Ninety-nine feet above a boiling pool in the Touchet River, taking dead aim at its target, an osprey hovers.
Then the bird world’s most consummate angler dives.
Shwaps the water.
Disappears beneath the surface.
Reemerges, dripping, an 8-inch trout grasped precariously in one talon.
It flaps its water-washed, suddenly heavy wings with vigor, gets a grip with both talons and flies off downstream, the fish headfirst, aerodynamic, toward the osprey’s power pole-top stick condominium.
I am on the Dayton river walk. It’s two miles of surprises each way.
The blue-sky-forever day is windless, pleasantly cool.
The bird air force — including blue herons and Canada geese — is paying homage to health care workers in this COVID-19 pandemic time.
They also entertain the rest of us, who enjoy quality flying.
A few brave people are out for exercise, walking and riding bicycle.
I choose to walk.
It’s more of a saunter, as the great naturalist John Muir suggests, when one has a chance to venture outdoors.
A pace to see and be seen.
I follow the pandemic’s 6-foot physical distance rule from other trail users.
Being that close, however, is a challenge for a Danish-American, who is more comfortable with three times that distance.
Soon, I come across a surprise. Beside the trail is a granite erratic, swept into Columbia County millions of years ago by the Lake Missoula floods and now converted into a bench.
I sit a spell, soak up the shade and listen to the river.
The woodpecker drum solo.
The granite has soaked up overnight coolness. Soon I am cold, too at-one with nature.
Before I freeze, I pop out into the sunshine and continue up the trail, which soon turns from pavement to packed smooth-jazz gravel.
A bridge linking Stone Mill Park to the high school athletic complex offers a chance to survey the river from a bird’s-eye view.
Evidence of damage from the early February flood is ample.
A bird choir tunes up.
A kingfisher darts downriver, on the hunt for fish, its loud, machine gun-like call reverberating through the gauntlet of trees.
But for now my attention is on Canada geese. A peculiar bunch, they circle and land at the top of a basalt cliff across the river.
Hiking farther, I see cliff swallows plying the updrafts on a basalt cliff.
They play fighter pilot games.
Prime real estate.
More great views.
I meet other hikers and, properly distanced, we chat. They tell me the trail is a cherished part of their daily routine.
They ask if I have seen goslings, which they fear have been lost to flooding.
How about mergansers? they ask.
Not yet, I reply. (On the return hike downriver, I see a merganser couple claiming prime island real estate. Great view. Riverfront property. May need flood insurance. A fixer-upper.)
You’ll see deer soon, the hikers say before nodding good-bye.
For the next quarter-mile I scan the hillside across the river for deer.
Nothing except the hysterical squawk of a pheasant.
Then I look east. Multitudes whitetail deer are busily providing landscaping services to residents’ backyards.
Farther along, I come across a friendly squirrel. Perched on a fencepost, it does a Euell Gibbons impression, as if to say many parts of the pine tree are edible.
Just make sure you chew throughly before you swallow.
Like a migrating salmon, the trail follows the river past innumerable rapids, climbing gradually, until it ends at an intersection with the Bluewood highway.
I reach the end of the trail, turn around and head downriver.
A sitting bench beckons.
The sun beats down, relentless, energy-sapping, and I reach in my day pack for an oat bar and a gulp of by now slightly warm water.
Everything looks different going downriver, the couple had advised me.
The river races me — and wins easily.
I am not power walking or even hiking. Just sauntering, Muir fashion.
Trying to soak in the sights, sounds and smells as the river zips along at an urgent pace for an eventual date with the Pacific Ocean.
I say hello to more deer, startle a blue heron and walk past thousands of fish evading the telescopic eyes of osprey and kingfishers.
It’s a watery world.
Prone to flooding.
Nice place to relax.