Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Swan Feathers


The wind comes up while I am back in the narrow and forested Moodus River, the fall leaves rattling a million times telegraph the change in the weather. 

mute swan

It is a work day and I spent most of the time getting up here picking swan feathers from the water under a calm and sunny morning sky with little disruption other than the occasional thrum of a bass boat somewhere out in the big river. 

a late migrating osprey
The bass boat is a curious craft, part outboard skiff, part unlimited hydroplane.  It's primary function is to speed a fisherman from one place with no fish to another place with no fish.  It is analogous to the TV remote control..."I'm bored", click, "this is dumb", click...becomes..."no fish", zoom, "no fish", zoom, "time for a beer", zoom.

immature bald eagle
There's maybe sixty swans in the cove today, but there is a late osprey in the area (it's small size confuses me, but the coloring is obvious) and an immature bald eagle at the first point, a couple of great blue herons along the way, and when I go up the Moodus I flush four more herons.  The calm made the birds stand out, their slightest movement easily spotted against the stillness.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Pushing Upriver

A couple more days of big winds have passed and the sun comes out, still windy, but not as bad.  I wake with a, rare for me,  headache, which means that I am going to be sick for a day or two, or that I have a headache.  In case it is the former, I go canoeing.

I put in on the Mattabasset, choosing it because it lies low in the land and only the strongest of winds would ever penetrate enough to be a bother.  I head upstream to continue exploring beyond the old railroad bridge where I last turned around.  The forest is eastern hardwoods, with a lot of that being beech trees, the large ones with the trunks gone white in the upper reaches.  The wind has knocked down some of the leaves, but fall colors remain well enough.
remains of a railroad trestle

The river goes as a series of deep enough sections with short gravel bars that have to be waded...just enough water on them for the canoe to not touch as I pull it along.  At the old railroad bridge I have to portage over boulders and debris that has been captured by the constriction.  Then, more wading, paddling, wading, and paddling.  But, it's not long past the big highway when I start running into log jams.  And the view ahead is more of the same, gravel shallows and log jams.  The farther reaches will have to wait for some snow melt and spring rain.

there is sporadic beaver sign

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cold Hands Day

The wind from the last two days has abated and only the rain remains.  I put in on the Pequabuck in a cool, light sprinkle, the first of the "cold hands" days.  The water is up a little and a good current carries me the short meandering distance to the Farmington, where I turn upstream in to new waters.

The clouds have not peeled back as I had hoped for.  The yellow rain jacket that lives down deep in the bottom of my pack comes out and stays on even when the rain tapers off.

The current is swift in most places and fast in others with only a few slower pools.  I paddle, wade and eddy hop up the insides of the bends.  At the island, I portage the lower tip, the current in the main stem too fast at the top of the island and the current in the side channel too fast at the bottom.  Such busyness makes for few photos.

The bottom is cobbles and larger...glacial till to my eyes.  The rock paddle comes out in the shallow sections.

In an hour, I reach a broadening in the river, a pond maybe three quarters of a mile long.  It seems unnatural, out of character.  Machinery on river left tips off a gravel mining operation.  My guess it that the river was once narrower and previous gravel mining widened it.

At the top of the pond, I can see upstream to where the river is decidedly steeper.  There is a long whitewater section somewhere up there, and I'm pretty sure that I am looking at the bottom of it.  I turn back, finding a lone grebe in the pond, the only bird in the pond.  I can't ID it in the dim light, but I know that it's not a pied billed...just by the behavior.

The upstream hour takes under ten minutes to retrace.  My eyes see the distances between landmarks as much less than how I remembered them.  The time difference I understand, the visual effect is something much deeper.

At the mouth of the Pequabuck are three to four hundred Canada geese in two, maybe three distinct flocks.  They are "wilds" on migration...they begin to honk as I near.  The sound is incredible, so many at once.  The heads go up high, the necks stretched out to get a better view.  Then half of them take off all at once, honking as they get airborne.  Then, the other half take off, and I turn back up the Pequabuck.

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.