Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bridge Count

It is calm and sunny over the East River and it is nothing short of a perfect day to sit in a canoe in the chill of the morning and drink a cup of coffee.

A prime bird observation location, I stay alert and paddle with reasonable quietness, but it is not until I pass the railroad bridge, the first of the five bridges, that I see a bird.  A solitary greater yellow legs stops its incessant head bobbing and flies upstream, crossing the river as it goes.  When I get near again, it gets up and flies off back behind me.  That was nearly a mile of water before seeing the first bird...quite a difference from summer.

After the highway bridge (the third bridge), I hear a kingfisher and spot a whitetail deer at the waters edge near a pair of American black ducks.  Only then do I see the kingfisher.  Now is the proper time for that cup of coffee.

 A few hundred yards past the fourth bridge, the stone arch one, I turn off the river into a meandering channel that leads to a collapsed dam that, some hundred and fifty years ago, powered a simple up and down sawmill.

the left half of the dam can been seen in the distance

Back here, in the hollow, weak fragmented sheets of ice have formed, but the canoe slices through without resistance and yields only the sound of ice breaking against the hull.  I get out and explore the site.

looking down into the breach
I'm guessing that the mill was powered by an undershot water wheel.  It is a low efficiency design, but one that doesn't require a pond level that is above the wheel.  In the above photo, a channel formed by several long rectangular boulders can be seen.  When the dam was whole, this would have formed a "pipe" near the bottom of the dam and millpond (the output end is blocked by a large boulder that was part of the dam at one time).  The nearest long boulder is about six feet long.  The edge of a rectangular exit pool can be seen on the left, where I think that the wheel would have been positioned.  There's a pretty decent sized valley behind the dam and I suppose that a depth of ten feet or so could have been contained giving the mill a fair amount of uninterrupted power, as long as it was used carefully.  As low-tech as it all is, it is still an impressive amount of earth and stone work.

I continue...

The Foote Bridge

The fifth bridge is the Foote Bridge.  I gather that there has been a bridge at this location for quite some time.  The current bridge is modern, built on less than modern foundations.  It is essentially a private bridge although hikers use it to access trails in the area.  It is also the point where the East River becomes too shallow to paddle except at the peak of high tide, when one can go another half mile up to the sixth bridge before grounding out, period.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Always Go Under the Bridge

I'm looking for the put-in, but I'm in the wrong place, all of the directions seem to be ambiguous.  Even the town's signs are in odd places.  The old guy coming out of the house tells me that the British burned a hundred ships, a deal they struck with the town that saved the village from the same fate.

I paddle straight away the half mile across the river to a low island and broad area of marsh.  It is grey, but the clouds are well on their way to going east and leaving the sky clear.

On the way upstream to Hamburg Cove, I pass the largest great blue heron that I've ever seen.

I do not usually photograph houses, but at the mouth of the cove are two beautiful houses that look to be 150-200 years old.  They seem to be exactly where they should be.

Even though it was time to turn back, there was a bridge up ahead and one always goes under the bridge.  Bridges are often gates leading to very different landscape than the one you are in.  This bridge is true to that.

Self Portrait
Connecticut River from Essex, Hamburg Cove, North Cove.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Aquaduct

A late osprey flies past just as I am setting the canoe into the river.

Sunlight reflecting on the water. 
a brilliant endless shimmer,
rapid staccato Morse Code,
too fast to read,
a warning from Mother Nature? 
an SOS?
or just documentation of what ocurred in the furnace 8 minutes ago.

Once in awhile, I push a few wood ducks ahead of me, until they find good cover and wait unseen for me to pass.  I do likewise to some common mergansers that are in for the winter. 

I found the remains of the Farmington Canal Aquaduct, which crossed the Farmington River.  The Aquaduct was 280 feet long and 50 feet high and consisted of seven stone arches.   Up until 1955, the pillars still stood in the river, but a flood that year damaged them and they were knocked down.

Remains of the Farmington Canal Aquaduct - East side of river

Remains of the Farmington Canal Aquaduct - West side of river
 I went upriver for 2 hours and 10 minutes.  I got back to where I started in 1hour and 10 minutes.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The First Snow

The Bantam River

Sunny and breezy, a day that will stay in the 40's... I set out downriver and it quickly becomes a beautiful northland marsh with a river running through it.  The mouth of the river, where it runs into Bantam Lake, is a short 2 miles at most.  On a calmer day I might have started from the lake, but today it is better to stay hidden from the wind. 

A hundred yards from the mouth is the beaver dam that I'd heard about.  It can be seen in satellite photos and I think back to the days of the Apollo moon missions when only a few things, such as the Great Wall of China, could be seen from space.  The dam is just 2 feet wide and 50 feet long.  Sometimes I don't want to know those secrets until I find them myself.

Yes, beaver dams are sturdy enough to stand on

It is the next dam that surprises me.  It is just 20 yards from the lake and I've never seen anyone mention it.  You wouldn't notice it unless you were curious about the small twigs sticking out of the water that form a gentle curve from one bank to the other.  But there, down a foot and a half below the surface is another dam, still firm and well knitted together.

The submerged beaver dam

I turn back from the lake and head upriver, photographing each of the lodges that I pass.  Below where I put in, most of the lodges are unfinished and never were big enough to be hollowed out and used.  Beaver are vegetarians, but they don't have to be nice about it.  They are territorial, marking and defending their areas from other beaver colonies. 

Upstream of the put -in the signs are more frequent.  Lodges are spaced out about as close as they can be...a 150 or 200 yards, and all of them are full sized and appear to be in use.  The boundaries of each colony's territory can be guessed at by the location of scent mounds.  Outside of the lodge they've already massed a store of saplings in the water, a practice that I did not see back in Seattle.  But, here the river will freeze over solid and the saplings will provide food during the ice in. 

The brush in the water is winter food

I spot a hooded merganser and two great blue herons.

The sky clouds over just before I reach Little Pond and the day turns raw.  Two swans, a flock of mallards and a flock of ring billed gulls are lying low on the windswept pond as I search for the inlet from the river.  It begins to snow very lightly.  Upstream of the pond, the river changes to a cut bank creek and in a few hundred yards it cuts through a golf course.  I pass through a broken beaver dam, a sign that Mr. Moneybags will not be denied the 16th hole or some such nonsense.  I turn back.  It's cold and threatening and the character of the river at this point leaves something to be desired and I'd rather focus on what I've already seen.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Going to One

I'm spinning my wheels.  I have a drawing that is stuck - a combination of where to go and fear of making a mistake, a beadwork piece wants to ferment longer and sits idle.  At least I am carving canoe paddles faster than I know what to do with.  I could go canoeing, but there is my work ethic guilt of not making something that gnaws at the back of my head.

I go canoeing.  I am wasting time here.

I turn the point into the main part of Salmon Cove and begin counting swans.  I get to 120 and estimate the rest.  There are about 150 of them spread out over a half mile.  I am collecting their feathers as I paddle.  A cool gentle breeze and a bright autumn sun are at my back.  Most of the trees still hold some of their brilliantly colored foliage although the shady north hillsides are mostly evergreens.  It seems that this fall was a fairly spectacular one.  I spot an osprey.  It seems late in the year for that, but I saw another two days ago on the Farmington River.

I turn back when I get to the Leesville Dam, a bit surprised that I have arrived in so little time.  This time, I tuck into the culvert with the big steel I-beams guarding its opening as if they were intended to stop an ironclad.  On the far side is a narrow canal that passes a house on one side and two recently beaver cut trees of pretty reasonable size.

What does the caribou think as it migrates?

If I do this often enough, I begin to lose the surface-me...the me that seems to be me, and if it is, it is far from all of me.  The self that appears is the one that is one with nature...the child of nature...the animal.  It is probably something like what people seek in meditation and it is the pearl of my frequent wanderings.  The me that plans and plots and identifies fades away and what is left is my self moving through the world.  The trees cease to be maples, oaks and pines and they become trees and the trees become forest.  The birds retain their names, kingfisher, osprey, cardinal...but only because I no longer have to think about what they are.  They long ago became individual characters in the play.  The water passes under, the paddle drifts past my face in steady rhythm, I no longer look for anything but see clearly, I no longer anticipate anything, but things happen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ma and Pa Kettle

I hesitate to enter such places.  A low beaver dam holds back an apparently shallow pond in what might have once been a large meander in the river or a former bend in a creek that enters the river just downstream.  There's no reason for the water to be deep enough to canoe with a dam that is less than 18 inches high.  I stand on the soft mud bank and hem and haw about it.  Then I pick up the canoe suit case style and portage the 40 feet from river to pond.

The pond is anything but shallow.  The water clear, it is four to six feet deep or more in most places.  Circular wave patterns appear ahead of me as a great many fish flee the shadow of my canoe.  I spot one and it could be either a trout or an Atlantic salmon.  A chilled painted turtle drifts by a foot below the surface, a kingfisher crosses my path, a great blue heron drops down out of a tree and moves off to a safe distance, and three wood ducks flush as I stop to take notes.  It is a beautiful beaver pond and I very much doubt that many others take the time to make the side trip off of the river.  No one would expect it to be so large.

The pond tees against a level topped berm of a hill and I turn right because I have to turn one direction or the other.  And, in a big long and gentle curve, the pond just keeps going.  In something that seems like a half mile I return via a narrow channel to where I started, the beaver dam just a few yards to the side.  This is when I finally locate the lodge that I knew must be in here.  It was behind me as I started paddling up the pond.  It seems odd that there is only one lodge here, the pond being large enough to house 3, 4 or 5 colonies.  But, this lodge is a humble abode and seems out of place in this pond except that it matches the simple and marginal dam at the mouth of the pond...Ma and Pa Kettle living in the middle of the Gardens of Versailles.

A simple bank burrow lodge

I take one more loop around, turning left at the top of the pond to confirm that that arm does come to a dead end.  But it is not quite dead as the sound of a woodpecker working away comes out of the woods.  Woodpeckers love beavers, if such a thing can happen in nature.

On the return upriver, I stop only to examine the remains of two bridges.  The remains of the first are four midstream pillars built of wood pilings that were then filled by dumping cobbles and small boulders as fill.  It has been abandoned long enough for a full sized tree to grow from one of the pillars.  The upstream bridge has a stone masonry buttress on the east side of the river with wood pilings and stone rubble on the west.  With over 300 years of euro settlement in this area, bridges and former bridges, dams and former dams occur regularly while canoeing.  I've already learned to watch the bottom while passing under bridges...trails became roads, bridges were built where the roads forded rivers, and the amount of rock under some bridges leads me to think that people often lined their fords with cobbles to keep from getting stuck.

The downstream bridge remains
Farmington River, near Tariffville.