Just to be clear, I am volunteering at the Booneville Hatchery which is operated by Oregon Fish and Wildlife Service. I spend my volunteer hours here trying to keep the grounds spotless and the flowers watered. There is another group of volunteers near me at the Bonneville Dam and they work for the Army Corps of Engineers as docents in the various visitor centers at the dam complex.
For the first three weeks here, I am camped out right in the middle of the hatchery. The dam volunteers have their own campground in a very secure area on an island at the dam. Until my friends Mike and Sue arrive, I am all alone here in the hatchery at night. I am especially grateful to those volunteers across the bridge for inviting me to their potlucks and letting me enjoy their company! And yes, I did force them to listen to a short banjo concert. In spite of that, they let me come back to the next get together.
Me and the Critters
My volunteer day at the hatchery begins with a mental (and sometimes physical) battle between myself and a local squirrel. He seems to believe that he owns the trash can beside the gift shop. Since this is usually the fullest of the many cans I check, I try to empty it first. Sometimes the squirrel is waiting inside the bag to terrorize me when I pull it out of the can. Other times the squirrel is gone but has left destruction in his wake. If he keeps this up, I may have to re-watch “Caddyshack” and let “Carl” teach me how to effectively deal with vindictive critters.
Sunny Reels Them In
After policing the parking lots for trash and litter in the morning, I face the onerous task of checking the trout ponds for dead fish. So far, I have to retrieve about one (often fungus covered) carcass a day from somewhere in the pond.
My main goal when retrieving the dead fish is to avoid making a spectacle of myself. I prefer not to be uploaded to Youtube by some visitor who catches me falling headfirst into the trout pond, gaff fully extended toward a possum playing fish who decides to “fight”.
Plus, even if they are truly dead, fish can be heavy to pull up onto the pond wall. Sometimes they are about 12-14″, but if one of the big ones turn fins up I have to drag and gaff a 24″ to 30″ heavy, slippery trout from the middle of the pond to the side and out (the big ones are always far away for some reason). After landing my catch, if it is not trash day I transport the fish in my buggy to a giant bone chilling freezer room. The trash fish ice up here until they can be disposed of in a non-pungent way.
Of course, if I get distracted with some other task enroute to the freezer, giant ravens attack my scooter truck and attempt to peck their way to the dead fish in a plastic bag in the bed of the buggy. I usually make a beeline for the freezer with any deceased fish to avoid those confrontations.
A Life Coach for Fish?
I become so despondent over the dying fish, that I try giving them a pep talk on my evening walks around the trout pond. I remind them that they have so much to live for and should not give up. Why everyday, exuberant children shower the fish with food (and apparently quarters) while they admire the fish’s swimming skills. But I guess that is just not enough. Yesterday two of the rainbow trout were floating in the pond belly up. Good grief!