Friday, January 17, 2014

The Yellow Duck

It's a fine sunny day.  I watched the sun rise up over the sound, an enormous orange ball looking very much like the fire that it is.

I put in at the feral cat park, pushing my way out through a hundred feet of shattered panes of ice, the remnants of a recent cold snap.  A moderate breeze and the last hour of rising tide helps me as I paddle upstream.  To be honest, the tide creates more current in this section of the big river than does the river itself.  I hug the shore, as usual, both because that is where there is the most life and because the banks and trees or marsh soften the current and the wind.


The government has been doing some phragmite control and a large patch of marsh has been cut to the surface to shock the plants so that a herbicide next year will kill them.  Phragmites is the baleen of the coastal rivers.  A seriously bad invasive reed, it grows closely spaced and filters out and holds floating debris every bit as well as it discourages birds and animals from having access.  The big mowed patch is loaded with plastic debris that has accumulated over several years, if not longer.  One normally doesn't see so much garbage, but in the winter sparseness, with the plants gone dormant, it is easy to spot.  I could easily fill my canoe to the brim in several areas without having to get more than a hundred feet from the boat.  It's a bit gross.

I try to focus on the better things, the common mergansers out in midstream, the Canada geese tucked up on this side of the island while two hunters walk the other shore, and a few buffleheads here and there.  There's not many birds around today.  Sometimes out here, I spot bald eagles and red shouldered hawks, and of course a variety of birds that migrate through. 

#2365 in situ

At the downstream end of Great Flats (some of the islands are referred to as "flats"), I spot a yellow plastic duck.  Retrieving it, I find that it has been numbered 2365 on the bottom.  I suppose it is a runaway from a local rubber duck race, where some well meaning organization tosses hundreds of plastic bath toys in the water.  There's something not right about that.

I collect the specimen, and round Great Flats to return, not wanting to fight more of a wind than I already have.  Time to figure out where the specimen originated.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

East and West

I thought about the Hammonasett River, a river I've not yet been to and a chance to explore some new waters.  But, as I drove nearer, I thought instead that I'd like to return to a familiar place at an unfamiliar time of the year, an exploration of time rather than place.

I put in just upstream of the mouth of the East River in the summer nesting grounds of a thousand willets, who are nowhere to be seen unless you happen to be in South America, but instead of going upstream into known territory, I turn down and out onto the sea, so inviting in the sun and calm.  And, I round the wide rocky point to the mouth of the West River, new water to me.  The fog follows me in, catching me not too many hundreds of yards upstream.  It's thick only for a few moments and remains translucent, softening the man-made landmarks that edge parts of the marsh.  It's the dream time of places farther away than here. 

A hiker on the north side scares up a hundred and fifty Canada geese who go on honking their displeasure at the disturbance until they are out of earshot.  I spook three buffleheads and a few black ducks. 

A large motor yacht lies at a steep list near the forest edge and across three hundred yards of spartina salt marsh, a relic of the last hurricane that has been allowed to stay where it landed for some reason.  If it was a wooden boat, it might harbor more interesting spirits than does the fiberglass hull that it is.

When the sun burns through, the marsh continues to steam, a ground fog drifting with the light wind and rising as if coming from dozens of unseen warm pools. 

The fishing boat, 'Night Heron'

Past the railroad bridge, I surprise quite a few hooded mergansers.  They are most distrustful of the canoe and take flight at two hundred yards or more.  The next bridge is for the scenic coastal road into the town of Guilford and it is far too low for the canoe to pass under.  With an easy portage across the road I could continue upstream, but I am satisfied enough to come back later and turn back.

I pass my put in on the East River and continue upstream against an ebbing tide that is nearing the steep part of the curve. 

The shack at the mouth of the East River

When I think that the labor is not producing much speed, I stop looking at the bank and watch bits of vegetation speed past in the water.  The current is moving pretty good.  Just short of the railroad bridge, I spot an upside down house in the mud.  This is a most unusual specimen and although it is rotting some, it is a finely made structure with paned windows and metal scroll work holding up the porch roof over the front door.

I collect it, of course.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rain Day

It's raining lightly with high tide still to come, but not far off.  The wind is light as I start the portage, shouldering my canoe and looking out at the waters as I walk and seeing small waves without any white on the peaks.  I decide to paddle down to Gulf Pond, having not been there in a very long time.

The wind is out of the south and light as it is, the eight miles of open water gives it time and energy to build a small onshore wave.  Near shore, near the safety of shore that I paddle in during winter, the wave is a messy chop no more than a foot high, but constantly irregular in shape and size.  As I near Pond Point, the shore becomes a seawall.  It is a neighborhood known as Point Beach, but this is a name given to it by people who look out from land.  From the water, in a small canoe, it is just a seawall and the registered name fits poorly.  The onshore waves come in at an angle and echo back off of the wall at an equal and opposite angle.  Waves add, peaks double and wave troughs descend twice as normal, and there is everything in between, and there is no weather side to watch because the waves come from all directions.  Clapotis - the omnidirectional jumble. 

I round Pond Point into Calf Pen Bay and the waters mellow into simple foot high waves out of the south.  I follow the shore around the bay in its relative kindness, the rain still light and steady, but I rethink the trip to Gulf Pond.  There will be more chop around the next point and it is slow steady work paddling in such stuff.

I turn back at the south end of the bay, stopping for a moment in the mouth of Calf Pen Creek.  The tide is still flooding and the clearance under the bridge is barely enough, so I exit the creek not wanting to be stuck up there waiting for the water to drop (I could portage out, but I'd probably have to cross private property to do so). 

I spot a loon in the bay as I head south. 
I find three male long tailed ducks off of Pond Point.

The clapotis is still having its fun when I get to the seawall, but beyond that the sea has calmed some as the wind is either dropping or shifting direction.  It tempts me to stay out.  I resist.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Phase Change

A big cold snap has kept me shorebound for too many days.  But, it wasn't the cold that kept me out of the canoe, but rather the wind that spun off of that mass of dense air and arrived here at twenty plus miles per hour for several days.  As the arctic mass that froze the midwest moved east, we had single digit temperatures with snow and wind and freezing rain.  These things change the view.  So much happens near the freezing temperature of water.

The weatherman's optomistic prediction of light winds and sun puts me in the canoe.  And while the sun is there, the NW winds are a little stronger than expected, but offshore that they are, they just push me about some and don't produce any waves.

Though no longer windbound, today I am tidebound.  I set out in a very low tide from the rocky beach and head north up the coast paddling from tip to tip along the boulder groins that were built to collect sand and reduce erosion, in part so that people could build houses ridiculously low and close to the water.  But, I am completely content to be paddling in three feet of water, if I can.  The small tidal rivers are closed off to me, both by tide and by ice.  Yesterday, I walked past Calf Pen Creek and at low tide a slumping salt ice blanket had sagged and molded itself over the bottom of the creek.  Salt ice is flexible and when the supporting water drains out from under it, it does not break into sheets and plates, but instead it just sags, very much like a thick blanket.  When I passed Gulf Pond, I noticed the large number of waterfowl that had taken refuge, many of their other preferred places being frozen over.  There were even a couple of common mergansers in the mix, a bird that I associate with fresh water rivers.  Gulf Pond would've made a good trip if the wind direction was different.  The shoreline and a good fraction of the pond were filled with pancake ice while the harbor was frozen over thin enough for the fishing boats to break through, but probably too stout for a canoe.

I paddle north toward the Oyster River.  Enroute, the flag rocks are alpine, projecting out of the low tide and snow capped above the high tide line.  The shore birds that I normally see among the rocks are not present, except for the sea gulls.  A small flock of scaups is farther out, noticable because it is a small flock.  Scaups are normally in flocks of 300 or more.

I stop and turn back at the point south of the Oyster River still 600 yards from the mouth.  The shallow bay is mostly sand at this tide level.  To go any further is to walk.  So, I paddle back.  It was all I needed.  All I needed was to know it was there.  I take out and sit in the sun on a boulder drinking coffee and finishing my notes.   A long tailed duck comes unusually near, not seeing me behind the canoe, and then it moves back looking over its shoulder to the sixty yards that the species seems to find comfortable.