Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Harvest is on

The swans have returned to Salmon Cove for the winter.  Several are still out in the Connecticut River, but fifty or so are in the bottom of the cove with forty more up at the top, white dots on a backdrop of yellow, red, orange and green under a calm sky with only a few clouds.

I collect preened feathers, as planned, material for an ongoing project...wobbling the canoe between denser feather collections, grabbing them by hand and flicking them into the bottom of the canoe.

It is truly amazing how beautiful it is here today.  I do this often enough that it would seem that it should become routine, but it never does.

I spot a coyote near the minor point on the north shore.  It is the best groomed coyote that I have ever seen and for a moment I wonder if it is a domesticated dog.  But, the over-the-shoulder glance, that look, a sum of curiosity, apprehension, fear and disdain reads clear.  I've seen it before.  Coyote.

The still water mirrors the forest, twice what one would measure.  Harvest colors everywhere.  It is the harvest.  The wild rice left behind by the birds has dropped into the water, the cattails have burst and the seed is being sewn by the wind, acorns, maple seeds, pine cones...all of it being picked and eaten, stored, or planted for the new season.

Having picked my quota of feathers, I continue up the river until I reach the dam.  And, this time, I portage the dam into new water.  It is a wild little river, fifty yards across, but after a half mile it becomes a fifty yard wide river that is only three inches deep.  I wade a bit until I'm convinced that it will not get better until spring.  And, I turn back.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Capital Letter

I like to write my thoughts as they come to mind, but today I had a place to be due to an astronomical schedule that must be kept.  I couldn't see the stars or the moon or the sun for that matter.  But, the effects were present, the tide was dropping, the current growing.  So, I left the East and raced up the mighty Neck, and veered off fighting my way into the one inch standing waves of Bailey Creek until I entered the Sneak, now so often described in this journal that it has attained a capital letter, and I descended that, a quirk of tides in marshlands, and re-entered the East.

the Sneak

It all goes well with little to note other than the replacement of ospreys and willets with herring gulls and yellow-legs.  At the first bridge, the picket fence of a deer's ribcage appears in the salt hay along with a bleached scapula and a still furred leg - hit by a car, hit by a train, or hit by a disease...to early to have been hit by a hunter.  No telling where it came from, the back and forth washing of the tide ruins the logic.  It's here, for the time being.

A few kingfishers, a great blue heron, some fish jumping, a few turtle heads, one great egret, the wind blows cool, the clouds come over.

I stop at the broken stone dam that hides behind the cattails up against the forest.

And then, I return....washed...  not clean, but washed.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Out of Focus

I've been working in a huge abandoned building, preparing it for an art exhibition.  Finally, my work is done and I get out in my canoe on the big river that lies east of where I live, some ways north of where that river meets the ocean, where it is sleepy and fresh.  Some leaves have changed, some have not, but the best marker of fall, the honking of Canada geese looking for food in the stubble of a nearby farm field is present.

Several times while I was working in that cavern of a building, other artists asked if it was haunted.  I always gave a short and direct answer, "No, it's just empty"....an answer that ended that line of questioning.  People looking for spooks, spirits, haunts...It doesn't work that way.  Look for spirits and the imagination will create them...but they will only be imagination.

I'm out in the big river, perched at the edge of the twin islands, next to an otter track that is dragged out in the sand, crossing the tip of one island and into the channel between.  I'm in the water with its swirls and currents and eddies, and shallows and dead heads.  I'm in the water with its spirits.  But, I won't see them today.  It has been too long out of the water.  My senses are dulled, my perception out of focus, my eyes not fully open.

It will come.  Give it time, it will come.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


It rained often during the night and it seems to have rained often during the night over most of the area.  But, it is warm and the soaked landscape brings a quiet to the air, a quiet that only becomes more perfect when the sprinkle of raindrops, near and far, mingle into a curtain that excludes the man made sounds that permeate nature.  Just as I set out, it begins to sprinkle.

The town grocery opened at eight but I knew that if I waited that half hour to buy the snack that I should have taken along, I would miss something important.  So, I continued to the put-in hoping that I still had an old mangled granola bar somewhere in the bowels of my pack.  I did not.

A low thin haze hangs over the river, a haze that cameras have a way of removing, but a haze non the less.  The tops of my eyeglasses fog, so no matter how clear the day becomes, I will paddle in a haze.  I am hungry, but only in the stomach.

I flush a great blue heron here and there.  I scare up a few wood ducks and get visited by a kingfisher every so often.  I see one hawk.  The osprey are all gone.

It is a symmetrical world.  With not a puff of wind, the forest and banks above the water are reflected below.  With not a hint of breeze, I paddle as often on the left as on the right, no corrections for wind.  I plan on three hours up river.  Just about then I see a party of canoes coming down and I turn, preferring to not pass and then repass them, keeping the river in front of me to myself.

Two fast canoes slowly catch up and pass me, gaining a few inches with each stroke.  They go out of sight in a half hour, not far ahead, but always around the bend.  I pass them when they stop to rest, and see them no more.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

There are Blackbirds in the Rice

We set out into a head wind, following the shore or the edge of the marsh islands closely as to shelter us as much as possible from the wind.  Fall is coming.  The day is sunny and cool with short mare's tails high aloft in the sky. 

S paddles from the bow and once or twice uses a draw stroke to pull the nose back into the wind.  At the big open bay, a shallow exposed circle of open water, we count twenty swans.  Swans are once again gathering for the winter.  These may end up in the big flock that winters in Salmon Cove.  Migrating osprey are fishing, taking advantage as they work their way south.

Past the open water, we enter the narrow channels of Lord Cove, flushing here or there, a duck or two.  S sees a white spot in a distant dead tree.  I tell her it is a great egret.  She says that it might be just a white patch of wood.  I respond by telling her that there is always a great egret in that tree. 

It is a great egret.

We circle through the channels.  Unlike most marshes, most of the channels in this one are not dead ends.
There are blackbirds in the rice.

It is a leisurely paddle.  It is a much more leisurely paddle for one of us.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Sixth Bridge

A couple of my friends are in the Quetico, a couple others are in the Boundary Waters.  I'm drifting downstream on a tailwind and an ebb tide in the East River when I stop to write.

spartina in seed
The tall spartina grass has gone to seed and some of it is turning red, while the short spartina is starting to turn blonde and the cattails went tan at least two weeks back.  The cattail pods are just beginning to go downy.  I use the Bailey Creek sneak, taking advantage of the high tide.  The sneak is a more intimate route to the first bridge.

Bailey Creek Sneak

There are not too many osprey visible today and as I paddled the river, I was amazed by the large number of schools of menhaden in the water, their tail fins above the surface looking all tiny shark like.  It's a fish that is similar to herring - the name menhaden is derived from a native american name that meant fertilizer.  They form tight schools five to fifteen feet in diameter and scatter only when the canoe reaches the edge of the gathering.  The lack of osprey is probably due to the osprey needing to digest the equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner.

school of menhaden

I came in at high tide, riding the lag most of the way up the river.  A high tide means that the river will be canoeable bank-to-bank to the fifth bridge, the Foote Bridge, without any risk of touching bottom with the paddle.  I pass the fifth bridge and when I get to the next bend, I pass a kayaker who has been dipping his way upstream.  He says, "looks like this is as far as it goes" and I tell him that one can go at least one more bridge, although it requires doing the limbo.  I continue, he turns back.

the sixth bridge
The river here changes from a marsh river to a forest creek.  I duck a few low trees, but mostly I weave around them.  The water stays deep and I paddle easily to the sixth bridge.  It is only the second time that I've been here.  But, the tide is a little extra high today and I keep going.  Another hundred yards and I have to crawl over a deadfall tree that spans the river.  Another fifty yards and I wade and clear a small log jam.  I wade more and paddle less the farther I go, and finally the creek becomes a wet foot hike, and it is time to return.

American Bald Eagle

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lieutenant River

My neighbor, I., stops and asks where I am off to and I tell her, "I don't know, but I'm going canoeing."  I break that rule often, the one about telling people where you are going.  But, when I am canoeing, I make my decisions as if no one will ever come looking for me.  It all works out in the end.

I head to a new place, a new river for me to explore, but I find the wind rising and know that I will face a stiff paddle on the return, and recognize that this river will have nowhere for me to get out and walk back.  So, I go someplace that I know.

I head up the river, two green herons, two adult swans, two cygnets, a great blue heron, a great egret, a few osprey, two kingfishers.  Noah's ark for the literalists, without brontasauruses and tyranasaurus rex.

green heron

When I get to the widening, I paddle with ease through the boulder bay, the six to ten foot diameter boulders that dot the marsh mostly covered and the mud bottom plenty deep for my paddle.  Those oversized boulders, seemingly out of place in a big marsh make this place unique. I find the creek that I suspected to exist on my earlier low tide trip coming into the bay at the far end, just around the corner where it had been out of view. 

The creek is beautiful and well forested.  I suppose that it is seldom visited.  It doesn't go anywhere in particular, but it is entirely worth paddling, just a few hundred yards to a small bridge where, on the other side, the creek forks and both arms are canoeable for just another hundred yards.  And since it is entirely worth paddling, it takes me someplace, someplace important.  I'll bring someone here sometime, and they will probably go someplace different.

As I head back downstream, I catch the two adult swans overseeing the flight lessons of the two cygnets.  The grey cygnets paddle around and flap their wings remaining firmly rooted in the water.  The wings look well developed, but aren't yet strong enough for that wooshing wing tip splashing take off that swans do.

I continue down to the big river and sit on a rocky island for a while, waiting for the tide to drop and expose the shoal, which will draw the shore birds in to feed on stranded critters.  When I get back in the canoe and round the corner, there are ten or so snowy egrets working the silt.

snowy egrets