” by Steve Anderson, a water resources analyst at Clean Water Services. This is the agency that manages wastewater and stormwater in a 12-city region west of Portland, Ore.

Steve often writes music and performs in a band when he’s not working at the utility. He told me that he started writing original songs as well as parodies of existing tunes to entertain his fellow water experts at conferences. Last week, for example, he showed up at a conference to help educators decide whether humor is useful in educating people about wastewater issues.

Steve says the public-education folks at Clean Water Services tolerates his songs, but they do not fully embrace his activities. His first song — a parody about the low levels of drugs that make it through the treatment process — got him into a little hot water with some folks in the business. “Dope in the Water” is sung to the tune of the Deep Purple original.

“The Ballad of Betty Poop” was written as a kid’s song for Take-Your-Children-to-Work Day. It’s about the adventures of a plastic GI Joe and other characters. It includes these famous lines: “Give it up, you toilet treasures… You’ll never make it all the way to the river…”

Steve has not released these songs to the public, though he readily shares them with friends and anyone who will listen. I must thank Gayle Leonard, who writes a blog called “Thirsty in Suburbia,” for bringing Steve’s songs out into the light and putting me in touch with this creative force in the sewer world.

      1. O Christmas Grease
      2. Dope in the Water
      3. The Ballad of Betty Poop
      4. Dont Flush the Baby (Wipes)
      5. Fats Oils and Grease

Download the lyrics to all five songs (PDF 72 kb)

Folks worldwide write farewell notes for Happy Feet

UPDATE: Aug. 29, 2011

More than 1,700 people bid farewell to Happy Feet Sunday as officials at the Wellington Zoo made final preparations for his send-off today. The emperor penguin was visible in a glassed area. Nick Perry of The Association Press does a nice job with the story. AP’s Ed Donahue narrated the video below.

Happy Feet is now on his way. Follow the map to track his journey.


Happy Feet, the emperor penguin who strayed far from home and ended up in New Zealand, will be released back into the wild on Monday. Remarkably, this single bird has captured the hearts of people worldwide.

If you have clicked on my “Recent Comments” in the right column, you have followed this penguin’s recovery at Wellington Zoo since my first posting in Water Ways back in June. (Updates are added onto the top.)

Gareth Morgan, who is helping to finance a tracking project for Happy Feet, has created an online farewell card for people to sign. Comments are coming in from throughout the world.

If you feel inclined, please gather your thoughts and add them to the card, which can be found on the Our Far South website. You can also read the hundreds of messages coming together by clicking on “Read other messages.” Some of my favorites:

Oh Happy Feet – you have brightened every day as we have watched you from halfway around the world. Your recovery became a symbol for us of hope, and humanity’s will to help and love all creatures here on Earth. I am so sad we won’t see your joyful soul every day via webcam, but my spirit is happy that you will return to the glorious freedom of the wild, and will think of you often with fondness. 

From Sarah Gledhill – Toronto, Canada

I hope we have all learned to love the seas a little more after watching you my friend. You have encouraged me to to as much as I can to keep the earth clean for all the animals. I wish you a wonderful life and be sure to tell all of the other penguins of your adventure with us. 

From Nancy Tibke – Kent, Washington. USA

Farewell beautiful pengie … you have made me smile and my heart glad. I hope you find a lovely family to enjoy your life with and get to eat lots of yummy fish. 

From jenny sparks – Christchurch

Sand is grey, snow is white, remember this, and swim right. Take care, Happy Feet. New Zealand loves you. 

From Dody – Wellington

Thank you Happy Feet. I love you and miss you so… Have a nice trip to home and hope you will enjoy rest of your life with family and friends!

 From Sachie Takayose – Tokyo, Japan

It’s amazing how one little penguin has so many people around the world pulling for him! Be well, our little friend. 

From Michele – United States

Be safe, Happy Feet! I hope that all of you (and not just your feet!) are happy that you will be on your way home soon. I’ll miss watching you from my computer at work while I’m supposed to be working. Be careful, be safe, and know that you are loved and missed! 

From Melissa – York, South Carolina, USA

Sweet Happy Feet…you will do just fine…don’t be will find your freinds very soon. Just keep swimming south and don’t turn around! God will send his angels to guide you all the way. Bless you… 

From Barbara – Houston,Texas

Dear Happy feet I feel very sad that you are leaving.You are my favourite peguin in the whole wide world :o) 

From Cara Harris – Whitby

Dear Happy Feet, It’s been a privilege having you visit us. You have been a great ambassador for making people more aware of the plight of The Antarctic. Travel safely and live a long and happy life. Please don’t get lost again. You may not be so lucky next time. Lots of penguin hugs and flipper slaps. Jo, Bill & Hannah Turnbull, Gisborne , NZ

Hey buddy, sorry about that GPS ankle bracelet. Like they say, come on vacation, leave on probation! Keep your beak clean and you’ll be out of having to wear it in no time. Glad you are getting to go home. Next time, stop and ask for directions!

 From Jeff – Birmingham, AL USA

Goodbye Mate! Swim safe and please tell your fellas that humans are not so bad as they seem and that, if they want, they can keep this world amazing as it is..I wish you love and a long and happy life and thanks to have reminded us that we have humanity within us still. 

From Francesco Loretucci – Prestwick, Scotland

I love you Happy Feet! Even though I will miss seeing you everyday….knowing you will be heading to YOUR home makes me even happier. XOXO. 

From Rochelle – Matawan

Dear Happy Feet I am so glad you are well enough to return South to meet up with your fellow Emperor penguin buddies. Like millions of other you’ve captured my heart but all we want for you is to be safe and happy and back home but will miss you. Am so glad Dr Lisa will be on board “Tangaroa” anxiously watching over you until she says her goodbye’s and please do give her hug before you leave. Bon 

From Pat Browne – Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Oh dear Sir Happy Feet, you are going to be so missed by us. I have spent so much time just looking at you bobbing, twisting, spreading flippers, wiggling your little tail and seeing you go out the door was like my baby had walked for the first time. You be a good boy and take care of yourself and do not ever forget how much we love you.

 From Aileen Keery – Auckland, New Zealand

To the folks at the Wellington Zoo: Hope you realize that all these messages are really for you. You have not only saved a penguin, you have brightened the lives of countless people around the globe. Thank you & God bless you all. 

From Gaynor Sorrell – Fairfax Station, VA

God speed Happy Feet! You were found up the beach from my home in Raumati, yet as you, I to am far North from home in Canada. I also find myself prepairing to return south to my home just as you are . I believe if you understood the journey you are about to embark on was back to your home, you’d be filled with excitement & gratitude, as am I. You’ll be fine I’m sure! You’ve prooved your a fighter!

 From Vickie – Raumati NZ – Vancouver Canada

New movie about Luna ready for Seattle release

UPDATE: Aug. 30, 2011

The world premiere of “The Whale” took place Aug. 20 in the Faroe Islands, where promoters hoped they could encourage changes in a long tradition of hunting pilot whales. Check out reports on “The Whale” website and a blog entry by Leah Lemieux, author of “Rekindling the Waters.”

U.S. openings of the film are scheduled for Sept. 9 at SIFF Cinema in Seattle and The Grand Cinema in Tacoma, followed by openings in New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver, B.C. See the film’s screenings page.

It appears that the much-anticipated movie about Luna, the killer whale, will soon be released in Seattle, New York City and Washington, D.C., according to an e-mail from the filmmakers, Suzanne Chisholm, Mike Parfit, and David Parfit. A new trailer for “The Whale” (view below) was recently released.

Luna was a 2-year-old male orca who belonged to the Southern Resident community of whales that frequent the Salish Sea. He somehow became separated from his family and took up an isolated existence in Nootka Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Suzanne Chisholm and Mike Parfit spent months filming Luna and eventually produced an independent film called “Saving Luna.” But they were unable to gain mass distribution for the award-winning film until actor-producer Ryan Reynolds took an interest.

From their e-mail:

The Whale is a new film, narrated by Ryan Reynolds. Like the movie Saving Luna, it also tells the story of Luna. In some ways you could say that The Whale is based on Saving Luna, which won 25 awards from around the world. But has been completely re-edited, re-written, and newly narrated to make it clear and accessible to an international audience of all ages.

“Our executive producers, Ryan Reynolds, Scarlett Johansson, and Eric Desatnik, have given us terrific feedback and suggestions for how to streamline and improve the storytelling, and we have added a significant amount of new footage as well. But, to reassure those who love the original film, it has not been turned into something crassly Hollywood. The same basic creative team has been at the heart of the new movie, and we are very happy about how it has turned out.”

The release date and advance theaters have not yet been announced.

Mike wrote an article for the July-August issue of Smithsonian magazine explaining how the project would not have come together without new digital film technology.

I’ve written before about my coverage of Luna’s story for the Kitsap Sun — including a trip to Nootka Sound, where I met Suzanne and Mike. By the time I arrived, they had made real connections with the local residents of the area — largely, I think, because they did not impose themselves on others the way some people with video cameras will do.

I was chosen by the Canadian government to be the U.S. pool reporter for print media. I was given special access to cover the effort to capture Luna and return him to his family in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A Water Ways entry on Aug. 10, 2010, updates the Luna film project and includes links to the stories I wrote.

One segment of the film (click here to view) talks about people’s desire to touch Luna, who would come alongside boats and docks and practically beg to be petted. My wife Sue, who had come with me to help out, loves animals of all kinds. A few times we were down on the docks in the evening when Luna swam up. I followed the government’s orders not to interact with Luna, who had already become “habituated” to humans, as they say. I also would not allow Sue to approach him, though it killed her to be so close and not get even closer.

“You need to stay back,” I told her. “I can see the stories now: ‘Reporter’s wife arrested for petting a whale, while he covers the story about people illegally petting the whale.’”

It was an unusual story, all the way around, and I look forward to the film version of “The Whale.” Developments can be followed on Facebook.

Amusing Monday: The fear of seafood

Seattle chef Becky Selengut, an expert in Northwest seafood, has been promoting her new book “Good Fish” about how to select and prepare seafood.

For a reporter, it would be obvious to interview her about the methods of cooking, unique dishes from the sea or “sustainable” seafood. I was amused by the approach taken by KUOW’s Megan Sukys, who talked with Selengut about how she overcame her early fears of eating seafood. Check out the report on KUOW, which includes an account of Becky’s uncle, who frightened a young girl as she tried unsuccessfully to chew up a clam for the first time.

The story reminded me of an incident involving my seafood-shy wife Sue, who never has been able to embrace the richness of Northwest seafood the way I do. If you ask Sue to try a bite of fish or shellfish, she demands to know, “Does it taste fishy?”

I never know how to answer this. If it tasted like chicken or steak, it would not be seafood. But I know what she means. Fish that is fresh always tastes better than the same item left on the shelf too long. The trouble is my tolerance for “fishy” is higher than hers.

Sue generally avoids shellfish as well, because — like a young Becky Selengut — she can’t stomach anything she can’t thoroughly chew up.

In 1992, Sue accompanied me to an awards ceremony in Olympia, where the book “Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk” was being recognized with a Governor’s Writing Award. Gov. Booth Gardner, who was in office at the time, presented the awards and invited everyone to a reception at the Washington Governor’s Mansion.

Continue reading

Amusing Monday: Rejoice when the pun shines

Some people say puns are the lowest form of humor.

The real problem, I believe, is that it takes too little effort to make a bad pun. The good ones are somewhat rare, so enjoy them when they come. When puns ring true, there is no other form of humor that tickles your brain the same way.

Saturday was the 34th Annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship.

Yesterday, Liane Hansen of National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition” interviewed John Pollack, the 1995 champion of the Pun-Off, who has written a new book “The Pun Also Rises.” Listen to the interview in NPR’s media player or check out the story “Not Jest For Pun: A Surprising History Of Wordplay,” which includes an excerpt from the book.

Before getting to this year’s contest, I’d like to share a few of the “Best Stressed Puns of the Millennium,” as voted on by the International Save the Pun Foundation, which puts on the pun-off:

Continue reading

Amusing Monday: Fabric evokes a watery dreamstate

I’ve become intrigued by the work of artist Mary Babcock, whose latest creation with Christopher Curtin uses sheets of fabric to evoke a feeling of flowing water.

An exhibit called Teem uses fabric to evoke the feeling of flowing water. / Photo courtesy of Don Frank Photography

Babcock chairs the Fiber Program in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. (Review her resume.) Her latest artwork, in partnership with Curtin, “superimposes metaphors of water (movement/potentiality) and the sea (the infinite, comfort, danger, aloneness) to evoke a sense of dreamspace — the space of possibility,” according to the artist’s description on the school’s blog.

Teem, as the exhibit is called, got its beginnings at the Netshed at Alderbrook Station in Astoria, Ore. Now, I wish I would made the trip to Oregon while the exhibit, called Deluge, was still open. It has now moved, with some changes, to the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

As the description states, “Teem uses textile to create an environment where viewers find themselves under the surface of the water at the powerful juncture where river currents meet the ocean tides, where the individual meets the collective….

Continue reading

Predicting salmon runs — and reporting the issues

Before salmon managers begin to focus on harvest quotas and seasons for salmon fishing, they must work out predictions about the number of salmon coming back to each management area throughout the Northwest.

Those are the numbers released this week during the annual kickoff meeting for the North of Falcon process held in Olympia. Check out my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

So how do the managers go about predicting this year’s salmon runs? It gets pretty technical, but it is basically a combination of counting the number of salmon smolts that leave selected streams and then calculating a rate of survival to determine the number of adults that will come back.

Mara Zimmerman
WDFW photo

Numerous conditions affect whether eggs and fry will survive to smolt stage and make it out of a stream, just as many factors can cause the death of the young fish after they leave freshwater. I’m tempted to describe these factors here, but instead will defer to Mara Zimmerman, who heads the Wild Salmonid Production Evaluation Unit. Her well-written report on the “2011 Wild Coho Forecasts…” (PDF 376 kb) provides an excellent education into how coho are estimated. Check it out.

I was one of three newspaper reporters who attended Tuesday’s meeting in Olympia. It was easy to tell the difference between my handling of this story and the approaches by Jeffrey P. Mayor, who writes for the Olympian and the News Tribune in South Puget Sound, and Allen Thomas, who writes for the Columbian in Vancouver (Clark County).

The biggest difference is that those guys are sports or outdoor reporters, mainly interesting in telling their readers what fishing will be like this year. As an environmental reporter, my primary focus is to describe how the salmon are doing ecologically — although I do recognize that many readers of my stories are anglers who also want to know about fishing.

Continue reading

Puget Sound Partnership still generates optimism

We haven’t heard much from the Puget Sound Partnership for a while — unless you count the state auditor’s report last year. I thought it was about time to provide a progress report, including a discussion about whether this relatively new agency still holds support among legislators and other officials.

This was the concept behind my rather lengthy report in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Frankly, I expected to hear more people express opposition to the concept of creating an agency with three distinct branches yet no regulatory authority. In establishing the partnership, the Legislature expected the agency to stand above the fray and wield the power of persuasion and scientific reasoning in promoting projects to restore the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Several people I interviewed mentioned “growing pains” in reference to the partnership, and many expressed optimism that the organization has been learning and is prepared to lead the way.

In the end, it seemed that the people who best understood the functions of the Puget Sound Partnership were the strongest supporters — although many supporters were disappointed that the partnership hadn’t moved faster in issuing some of its reports. But there was also recognition that the management systems being set up were not required by the enabling legislation and were taking time to develop. Many believed that these decision-making tools would provide a solid foundation for future decisions.
Continue reading