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.

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