Sara Montour Lewis — Seattle Commercial Children's Lifestyle + Wildlife Conservation Photographer
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Field Notes

These field notes are a little peak behind the scenes of personal adventures, creation of stock imagery, location scouting, etc.

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Our Urban Wilderness — Kayaking the Sammamish River from Redmond to Bothell

We live a few blocks away from the Sammamish River and I’ve been talking about kayaking it ever since we moved to Washington. Every time I’ve decided to go kayaking, though, it’s been hard to pass up an opportunity to go straight to the Puget Sound (I mean… there are WHALES IN THERE). For some reason I decided the middle of January was the perfect time to kayak the Sammamish for the first time. People running along the trail (in full-on winter gear) were asking me what in the world I was doing until I explained that I was from Minnesota and 45 degrees in January is a bona fide dream.

I started my 10ish mile paddle in downtown Redmond, hoping to find some wildlife along the way. Right when I started I could see some Double-Crested Cormorants off in the distance, which was a good sign and then saw also several Red-Tailed Hawks soaring above.

As I was photographing wildlife, out of the corner of my eye I kept catching glimpses of bright yellow leaves floating on the edge of the river. It took me about a half mile to realize that they weren’t leaves, but they were actually all tennis balls. I started picking them up and then remembered that the Marymoor Dog Park is right along the river.

I couldn’t pick up one tennis ball and paddle more than a couple times without seeing another one, so I ended up putting my camera away and just focused on collecting all of these tennis balls that had washed downstream.

Luckily I saw this River Otter in time to get my camera out without them noticing and I tried to keep it accessible for the rest of the trip.

I started the Our Urban Wilderness project to show people how much wildlife is in our urban areas and how we’re already coexisting with them, whether we realize it or not. Going under all of these freeways with cars flying by as I was photographing these creatures going about their day just reinforced that again and again.

A female Common Merganser on the Sammamish River in Bothell, Washington
Bothell, Washington Conservation Nature and Landscape Photographer

The final collection tally:

43 Penn Tennis Balls
12 Indistinguishable Tennis Balls
10 Wilson Tennis Balls
5 Chuck-It Tennis Balls
3 Petco Tennis Balls
2 Chuck-It Rubber Balls
2 Kong Tennis Balls
1 K3 Tennis Ball
1 Pet Pride Tennis Ball
1 Petsmart Tennis Ball
1 Walmart Athletic Works Tennis Ball
1 Petsport Tuff Balls Tennis Ball

2 Petco Frisbees
1 Ruffwear Hydro Plane
1 Mini Basketball
1 Football
1 Soccer ball
1 Golf ball
2 Dog Toys
1 Snapple Bottle
1 Sprite Bottle
2 Water Bottles
1 Gallon Juice Container
1 Chunk o’ Styrofoam
1 Utility Cover
3 Feet of bubble wrap
1 Right Shoe

The crazy part of this is that I didn’t even start kayaking until about two miles downstream from the dog park, so I can’t imagine how many more are trapped closer to Lake Sammamish. I also couldn’t fit the traffic cones, 5-gallon buckets, hub caps or tires on my kayak, unfortunately.

Two notes:

1: I don’t blame the dog park, or the dog owners, on all of this and I wouldn’t have expected them to jump into the river to swim downstream after their lost toy. I have two giant, crazy dogs myself and I know how distracted they can get (which, to be honest, is another reason why I throw sticks instead of tennis balls). This was just a very visual example of how when we think that one piece of garbage that flew away, or floated downstream, isn’t that big of a deal that it undeniably adds up and we should be conscious of that.

2: As a society I think that we have this strange sense of ownership/disownership that isn’t necessarily helpful to our collective well-being. It’s easy to see something laying on the ground, roll your eyes, think of how rude the person was that dumped that particular thing there, all while walking by and doing nothing about it because it’s not your responsibility. The fact is, though, that one man’s trash is another man’s trash and I think we could all do a little less finger-pointing and a little more action. Myself VERY included.

Wildlife Conservation Photographer based in Seattle, Washington

About the Our Urban Wilderness project:

Inevitably, every time I post an image on instagram + facebook of the wildlife I find on these walks, someone will say something along the lines of "where did you find that?!" or "I wish I lived closer to 'XYZ' so I could see something that cool!" and I always have to laugh because 90% of the time I was just on a quick walk in the middle of the city and stumbled upon some crazy creature. I'm guilty of it, too, though. If I see a photo of a walrus or a narwhal I want to hop a plane to the arctic immediately, if not sooner. I know, though, that there are a million cool creatures within a few miles of us all right this second and all we really have to do to see them is slow down, open our eyes and be patient. This year alone I know I've seen dozens + dozens of animals that I've never seen before.

The second reason I wanted to do this project is because there seems to be this mental box that we put on wildlife where we think that humans exist in "THE CITY" and wildlife exists in "THE WILD", as if we all live in a zoo together and there are barriers between our habitats. (All you have to do is live in an area where bears or coyotes have wandered into residential neighborhoods to realize how strongly people believe this.) The fact, though, is that we're all coexisting and our paths cross far more often than we all realize. I think this can happen, peacefully, if we're all just a little more aware and if we don't turn into alarmists every time we see something that we're sure belongs in "THE WILD".