Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter Marsh

At no other time of the year is the water so clear.  What looks to be 6 inches deep is 18.  Anything that has been left behind on the bottom is visible.  Today, all I see are goose tracks from the last or last few low tides while the high tide is recorded by a thin band of ice running through the winter tan cattails a bit over 2 feet above the water.  I flush a kingfisher, hear some ducks - either mallards or blacks, true quackers, and at the first widening I flush a flock of 75 Canada geese who fly downriver, their vee formation a long wavering line that stretches all of the way across the river valley, tree to tree.

At the stone arch bridge, I am greeted by a full width ice sheet coming the opposite direction on the flood tide.  The edges of the flow are breaking and crumbling as it fits through the constriction.  I aim the canoe, for once you are in the ice, you don't do much turning, and I slice the 20 yards through.  The ice is only an 1/8 inch thick...night ice that formed in the coldest part of the day in some calmer patch of water.

That flock of geese is just down at the next bend below the stone arch.  I try to sneak by at the far bank, but they scare again.

At the big bend, a favorite with birds no matter what the season, I find some two hundred geese.  They split noisily into two groups, the 75 returning back upstream as a unit, the others heading down and then splitting into a dozen groups that circle and change directions and come back as if they are biding their time until I move on.

In the Sneak

But, in spite of all that busy-ness, it is a gorgeous winter day with sharp sun and contrasts and a blue cloudless sky.  There's hardly any wind until I reach the final seaside marsh. 

The Sneak

I turn into the Sneak to make my way to Bailey Creek and then to the Neck River.  I expected the Sneak to be iced in with the one and two inch ice that has formed in the side channels, but it is open.  Of course, after a couple hundred yards it is not open.  I push past broken cakes of ice for a meander or two and then it becomes solid and it is turn back or portage. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Fog Rolls In

I'm not going through that bridge today.  The basin is brimful, short spartina grass awash with a high tide that turned a short hour back.  It won't be long until most of the Menunketesuck marsh is trying to run through that 20 foot gap.   If I go through, I won't be coming back for a few hours.

It is grey and dark under a thick layer of clouds, one that not even a faint disc of sun will show through.  It sprinkles lightly with temperatures under 40F... nasty stuff if one isn't prepared.  But, it is calm for the first time in several days.  I will have the river to myself.

I pass a dead horseshoe crab, upside down and still with all of its legs and bits.  Usually, you just find the outer shell.  It is impressive how little there is under the huge carapace.  It's a spider in a double garage. (I will find four of these today)

dead horseshoe crab

With the bridge being a self-imposed limit, I have time to explore the two long arms that drain the outer reaches of the marsh.  They are much more serpentine than the main channel, tightly meandering with swirling eddies in some of the bends as the tide flows out.  There is little in the way of birds....the only ones that I can identify are mallards.

As the tide goes out, the fog rolls in.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Lost Boy

I woke this day, a lost boy, without positive direction or aim.  It goes with the (my) territory of being an artist, at least until one is so famous and in demand that they become an art machine.  When I was working as an engineer, I knew what I would be doing each day.  I knew what I would be doing a month or two ahead.  There was a certain amount of comfort in the aggravation of it all.

I put in at Pilgrim Landing on a sunny and calm day with temperatures still in the 30's.  The hillsides and marsh plants were echoed on the water's surface, until the wind came up as I was entering the big, shallow open bay that is ringed by private club duck blinds spaced out precisely so that the nincompoop in the next blind can, at most, harmlessly rain pellets on his neighbor's head.

I push through into the headwind to get to the narrower channels where I can hide from the wind.  There are few birds.  The ducks are all buffleheads, in groups of four to fourteen, and I spot three herons, although I might be seeing one heron three times or one heron twice and another once.  I do spot the same kingfisher twice and I find one lone coot.

Belted Kingfisher

I came out today because there is no lost boy in the canoe, there never is.  You point the bow in a particular direction and follow it.  The goal is always around the next bend and you know that in an hour or two, or a half day or more, you will still be dipping the paddle and pulling the craft through the water...and you will not question or second guess it.  There is a certain comfort in the pleasantness of it all.

MD 20/20, best when aged until barnacles grow on it

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Next Bend

I once heard about how racing sled dogs are trained.  When they are pups, they are taken out for runs on twisting and turning roads and trails.  The dogs become motivated by curiosity...always pushing to see what is around the next bend.  In fact, when people have used dogs to cross very large icefields, they often have to send someone out a few hundred yards...a moving dark figure to the dogs, something to hold the dog's attention, something to draw them forward.

After the second bend
I put in at the Foote Bridge on the East River.  This is usually a turn-around point, but there is a high high tide coming today and the place I use near the sea will be flooded with several inches of seawater.  I'll turn back at the sea.
After the third bend
It sprinkles lightly as I start.  It is what the day is...a bit warm for this time of year, with a sure prediction of drizzle, rain, fog, or all of the three.  The wind is out of the east, which is only normal when a patch of strong weather is coming from the west.

After the fourth bend
I photograph the view as I round each bend.  When I am on a river for the first time and the day is getting long and I'm thinking of returning, it is always, "one more bend, one more bend," until it just can't be "one more bend."  At about half of the bends, I flush a few black ducks, never getting close enough to bother with a photograph.

After another dozen bends or so

The Sneak is brimful and wide with the flood current changing and going in my direction.  The Sneak is all bends, I slip the camera into the top of my life vest and leave it there.  At Bailey Creek, I turn upstream for the first time and it begins to rain for real.  The camera goes into its waterproof box. 
The creek is full to the tops of the banks and I follow it to where it disappears...a submerged culvert under a road instead of a bridge to pass through.  It was new to me, it was all bends.

The Sneak
It continues to rain as I head down and into the Neck River, and the wind carries the rain with just a little malice as I head down to where the Neck and East meet.  I see a large animal head swimming my way...I have no idea what it could be, so odd, and caught addled, the camera stays packed.  It is a skate, a foot across, swimming on the surface of the water.  It skims the side of the canoe as we pass.

I return up the main channel of the East, riding the last hour of the flood current until it goes slack somewhere before the stone arch bridge.  And, it continues to rain a rain that one would not have started a canoe trip in, a rain that would not cut a trip short.

Monday, December 15, 2014

When the Wild Rice Lays Down

The wild rice was laying down, a fuzzy matt of tan fibers and stalks.  The river was getting wider, the winter edges pushing back to the edge of the cattails as the summer growth of rice disappeared.

The big river was running 2 to 1, my shorthand for twice as long against the current as with the current to cover a distance.  But, with such a fine sunny day, a spectacular late autumn day for sure, I went farther up the river than necessary, rounding all of Wilcox Island before entering the Mattebasset on the way downstream.

The trees and brush have long since dropped their leaves, exposing the surface of the wetland and most of what is there, and what has been left there.  It's a time of dormancy, but I always find it a time of hope.  The trees are just waiting for the right time to regrow their leaves, they are just adding one more ring to their measure of time. 

There are just a few big birds, a couple great blue herons, a few hawks, two swans.  Mostly, it is smaller songbirds, and woodpeckers - lots of woodpeckers, primarily the downy, but I also spot one of the larger hairy woodpeckers. 

The near lack of breeze creates clear reflections of the silver grey trees on the water and sometimes I just navigate by watching the reflections instead of the actual river's edge.  It's all the same except upside down. 

I turn at the tavern put-in, where the tavern no longer stands.  I have no reason to push farther up the river, and I have good reason to take my time and explore unvisited inlets on the way out. 

I turn up a backwater that has a thin sheet of ice, using the bow of my canoe to create a small vee.  The view of frozen water and the sound of frozen water cracking will never cease to hold me.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Underdog

The front of the tide was still well below me when I set out upstream against a stronger than usual current.  While the temperature was above freezing, a light breeze made the day raw.  Along with the grey skies, it made the upstream paddle into more of a grind than it should be.

The Quinnipiac is one of those abused rivers, an underdog that tries its best to return to what it should always have been.  It reminds me of parts of the Duwamish back in Seattle.  At low tide, the irresponsible discards of industry can be found on the banks.  At all tides, the noise of nearby highways can be heard.  It takes some time on the river to make that stuff disappear and to start to appreciate the underdog for what it still has. 

I labored upstream for an hour and a half, and then I turned and sped downstream with the current, and the beauty of what I worked for came out.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

When You Get There You'll Know It

It starts at the first bridge under a very thick blanket of clouds with calm air, temperatures somewhere in the 40's and a light sprinkle of rain.  The second bridge, the railroad bridge, is guarded by typically animated and noisy kingfisher.  I collect an empty beer can from the weeds - this being a popular fishing river, cheap beer beer cans are all too common.  Five feet from the can is a liter backpacking water bottle.  I dump its contents and the odor of rum hits my nose, a hint at how the previous owner may have come to lose his bottle.

At the first bay are 24 swans.

I can go to the sea on such a calm day as this, and I ride a surprisingly fast ebb current - apparently I have the timing of the peak tide all wrong in my head.  Great Island, a large and level island of spartina grass and a few small tree outcroppings, is awash.  I am sure that I have not been here when I have had such an elevated vantage point over the island.

I'd been studying some old maps of this area and I just could not remember the Black River, although I knew that I had been up it.  So, that became my destination, the last river before the sea.  And, as I passed under the railroad bridge, the landmarks appeared.  I could not remember what was ahead, but I always knew where I was when I got there.

I've been here before