Otters come a knockin' and the house is always rockin'

Animal poop, boats and their wakes, floating trash – houseboat living is not for everyone.
Crosscut archive image.

At left, the houseboat from <i>Sleepless in Seattle</i>. (Lawrence Taylor)

Animal poop, boats and their wakes, floating trash – houseboat living is not for everyone.

Don't believe all the hype you hear about living on a houseboat in Seattle. There's nothing idyllic about it. It's a living hell.

Let's start with otters. Cute, cuddly, fun. So charming to see them frolic in the water. Do not believe it. They are monsters of the not-so-deep. Yes, it's fun to watch them frolic in the water, but try cleaning otter crap and regurgitation off your deck every morning. Oh the smell, oh the humanity! And that damned endless chirping announcing their presence at any hour. And pity the poor houseboater with otters nesting under her floorboards, or a fish rotting on the inaccessible timbers beneath the front door, no doubt left by some forgetful, sated furry beast. But try to trap these wily critters and you participate in the ultimate act of futility. Willing to consume anyone or thing that gets in their way, they are, unfortunately, also very smart and not one, to my knowledge, has ever been caught by a despairing houseboater on the edge of otter madness.

So otters not a problem? How about rowers? They make a pretty picture, you say, gliding silently along the water in dawn's early light. Elegant, peaceful, and the very soul of outdoorsy, athletic Seattle. Bosh, I say. Starting at 5:30 a.m. every day they go flying by our house, their oars clattering, coaches in loud motor boats accompanying and yelling instructions over electric megaphones. With up to four different clubs and the University of Washington out there on any given morning in singles, doubles, fours, eights, and who knows what other multiples of aquatic madness, the water in front of my sweet little floating abode looks like Dunkirk reborn. Call the clubs and complain, you say. Easier to call the White House and get our constitutional rights restored.

Rowers not enough? How about boaters? How about lots and lots of boaters? A veritable freeway of them flying by our little dream house on logs. Christmas boats and Opening Day boats, vacation boats, and Fourth of July and New Year's let's-go-see-the-fireworks boats, and let's-take-our-boat-to-the-Husky-football-game boats, Sunday driver boats, and tour boats, and party boats, and rented boats, police boats, Emerald City Yacht Club boats, and, God bless them, jet skis. All ply the waters in front of my house, many moving well above the 7 knot speed limit. People who visit often ask, does the house move? Well yes, my dears, it does when wakes and swells from these nautical nightmares hit it with the force of small tsunamis. We rock, we roll, the logs groan, the chains holding us in place complain, flotation barrels displaced from under the house pop to the surface like breaching whales, our cats scurry to hide under the beds, grown men cry, and mysterious bangings and clangings heard at no other time emerge from the depths. And the sea plane taking off from time to time? Don't ask.

Finally, flotsam and jetsam. Know the difference? I do, but who cares? Bottle caps and life preservers, glass containers and displaced paper labels, beer cans and tires, oil slicks and what appear to be vomit slicks, condoms and plastic food bags, logs and ladders, cigarettes and boat bumpers, they all float in to the waters around our dock. And billions and billions of little pieces of white and blue plastic foam from broken down or discarded food coolers, coffee cups, insulation, and who knows what else. We have recently been made aware of the enormous floating plastic jungle of man-made detritus, many miles wide, out in the Pacific Ocean. We have our own. Right here on Portage Bay.

So this is a horror, no? And I haven't even mentioned the lookey-loos coming up our private dock, still agog over the Sleepless in Seattle lifestyle, the milfoil and noxious weeds clogging the waters and grabbing at our legs when we try to swim during the summer, sea gulls and crows banging the life out of their catches on our roof, and – well, I could go on, but if truth be told there is nothing better than fog over the water in the early morning, the moon reflected off the still waters at night, or Harry the Heron patiently standing on one long skinny leg, the other tucked up under him, waiting for his next meal to surface. So I guess you can keep your dirt houses, and give me, sigh, my lovely life on the water as I watch the boats, and the condoms float by.


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