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, carp, eel?

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 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


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.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bird Show

We put in at the top of the Hamden cornfield, a huge marsh that has been taken over by invasive phragmites.  I tell S that the canoe guidebooks send people down river from here, into the cornfield, and how it is a sticky hot lifeless paddle.  Just like canoeing in a cornfield.  We go upriver under a low overcast that will burn off with the sun.

The tide is just coming in, but not so much that there is an upriver current, yet.  The mud banks of the Quinnipiac are exposed, showing decades of abuse.  I suppose they would show a couple centuries of abuse, but the artifacts of the pre-industrial age tend to dissolve, and are less numerous for sure.  At the first broadening where the river opens up and is bordered by modern highways and landfills, I point out the shell middens left behind by muskrats and other asian clam eaters.

This is one of those rivers that penetrates the wilds of civilization.  Bricks from a brick factory line the bank for a distance, car parts for another, a patch of roofing slate, and left behind railroad materials.  But, for all of that, its inaccessibility to people returns it to a wild place.  And, in return for our meager efforts, we are rewarded with a fine bird show...not so much in numbers as much as in variety...night herons, egrets, swans, osprey and hawks, a female red breasted merganser, a cardinal, several kingfishers, a great blue heron, and a duck I didn't recognize in its off-breeding colors, but it sure could swim underwater.  And, a woodchuck runs away off of a low overhanging tree and back to the safety of the bank.

We turned back earlier than usual because of a new deadfall tree that has crossed the river since this spring.  The choice of a high drag over it or a messy portage on a greasy mud bank didn't appeal...and I know that there is more of that upstream.

So, we turned back and talked about art and poked into an inlet that I'd never bothered with that turned out to be a decent sized bay, and S worked on the stationary draw stroke that I had just taught her.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Places Unknown

S and I set out from a silty sand beach on the edge of a medium sized river for a trip to a place that S has never yet seen.

It is an easy paddle on a slow moving river with just enough shade along one bank for some relief from the sun.  I point out the old railroad trestle foundations where several people died in the 1870's when their train went into the frozen river on a January night.  The water level is low enough that we can see that the foundations are not just piles of rock, but engineered shapes designed to shed currents and ice.

 But, it is the O cove that I am guiding us to.  And when we get to the big bend in the river I turn us to the outside bank and up to a low disheveled beaver dam.  S gets out onto the dam, then I get out and slide the canoe over.  The O cove at this time of the summer is a primordial oozing swamp...beautiful and seldom visited as most people can't see the wonder of it.  I steer us to the right and we push through a narrow gap of broad leaf swamp plants with purple tassles of flowers with dozens of very happy bees.  As we get farther up the cove, the water becomes decked in bright green, a surreal smooth surface of liquid meadow.

And, we take time to rest in the shade and see what might happen next.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Leveling in the East

S drops me off at the East River put-in and leaves to do errands.  I set out on the most perfect of summer days - low 80's, no humidity, a light breeze and sun.  Perfect days lack pizazz.  Give me something wilder.  But, I need the leveling of a canoe trip, perfect weather or not.

The put-in was occupied by people drawn to the perfect day, futzing with their seldom used boats, struggling with preperations that should be routine, but aren't.   It reminds me of why I don't belong to a canoeing club.  I unload and paddle off in less than five minutes, and I head up the less visited Neck River because I doubt that any of them knows about the high tide sneak across the spartina back into the East.  And, I'm pretty much on my own from then on.

Yellow Legs sitting back a ways from the river.

Wren nest in phragmites

Wren nest

When I return, a person from the state is safety checking each and every boater as they come to the launch site, checking for PFDs, whistles (a state law), licenses for motorcraft.  I pack my gear and take the canoe out and wait for fifteen minutes for S to arrive.  The safety monitor never says one word to me.  I take it as a compliment.