Thursday, November 16, 2017

Finding Ganesha

Note to self:  If you're wearing wool pants to canoe in, pack a thermos of hot coffee.
I woke to a windy day and it seemed that my plans might have to change.  But after a brief and hard rain the air went comparatively still.  I began to scan weather reports looking for the best weather.  I found a spot, and I went there.
I spotted a large fungus at the base of a tree a few yards from the put-in.  I walked over and found a Ganesha.  I don't usually like to leave man-made things in wild spots, but this was hard to spot, besides being someones spirit object.  I let it be.  Besides, Ganesha has all the right attributes for my journey.
I headed up the river deeper into the forest.  The sky was a heavy overcast with a definite possibility for rain.  It was dark, dank and what most people would call, gloomy.  In my mind it was just nature...take it as it comes, experience it in all of its twists and turns.  I hoped to continue upriver farther than I had gone in the past.  I had a gut feeling that I would find high water and easy paddling.  This was, however, not the case.  40 minutes out the river ran low, just as I neared the railroad trestle.  A couple hundred yards of wading would be necessary to go higher.  Instead, I turned back to explore the lower marsh.
The sun popped through just as I passed my put-in.  Somewhere not too far below this point is where the tide is noticeable.  Today's very high tide began to show its stuff - water at the base of the trees, the berm that contains the river (separating it from more marsh) barely rising above the water.  I met a duck hunter on his way out.  He had seen only two ducks this morning.  I told him that I had seen about 30 mallards, but all on my upriver foray.
The side channels of the big marsh were topped up with the tide.  I spent my time exploring a few places that I've not gone to before.  I spotted one dark mid sized raptor with a white butt...Northern Harrier.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Here I Bow Down

Today is the purge.  Nine days in a row of working for the KoolAid drinkers, watching them engage in the tired old games with the belief that they will look good in the eyes of people who have drunk far more KoolAid than they.   Sometimes I think that I am standing far too close to a manure spreader.

The river makes that all, more or less, irrelevant.  I'll do my work, but I will not bow down.

Beyond all of that, here in the marsh where the high tide ebbs with a strong current under bright fall sunlight and a cool sky, beyond all that there is a balance.  I don't count for much here in the marsh, nor should I.  I am here at the mercy and pleasure of something far greater that I will never fully understand.  Here, I bow down.

The day is quiet and few birds are about....1 Great Blue Heron, 3 Hooded Mergansers, 1 Kingfisher, a dozen Yellow Legs, 1 unidentified hawk.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Real Purpose

I didn't come here to look at the birds and I didn't come here to look at the new beaver dams and lodges, which went up in the last two months.  Of course, I would do all of these things, a fortuitous by-product of my real purpose, but not the real purpose.

I was here just four days ago.  I come here five or six times each year between April and the freezing in, so two trips in four days is a bit of compression.  If I lived closer, I would probably spend most of my paddling days in this swamp.

Wood Duck and Kingfisher
Four days ago the water was high when I put in at the lower end of this stretch.  Today, I start up at the top and the water still looks high, very high in fact.  I suspect another new beaver dam not too far down river.

The water is deep and dark, the bottom rarely appearing.  The narrow river is wider than normal and the "step-overs" - bank to bank logs - are either paddled over or end run.   A half mile in I begin to flush wood ducks and mallards.  I spot a large hawk and one kingfisher.  But best of all, it is a good and easy paddle in the deeper waters. 

When I get near the only bridge, I can gauge that the water is about two feet deeper than it was four days ago.  It is a by-product of a strong storm of heavy wind and rain.  I also wish that I had brought a bow paddler with...another by-product of that storm is that there are strands of spider web and spiders everywhere and I am constantly brushing them from my face.  No doubt they are rebuilding their traps.  I paddled over three beaver dams without noticing them...high water.

There is something about finding new beaver dams and lodges that buoys the soul.  Particularly at this time when we have an immature brat running our country, corporations trying to cash in on the last of the oil reserves before climate change kills us and threats of much shortsighted stupidity.  Finding a new beaver dam and lodge demonstrates to me that some parts of the world go on functioning as they should.  Beaver build dams to protect their lodges and territories.  Wood ducks take cover in the flooded shrubs, woodpeckers feed and nest in the flooded trees, fish lay eggs, survive and do better in the deeper and cooler waters.  No matter what is going on in the inhumane human world, the beaver do what beaver do.  The marsh grows, the trees get flooded and die, the marsh silts in, the marsh becomes a meadow, the beaver move to another place, the meadow becomes a forest, and that is continuing is comforting.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Seven Dams

A group of 10 boats sets out while I am preparing for my own start.  They have five minutes on me, so I hurry at a good pace to catch up and pass them, my new adage, "first one up the river sees the most" on my mind.  Groups of 10 boats don't see much anyway...too much talking.

I catch them at the first bend.  It is a guided tour and the guide is giving the first lecture.  I turn the next bend and get to watch a 8-point white tail buck wading across the river.
The first beaver dam comes unexpected.  It was not here two months ago...not even a hint.  In fact, it is still soft, silt and plant material have not filtered into the sticks and branches.  But, it holds back a foot of water.  It also holds back two kayakers, one sleeping and one preoccupied with looking through a camouflaged 12 zillion power zoom lens.  I cross the dam.
Around the next bend I find the new beaver lodge that is associated with the brand new dam.  Their dam is holding water that will make this entire trip an easier paddle than normal.  I begin to flush ducks, dozens of wood ducks with a rare mallard at times.

In the low autumn light the gray sticks area of the lower marsh is nothing short of spectacular.

Dam 2 comes unexpected as well, although there were new scent mounds in the vicinity before I saw the dam.

Dam 3 is no longer important.  It has been the first dam for a couple years, but now it is barely higher than the downstream water due to the new works.  It is clear that no one has been up here this morning...I am flushing wood ducks at regular intervals.

It is the middle section...a stretch of forested water between the two open air marshes where is goes wild.  At each of the bends I shake loose a dozen or twenty wood ducks.  As I was getting ready to write that I have spotted dozens of wood ducks, I have in short order spotted hundreds.  I have never seen so many wood ducks, period.

Dam 4 is a pleasant surprise.  While it was here before, it has recently been raised a foot or so.  Immediately, I know that this will change a couple of awkward deadfall "step-overs" into "paddle-overs".
Dam 5 comes right after 4.  It is a minor new dam on a narrow section of the river.

Dam 6 is an easy step over and it supersedes Dam 7, which barely shows above the water.  The beaver have been quite active in late summer and early fall.

I turn back when I am near Pine Island, skipping the last partial mile of constant turning and weaving.  Already, this has been one of my best trips ever into Great Swamp.

I meet no other person until I am just above Dam 1, which is still holding a foot of water back on the upriver side...and four kayakers on the downriver side.  They ask me how to cross a beaver dam...I respond, "Well, you will have to get out of the boat."  They watch me...because it is still soft, it is tricky.  I do not leave them confident....I continue down.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Following the Storm

Yesterday brought a storm with rain and winds out of the southwest at 35+ mph.  The last bit of road leading to the put-in spot is covered in beach sand with large puddles of salt water in the low spots.  The strip of houses on this road live on borrowed time even with their concrete stilts.  Their garages and carports no doubt ran with water yesterday and it was not even a particularly high tide.

The lower half of my paddle disappears from view with each stroke, the water in the river clouded with the silt that the storm washed from the tops of the spartina meadow...what constitutes firm ground in this area.  Even now, there is a swirl of silt (the pattern that one sees when they put cream in coffee without stirring) at each of the rivulets that continue to drain last night's rain.

But, for all of yeaterday's bluster, it is very calm and very peaceful under a low and thick overcast.  It is more than anything, marsh weather...the weather that I associate with wetlands, something from my youth when I went to pothole swamps in the fall to hunt ducks with my dad.

The lower marsh is scarce of birds.  Only when I get to the Big Bends do I start to see animal life with regularity...a couple Great Blue Herons, some Black Ducks, a small flock of Canada Geese, and quite a few Yellow-Legs.  I spot two hawks as well, returned now that the Willets aren't here to sound the alarm and make their hunting nearly impossible.

I turn at Foote Bridge and paddle back against a gentle flood tide current and light wind, both of which do nothing except make the day feel special.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hot Coals

I was short on energy today, but this is the time of the year when you go with the weather and tomorrow is predicted to be raining with gusts to 38 mph.

 Messerschmidt Pond.  Not great fall color, but not too bad either.  The maples were the color of hot coals.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


I put in on the Lieutenant River and headed seaward against the last of the flood tide and a stiff quartering headwind on a clear and comfortable day.  I spotted a few Great Blue Herons along the way, but otherwise it was quiet.  I thought long about my wife and my family.  I suppose my last trip here with my wife was the seed for that.  It was good and this was a good place for thoughtful meanders.
It took about an hour to get to the Black River, which had been a good plan on a high high tide, but the breeze had stiffened and it was obvious that my return out of the Black would be reduced to a arm busting slog straight into the wind.  I turned back.

On the return I paddled up the channel called the "Back River", which makes no geographical sense.  It put me into the main channel of the Connecticut and so I wiggled and bobbled my way upriver on waves quartering from the rear until I could take the passage back to the Lieutenant.  It was a short trip.