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

Monday, September 1, 2014

Oblivious of the Annoyance

The first passage is through a small flotilla of moored motorboats and toy ships - still quiet in the morning light with a few people up and fishing, a few people up a basking in the early sun, and a few people still asleep and dreaming of the two or three mai tais coming with the start of the motor.


Three guys on jet ski things follow me into the shallow bay that comes next.  They are matching my speed and I assume that they think that I know where the deep channel is.  I do.  So, I stay in the six to eight inch water and skim over a few barely submerged rocks and soon they turn back oblivious of how annoying they are.  And then, I slide over 20 yards into the deep channel where I can get a full draw with the paddle.  (I will not see a single person or boat for the next two hours, until I am nearly back to the put-in).



There are about two dozen great egrets in the big shallow bay with a few great blue herons and a few mute swans.  Two hand-sized crab take a defensive position, claws spread wide to the side, as I paddle over.  They are thinking, "he is oblivious to how annoying he is."  But, I am not...and I leave them to their own devices.

Fish have been rising to the surface all along, and the osprey are feeding, making steep glides to catch fish instead of their more usual and dramatic dives.  I watch one struggle in the water for several seconds before it finally gets airborne with a rather large catch.  When I paddle over to the rocky and tree lined shore for some shade, an immature bald eagle flushes...then a second immature also takes wing.



I re-enter the narrowness of the marsh and note that it is not a cattail marsh as I have always thought, but rather it is a cattail and wild rice marsh.  The plants are intermingled, the cattails supporting the sparser rice plants.  To us, it is unharvestable rice, of course, because you need to be able to pole a canoe through the rice to harvest it, but the red wing blackbirds are doing well managing their crop.

I turn a bend and something slinky moves through the water some 50 yards ahead...fish, carp, eel?
Neither.



I spot three river otters.  There might have been more.  One takes to the cattails while the other two dive.  Each time they resurface they let out (or take in) a loud wheezy breath.  I never heard this out west, but out west the otter were somewhat used to people and not so alarmed as these are.  They dive and resurface, always leading the way for the next couple hundred yards.  It has been a long time since I have seen otter.


As I paddle back across the big shallow bay, taking a route out into the main river, I get splashed by a couple large fish.  One of them rumbles the bottom of the canoe as I pass over.  I don't know what they were, but sure did annoy them.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wild Rice - Salmon River




I end up in that little brook on the westerly side, but it is all new to me.  On earlier trips, it started as a broad marsh with a wide patch of water in front of it and then tapered to a narrow creek bounded by forested hills.  Today, the creek is narrow right from where it meets the river, and the narrow path of open water is bounded by a dense crop of six to eight foot high wild rice plants.

Although I know little about wild rice, it appears that it is almost ready to be harvested...maybe a week or so to go.  Most of the kernels are still green, but some have begun to turn red-brown and they hold together as one when picked and rolled between the fingers.

Anyway, this trip the narrow path runs through the wild rice all the way back to the forested creek where, as I round the final bend, I flush the bluest of great blue herons.  And when the water runs too shallow for the canoe, I take a moment and find myself surrounded by cattails, wild rice, pickerelweed, cardinal flowers, and arrow arum.



Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wattle and Daub

S sleeps in very late.  S had called me from a trip out of town the other day and told me that all she wanted was to go canoeing.  When she wakes up, she asks if it is too late to go canoeing.  I tell her that we still have daylight until seven o'clock...we have plenty of time.  She says, "let's go now."

I take her to a river that she has not ever seen, and we start from a place that I've never put in at, although I'd been there on a previous trip.  This put-in was known by the tavern that stood here, but the tavern owner died several years ago and the tavern was torn down.  Still, all of the maps for this site tell one to look for the tavern and I'm not sure why, but I like that.


Here, the Mattabasset is a well forested slow moving river crawling between banks that are so root bound that they appear to almost be wattle and daub.  One time, S points to the bank and suggests that it is a beaver dam...it isn't although it almost looks like one.


The forested river runs into a flood plain with the "dry" land a level shelf a foot or two above the water...a place to camp, sometimes, but not a place to build. 



And then it gives out into marsh with extensive stands of wild rice and pickerelweed...and that one concentrated plot of cardinal flower.

 

We see some osprey, a family three swans, a great blue heron, and an unidentified hawk...but it is the number of song birds, especially red wing blackbirds that is most noticable.  They are already feeding on the wild rice, even though the kernels haven't yet fully formed.

And when S's prescription for canoeing has been fulfilled, we return, winding our way through the snags and deadfalls and under and through the gaps in the low branches, hugging the bank and admiring the woven tangle of roots that the fallen trees present to us.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Mattabasset

It's a cool and mostly cloudy day with a breeze out of the north or the west, an end of summer day whose purpose is to let us know that there will be an end of summer. 



I set off up the big river, a twenty minute paddle to the mouth of the smaller river, a left turn under three closely arranged bridges...and it changes, just like that.

 
...a forest lined river...or is it swamp with those wet footed trees.   A river like this always has an old feeling about it.  Maybe its the silver snags standing for a few more years, or maybe its the trees that have tipped to the water, bowed to gravity and weather.  It's a place that goes out of its way to make it hard for people to get to.


I've been here before, but never liked it as much as I do today... it is the wind.  The usual traffic noise that bears down on the marsh and forest is being blown away by the wind.  Today, this is a wild place disconnected from development.


The river goes from tree lined swamp forest to an expansive fresh water tidal marsh, then it returns to swamp forest.


I notice that the water is high and the current nonexistent, especially since this is close to low tide.  I suppose the recent rains have added water to the big river, and the small river has no place to go.  I pass my previous high point and keep going in the still and deep waters.  The river keeps going, I keep paddling.  I thought the current would start fighting me by this point.  I thought that I would've turned back by now.  But, I have time and I keep going.

I paddle under two bridges and up to an old railroad bridge where the river shallows and the current is fast.  I could wade past into the pool above, but my start was not early enough for the longer trip.  I turn back from where someone parked their car.  I'm out six miles and I've seen three people...two fishermen and a guy sitting in a chair reading.  I've nodded to each, no words have been spoken.