Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Getting Small

It is calm and sunny at the put-in, the light still low in the autumn morning, the cattails and phragmites as golden as they will ever be, and the bare hardwood trees as grey as they will ever be.  A very high tide has just peaked a half hour back and already a stiff current builds in the constricted spots.  But that high tide also means that there will be no shallows, the water will be deep right to the cattails, right to the rocky banks.  I get close up views of the forested edges and I can visit inlets that I normally bypass.  I glide over boulders and submerged ridges that I normally have to skirt knowing they are there, but never seeing them.
coffee break

The wintering birds are around, but in the lesser numbers that cold weather brings.  In the big bay by Goose Island, I spot just a half dozen buffleheads and two swans.  In the channel leading upstream out of that bay, I come across a family of swans - two adults and two cygnets still with the last of their grey feathers.

But, it is the scenery that stops all. It is nothing short of glorious...a word I do not toss about with ease... it's really not in my vocabulary.  If I was less an explorer I would probably sit and fill my camera with images.

It has been awhile since I was in the canoe with both work and weather keeping me aground.  And, as usual when such things have happened, it takes an hour or two for me to drop in on where I should be.  Somewhere deeper in the marsh I begin to shrink from my civilized self, I become small just as I should be in the presence of nature, and I become at peace with "it".  I go on my way.

Lord's Cove, Connecticut River

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Very High Water

I follow a red brick road of fallen oak leaves, the serpentine path meandering within the meanders.  It is the time of the year when the canoe no longer slices cleanly through the water - wads of leaves collect on the bow as I go and create a chaotic splash and patter until they slide away and are replaced by others.

It is also the first day of cold fingers.  Although the temperature is not that low, the light mist wets my skin and chills it just enough to remind me of what's ahead, and to remind me to start packing gloves.  There is no sun on such a day, but there is also no company on the river.  Even the birds lie low on days like this.

It goes to rain when I get down to the stone arch bridge and it rains solid and steady through the big bend and until I reach the RR bridge.  Today and at this time in the tide cycle the Sneak is anything but a sneak.  It is wide, deep and open.  In the river, I have been paddling into the flood current but less than ten feet into the Sneak I cross the line and I am propelled at good speed.

Something odd is going on with the tides today.  The tide is already as high as I have ever seen it and still there is a strong flood current.  It should be going slack by this point. 

When I get to Bailey Creek, I turn up instead of heading to the sea.  The flood is strong and there are eddies in the sharp bends.  Over four or five of those bends I flush about of fifty black ducks, going off in 5, then 2, then 8, then 4 and finally a good two dozen or so.
approaching the sawmill dam
When the rain comes again, I turn back.  I head up the sneak a short ways and then turn off onto a channel that I've never passed through.  The short spartina awash by eight inches, this narrow cut has broadened to never less than ten feet.  I head up river to visit known places at very high water if for no other reason than to gauge the phenomena.
the sawmill dam
I find the water at the sawmill dam ruins high enough that I can enter the stone channel that fed the undershot wheel.  The water has flooded the trees closest to the river.  Something I've never seen before.
the  swamp above Foote Bridge
And when I  return to the Foote Bridge, I find that I have to duck to pass under, yet another first.

(I checked the tide table when I got home and it was supposed to be at 5.6 ft, which is not particularly high and something that I am quite familiar with.  It looked to be in excess of 6 ft to me.  Perhaps there is some surge from offshore weather systems.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

To the Center of the Earth

It is time to write.  It has taken a couple of miles to drift away from the minor irritants that come with a somewhat normal life and return, at least to some extent, to the center of the Earth.

The tide is high with grey overcast skies and a light mist mixed with a surface fog that is the result of an unseasonably warm November day.  More than anything, this seems to be a trip for the nose.  And in the calm I paddle close up to the tree lined shore to take in the strong scent that being exhaled by the forest.  It can't be photographed, it can't be recorded, and it probably can't be described to the uninitiated.  Hanging in the mist, perhaps held in place by the mist is the tangy and slightly acrid smell of fall.  It is the smell that one finds when they dive headlong into a pile of raked leaves and it seems to contain the dry foliage, honey, acorns and a hint of smoke all softened ever so slightly by the damp of the day.  Now, it fills the valley, but it will go away when the weather chills so paddle close and remember it.

When I turned the first point and entered Salmon Cove, a hundred or so mute swans formed a line near the far shore a half mile up.  They come here in the fall from their dispersed places and overwinter.  I suppose that here is where the new cygnets are introduced to the flock.  They are easy to spot, grey or mixed grey and white.

I pass two fishermen anchored in midstream at the second bend of the river and greet them, "It's a hard day for November," the temperature in the upper 60's.

I spot a couple great blue herons along the way and, near the bridge, two kingfishers who seem to be hashing it out over territory.  One spreads its wings open and wide while perched.  I read it as more of a warning than anything else.  I reach the Leesville dam and turn back, the water above the dam being shallow at this time of year, and I begin collecting molted swan feathers as I go.

The wind comes up, first in short gusts that shake leaves loose in dismembered clouds, then it becomes more steady, sometimes in my face, sometimes swirling from the side for no particularly obvious reason.  Following the right hand shore and still ten minutes away from the flock of swans, they all turn to the left in unison and leisurely swim to the far bank, assessing my path and speed from 600 yards.  By the time I get to where they were, they are just as far away as before, and I am not where I was when I started.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Indian Summer

I started at the west end of the ferry route, surprised to find that the ferry was still running, although I imagine that it might be in the last few days for the year.  It is a glorious fall day and a fine one to set out in after a week of having a nasty head cold.  The air is almost calm, the sky cloudless, the sun low and casting the contrasts that one would expect, and the temperature climbing, already to shirt sleeve status.

I cross the river, head down and into the cove where I find two mute swans call back and forth, the nasal whistle and fart vocalization being heard clear from well back in the calm.  At the first big bend I flush a medium sized hawk...maybe a red shouldered...it flies a short distance to a new perch and I don't get a good look.  Just below that, two kingfishers are busy hunting and a short time later a coopers hawk sits high as I pass.

I slow down, softening the paddle only to make less noise, and listening for motion in the forest on either side of the channel.  Much is going on on such a nice day, but sound cannot be relied upon as a clue to what is there.  With the leaves on the ground a squirrel makes as much noise as a cow would.
coopers hawk

As I near the osprey nests, a dog squeak toy call signals the arrival of a pileated woodpecker, which lands only for a second in a tall dead snag before it thinks twice about sharing the area with me.  It flies back in its signature pulsing motion to the forested hillside across the marsh.  I turn up the long dead end channel that splits the lower tip of the island. 
three beaver scent mounds
It is a few hundred yards up to the first fork, and a bit more to a small somewhat ramshackle bank burrow that is worth keeping an eye on.  I've seen little beaver lodges like this triple in size in short order, which I believe is a sign of the beaver reaching breeding age.  Anyway, once at the fork, it is clear that the beaver are still active as it takes no effort whatsoever to spot eight rather large scent mounds, the territorial markings of beaver.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Last Call for the Sneak

The draw of the dank frostiness of a marsh in morning in the late season of the year, the seasons where the sun stays low, where the forest remains deep in shadow, comes in the awakening that occurs when the sun brings its' heat and light to the cattails.  The stillness that was dawn is replaced by the motions and calls of all of the marsh critters as they greet the sun.

I'm not particularly early in arriving at the marsh, but I do catch the tail end of the awakening.  The birds are alert and flush early and energetically, they are out in the open seeking sustenance for the day's plan.  I flush what seems to be forty mallards as I round Pocket Knife Bend although they may be black ducks...the sun is in my face and both species have similar shapes and calls.  Two great blue heron fly off at the same time.  By the time I reach the sawmill dam, I add four great blue herons and a lone osprey to the count.  Footfalls in the forest surrounding the river are nothing more than acorns dropping from the oaks, the leaves on the ground amplifying the sound of anything as large as a squirrel into the racket of a deer in flight.

The stillness lifts when I reach the stone arch bridge, the wind rising in the trees, the acorns falling with more authority.  The wet on the riverside tree trunks show the tide is down by 10 inches.  The temperature has jumped several degrees just by leaving the forest behind as I enter the big marsh. 

Yellow legs are the dominant shoreline wader here, the herons staying up near the forest, the willets that take over in summer long gone on their way south.

I enter the Sneak, the almost unknown passage across the marsh into Bailey Creek.  It is last call for the Sneak, the tide dropping, the passage narrowing.  I cross the high point just before reaching the creek with just a few inches of water beneath the canoe.

And then I paddle and put away the identifications and labeling.  What I see is where I am, and when I get where I am going I will be where I am, and everything else is not here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Canoe Pants

It is customary for me to wake my wife in the morning with her first cup of coffee, I being the early bird and she the night owl.  She looks over in the predawn darkness and says with a tone of happiness, "canoe pants", my outfit telegraphing the day's plan.

It has become noticeable to me that there are more than a few people who watch for me to go out in my canoe.  Not only do they watch, but it seems that they encourage act, waiting to find out what I will find, or think, or create from the experience.  It is what draws me to being an artist, that regardless of how the "other" world sees it, the people within my world support and encourage acts of curiosity and creativeness.  I feel most fortunate.

Over the past two months, I have been managing a reasonably large art exhibition project.  It keeps me off of the water, but it does introduce me to new people...people that are inside "my world".  Some of them will join me in the canoe sometime in the future, but today is for myself.
In that time, the wild rice has been eaten or dropped into the marsh, the cattails have gone tan, and most of the birds are in some phase of migration.  The transition seemed fast and early this year, possibly propelled by a dry summer.

I go inland away from a windy coast that will also bring a low tide during the middle of my paddle.  I end up in the northeastern hardwood forest on a tidal river a good distance from the sea.  It has not rained much of late and the river is low well before the coming low tide.  I follow the river downstream through the trees and out onto a great marsh.  A great blue heron being the first bird of consequence that I find.  And, looking into the sun, I spot the obvious bobbing flight pattern of a kingfisher, it's colors erased by glare but the ID positive none the less.

I go on my way spotting herons, a small flock of coots, an empty eagle's nest, and a number of smaller turtles out gathering the last of the sun's heat before winter sets in.  When I turn back at the meeting with the big river, I join the landscape and become observant without classifying what I see.  It is the time when one is most available to what the land holds.  But, a familiar call interrupts that place, for a moment...a very late osprey lands in the branch of a tree at the inside of the bend.  I think it should be south by now, and it reminds me of the Salmon River osprey that I watched last year up until the river began to freeze in.  I wonder why they stay, I wonder if they make it through winter.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Soul Food

I turned away from a drawing in my studio that has gone untouched for some three weeks.  Dirty indoor work has kept me away from art and the canoe.  And while art is an outpouring of the soul, my canoe trips are food for the soul...eat first.

I have spotted 5 osprey before the canoe is laid on the water - 2 on sailboat masts, 1 in a tree, 1 in a nest box, and 1 in flight.  Paddling a hundred yards brings me to five ducks... the first bend shows 2 great egrets and a yellow legs that I don't notice until the white birds leave.  The tide is low, the wind light and onshore, the man-sounds of cars and trucks is blown away from me and it is as it should be.  That is why I came here.
remains of a wooden boat
I come to this river more than most any other; the minor distance well worth the rewards.  It has become my marker river, the one I am familiar enough with to track seasonal changes by the little things that an occasional visitor doesn't notice.  From a distance, the spartina grass was tan with streaks of green and tones of red.  Once in the canoe and down in beneath the tops of the spartina I can see that the tan is the stalk of next year's seeds and the leaves are still green.

A mature bald eagle flies off from the corner tree at the big bend...a frequent happening.  At the stone arch bridge, I spot a green heron, and then several more once I've gone under.  I spook two great blue herons, and get scolded by a couple of kingfishers.  With the tide out, I make it only as far as the gravel shallows where I decide to turn rather than wade farther.
Of note, I see no willets, I spot an immature bald eagle off on a tree in the lower marsh, and I see a whimbrel on the bank that spooks before I can ready my camera.