Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Motorboat Lake

It's a big lake, actually a reservoir, although it should be a river, but when the current is brought to stagnation how can it be.  I set out from a nice cove that has forested hills on three sides and I turn upriver just because there is more in that direction than in the other. 

Rounding the point I begin by flushing and pushing at least two black crowned night herons up the shore.  They move from tree perch to tree perch as I approach, then fly across the lake and let me pass.
black crowned night heron
It doesn't take long to get the character of the "lake", and although it isn't consistent, for the most part it is a motorboat lake.  Beach cottages begin to crowd the shoreline and crowd each other...shoe horning.  I've never much liked lakefront cottage developments.  It's so much something that I would not do that I'm suspicious of the people that buy cottages that are all jammed together like these.  My imagination can't get much farther than heavy drinking and motorboat driving.

I get out a bit over an hour with not much change in sight other than a stiff wind developing that will make the return into some work.  Working against the wind on the return keeps my mind off of "it".

Lake Zoar, Housatonic River.

Monday, June 29, 2015

New Section of the Connecticut

I put in at Haddam and head up river to somewhere that I've not been.  I revisit many places so that I can track on daily and seasonal changes in flora and fauna and learn the natural patterns that exist.  But sometimes, I need to see something that I am not familiar with.

I cross over to the bottom of an island, passing across a large sandbar that is just barely out of reach of the bottom of the canoe.  An immature bald eagle is perched in a tree on the point, a great blue heron flushes a bit farther up, and as I run up the west side of the island, I chase off a great egret.  At the top of the island I cross all the way over to the east shore and follow it just far enough out to avoid deadfalls in the water.

The sound of running water draws me closer to shore.  I figured that there was a swamp on this side, the bottom of the hills well back from the water and quite a few standing dead trees.  What I did not expect is that the marsh is some two feet higher than the river and the sound is that of water spilling over the bank and into the river.  A few minutes farther on, I enter a thin and shaded inlet that leads back a hundred yards to a seasoned and well built beaver dam, which is holding back that two feet of water.  A large and perfectly shaped lodge is 75 yards away.  It's tempting, but exploring the pond will have to be later trip.
Possibly an eastern ratsnake

A mature bald eagle passes overhead.

A brilliant yellow goldfinch pulls me into shore again.  I miss the photograph but then I notice a square cement pillar just barely in the water.  It has a bronze U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey benchmark mounted on it, stamped "CARLSON  1934".

The shoreline goes to bare stone and short cliffy outcrops.  Surprising me, a bruin of a beaver slips calmly off the bank and without tail slap or fanfare, submerges and disappears.

I have been out two hours and seen not a single boat until I turn to head back.

I follow the west shore.  I take a side trip up a nice wide creek, which turns out to take me to the bottom of the the Seven Falls.  I do not know whether it is the first or the seventh.

Connecticut River- Haddam up past Higganum.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Pretty Good Concert

It had been a long time since we'd been to an outdoor concert and within three songs we were picking up our chairs and moving.  Apparently, somewhere along the line, people stopped going to concerts to hear music.  All around us people who were talking when we got there and kept talking without pause or notice of the music.  As we were leaving, we found a spot on the outer perimeter, some 10 yards from anyone, where the music sounded good and the artists did not have to compete with babble.  It was a pretty good concert.

No words are said on my trip in the East River, unless you count my stanza of "High Chin Bob" which was muttered out in an appropriate monotone.  The important stuff is being said to me, not by me.

In the bottom of the salt marsh, willets shouted out their warning calls backed up by osprey whistles.  The willets were particularly loud when I went through the Sneak, which does bring one closest to their nesting sites.  They are fast and nimble fliers and part of their sentinel duty is to draw your attention by speeding past at close distance and flashing their black and white wings (which only show when flying). 

Higher up, where the water goes brackish and finally fresh, the wrens and red wing blackbirds took over.  I saw no more than a few as the cattails and spartina are full up, thick, and green, but the calls of dozens trilled and buzzaped out clearly.  In response, I sang all that I remembered of "A Place in the Choir".

All God's creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing low and some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they got, now

It was a pretty good concert.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Lewis Gut

You pass through an open swing bridge, a barely two lane wide rusting relic with a wood deck and its gears and metal framework exposed to the salt air.  It stands almost as a broken gate, "nature is out there, the city is in here".  There is an osprey nest set on the top of its seaward truss.
You leave a tough luck harbor behind in any case, and you enter the Lewis Gut.

Pleasure Island lies to the right, the seaward side.  It's a big sand island at the end of a long sand spit.  It belongs to Bridgeport and the spit comes from Stratford, so Bridgeport runs a water taxi near the open swing bridge.  It seems to be more about maintaining a claim than a practicality.  The island was an amusement park for about 75 years and closed in 1967.  There's not much of that park there anymore, occasional fires taking down what remained.  I half expect the ghost of a dead carny to step out from behind the brush or one of the broken seawalls.  I follow the opposite shore, the spartina side, into the gut.

I collect a goose decoy from the spartina grass to add to my burgeoning backyard flock.

It takes a bit of paddling for the marsh to come alive.  A mile in, where the passages neck down some, I begin to enter willet nesting areas and they respond by flying around calling out their piercing warning cry, "kee-ha".  I spot three oyster catchers, which turns out to be four when they fly off, and then becomes five when I see them a few minutes later.  I expect that this is a pretty active bird area during spring and fall migrations.

oyster catchers
After follwing a few of the marsh channels to their dead-ends, I return following the sand spit shoreline.  After a brief stop and walk about on Pleasure Island, I pass back through the rusty gate back into the tough luck harbor. It's good that they have a gate.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Post Industrial Wilderness

This trip is long overdue.  I've been occupied with journeys to places that still possess some wildness, even though in some cases they were the unseen underbellies of cities.  Rivers, by nature of a certain amount of untameableness, can maintain a buffer between the built world... sometimes they just erase the built world.
coal fired power plant
The harbor reminds me of the Duwamish in Seattle, keeping in mind that Bridgeport was already a busy seaport and factory town when Seattle was just a log cabin.  The hundred years doesn't seem to make that much difference.  Although, this harbor is on the backside of being important, bypassed by bigger and better ports.  It is moving towards being a geographic relic, I suppose.

Osprey nest on coal conveyor
I set out in calm air with a threat of afternoon thunderstorms.  As long as the air is calm, I find my canoe cutting through a thin oily sheen a bit too often.  There's 200 years of who knows what to seep out of the banks and bottom and run off of the land.

Somehow, it still holds on as a wild place.  It's not the few osprey and egrets or the night heron near the old brick arch culvert, nor is it the vegetation, which is pretty much non-existent, replaced by broken cement rip-rap, walls and pilings.  It's more that it remains inaccessible from land.  Industrial lots wall off the water from people much more effectively than a forest.  The few people that I do see greet me and are curious to find out what I am doing..."no, I don't fish...I'm just looking around" (not that I would eat anything that came from this water, ever).

Black crowned night heron
As I head back out of one of the arms, the ferry that crosses Long Island Sound comes in.  A tug brings two barges up near Pleasure Beach (a long defunct amusement park that is currently cut off from land access) and moors them.

 I pass the old rotting swing bridge that connected Pleasure Beach to the city and take out.  It was a good trip.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Topping Up the Soul

I find Salmon Cove already well bathed in sun and heat, which is, fortunately, moderated by  a good fresh breeze that will, with a cent's worth of luck, push me back to my put-in on my return.

Two osprey sit close over their nest with the heads of two baby osprey peaking over the rim to see what the parents are looking at.  A great blue heron overflies and a great egret wades along the far shore, moving very slowly hunting for prey.

Just as I round the first bend of the river proper, an immature bald eagle crosses and perches in a tree where it waits and sits patiently as I pass directly underneath.

It is more than anything, a day for listening, a day for sound to refill the soul.  And, as my ears pick out the unseen wrens, blackbirds and others, my eyes begin to tune into the easily overlooked and my nose picks up a dozen distinct scents from the marsh and forested edges.  A small white spot ahead of the canoe turns out to be a beautiful white and black dragon fly such as I have never seen before.

My sightglass rising from the danger level to normal, I begin my return, catching the tailwind as I had hoped.  The tide is now low, but I am able to skim over the extemsive shallows of the cove.  I could drift over in the wind if I had to.

As I pass by that osprey nest, there is a white tail deer on the shore...a particularly elegant and graceful one at that.  It watches me for a minute, then bounds back into the brush.  I minute later, I hear it crashing in the marsh and spot it as it leaps through a partial clearing.

Thursday, June 18, 2015


I set out downriver through the trees marveling at the bumper crop of poison ivy that fills the forest floor.

Before reaching the great marsh, I spot two adult swans with three cygnets, one of which has been born white while the other two are the usual grey.  I have never seen a white cygnet.  They are still smaller than an adult teal as well as being quite fuzzy.  I suppose that they are not more than a week old.

The open marsh is in full green...no space between the plants, it is just stuffed with cattails, wild rice and others with names I can't remember.  Wetlands like this produce more biomass per area than any other ecological land classification.
It is still.  It is amazing how still I can find it given that I am paddling and in motion, yet I find the moment quiet, peaceful and reflective....finding calm in motion.

We have a visitor this week and everything is plans and talk.  I contrast that to the canoe trips that I have taken others on.  And, while I can chatter a blue streak at the beginning...my duty to key my friends into what they are seeing or what they should've noticed, eventually I do go silent and let them find things by themselves.  These silences in the canoe are some of the best conversations that I have ever had.  The silences do much to cement good friendships.
yellow breasted flycatcher...first time I've seen one

I prefer to have the important parts of my day reveal themselves rather than have them show up as planned.

Mattabesset River

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Eye Contact

Just as I near the mouth of the river, leaving the gentle one inch high swell of a calm morning on Long Island Sound, an outboard skiff comes out, the driver standing at the wheel.  He guns the throttle, an act of intention not related to playtime.  The boat is 20 or 22 feet in length with high sides.  It has all of the signs - the standing driver, the speeding out through a rocky bay with a moderately small motor, not one of the big monsters that the weekenders mount, and the white fiberglass hull with stains running down the sides...a work boat, a fisherman out to check his pots.  He is eyeballing me, even from 150 yards.  That is a common trait with working professionals...look beyond the boat at the person at the helm and they always seem to have eye contact with you.

It is cloudy, still and warm enough.  If it doesn't rain, it will stay pretty much like that today.

I have only been in the West River once before.  It was winter and high tide and passage was blocked at the first road bridge, the clearance at that water level being not more than three inches.  It is a bit more of a working river than the East.  I pass a compact marina near the mouth, mostly play boats, but a few working fishing vessels also present.  Not much farther up is a forty or fifty foot motor yacht laid over on  its side up against the trees about 200 yards away from the river...a Hurricane Sandy relic I suppose.

The marsh of the West is narrower than that of the East.  But, it still provides space for willets and osprey and, at least this morning, a healthy population of snowy and great egrets. 
oyster catchers

I pass under the low road bridge with ease, telling myself to turn back in a half hour to be sure of clearing it on the way out, which also will let me gauge the rise for later trips.  As it turns out, there isn't a half hour of river above the bridge, although there is plenty to make it worthwhile.  I spot 2 bald eagles, one of which is a substantial size, more willets, more osprey, and more egrets.  The river starts to run low as I near the Boston Post Road and I turn back.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Third Degree

The first great blue heron was standing statue still at the end of a large deadfall that was laying in the river. It saw me well before I spotted it, which only happened when I was 75 yards out.  I slid the canoe to the far bank just to see if I could avoid pushing it upriver.  When I last saw it, out of the corner of my eye and over my right shoulder, it had not moved one single feather.

Serene is the adjective for the day.  Still cool with the sun still low and half of the river shaded, the sky clear, the day working its way into the mid 80's, and the surface of the water unwavering in the stillness of the air.

I heard the murmur of voices well ahead and spotted a shadow moving up the bank from the water's edge and disappearing into the forest.  A few seconds later, it walked through a shaft of light that penetrated the canopy and the figure flashed as clearly as a traffic signal.  Talking as they were, they didn't notice me until I was quite near.  They were in what I call the 2nd degree of nature experience...out enjoying a fine day in the forest, taking in the scenery, perhaps spotting something they'd never noticed before.  It's good and the world would be a far better place if everyone did something like that once a week.  But, they have too many distractions to take it into the 3rd degree, the point at which the land talks to you.  Nature, as powerful as it can be, doles out its spiritual guidance in a soft voice, and only if the recipient is fully focused and committed to listening.  It is, as far as I can tell, a one on one experience and it only happens when you are in harmony with where you are.

I paddle upriver a bit over 2-1/2 hours, past the remains of the Farmington Canal Aquaduct and up to the tumbled dam that once powered a grain mill.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

One Eye on the Weather

The North Marsh

I have to make a decision.  I've crossed the river straightaway from Essex's North Marsh.  Upriver is Hamburg Cove, which was ice blocked on my last trip in there.  Below me is Lord's Cove, a favorite that I have already visited several times since ice out.  A bald eagle drops out of a nearby tree and head back straight across the river as if to say,  "it's your problem, not mine."

It is a humid and peaceful day, the sky overcast with a thin layer of clouds, a haze in the air underneath, and wind that does nothing to disturb the peace because it is already so warm.  Thunderstorms and gusty winds are possible if the heat should start the air moving in vertical currents.  I keep one eye on the weather.
Great Egret
I turn toward Hamburg Cove.  An osprey soars high overhead with a fish in its talons.  It becomes three osprey, then five.  Osprey always carry their caught fish with the head forward.  It is macabre humor to me, the idea that the osprey is giving the fish a scenic flight, a birds eye view of the river... before eating it.  I pause just once to pick up three specimens from the beach.  One is a bird carapace...for a substantial bird.  I begin to push a great blue heron along the shore, following it around the point and into the cove where I spot a deer well off on the opposite bank.
The cove is fairly well sheltered from the wind.  I follow the north shore where the forest descends right to the waters edge.  The houses that can be seen from the water on this side of the cove are often late 18th or early 19th century.  I imagine that they were built by ship captains and pilots.  On the south side the houses are new, huge and a bit garish.  I imagine that they belong to stock brokers and corporate executives.  One side had a connection to the land that seems lacking on the other.

I turn when I get to the beautiful arched bridge that the Joshuatown road crosses, the place where the cove ends and the Eight Mile River enters.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I argued against having a house cleaner, but I did not express myself as well as possible.  My argument probably was taken as one focusing on need and money.  But, in actuality, my six foot one inch frame was feeling threatened by the idea of a stranger in the house.  So, a thing of sentimental value has been stolen.  Fortunately, it is just a thing, and the most important things in life are not things.  If only we were birds....

The birds in the east marsh are all about threat right now.  Nests are built and eggs are laid.  It's three to four weeks of sitting, tending, and guarding.  After that, it is several more of watching, herding and in some cases, feeding.  One false move and the family is kapute.

seaside sparrow
I'm in the East River before 7am and paddling against the beginning of the ebb, the day calm, the sky clear and the temperatur still cool.  I will head up the Neck River to Bailey Creek and through the Sneak back into the East.

There is an osprey nest built on a low dock that has become detached from land.  When I paddle past it, the osprey circles over me, always with its head turned right at me until I begin to leave its territory.  You do not need to be a mind reader to understand the osprey.

My head is well above the spartina grass and I am in plain view to all that live there.  The glossy ibises are out in the center a few hundred yards from the water's edge.  They are feeding in the shallow ponds that form briefly at high tide.  They seem reluctant to come to the river bank or mud flats once they start nesting.  They seem to stay where they can see an approaching predator from a long distance. 

The willets leave no question when I get near their nests.  They have a piercing warning cry and they use it to alert every willet in the area that danger is present.  The nests must be on the ground now because once they are airborne, they will chase everything from a sparrow to an osprey.  When I'm in the Sneak, it is clear that I'm near nests because several of them call alert at the same time.  I've always wanted to see a willet nest, but I can't bear to cause that much disturbance just to satisfy my own curiosity.  I paddle on.
at the saw mill dam

I turn back at the tumbled saw mill dam, a mile short of my usual point.  I cannot keep my head and heart in the game for more than a few minutes at a time.

It is odd to think that sometimes it is easier to understand a bird than another person.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pushing Herons

I squish over the low and unsubstantial beaver dam that guards the entrance to  the "O" cove, an old oxbow that is almost cut off from the main river.  The cove has a name that begins with "P", an assignment that makes no sense to me and so I seem to never remember what the "P" stands for.  But, this oxbow is nearly a perfect circle and so it has become the "O" cove.

The air is heavy and humid and it is likely a forerunner to a thunderstorm.  I'm in the water by 7am and it is still and quiet with a light wind making the surface into old wavy glass.  The first of the sprinkles ceases when I call its bluff and pull my rain jacket from my pack.

This is the time and conditions when the water spirits might decide to find you.

Not far from my put-in, I begin to push a great blue heron downstream, a game of hops, each a few hundred yards long.  It goes four hops, then the heron perches high in a snag and lets me pass under.  But, just as it does that, I begin to push another heron ahead.  The "O" cove produces a couple more great blues and a couple of green herons plus a muskrat, and a mother duck and ducklings.
the O cove

I return upstream, pass my put-in and continue, admiring how lush the eastern hardwood forest has become.  The numerous catalpa trees that stand on the banks have buds but only a few have blossoms, and those are only in the tops of the canopies.  Soon enough, all of those trees will be in bloom and the flowers will begin to fall one at a time about once a second into the river marking the current in long lines of white and pink.  I continue to push herons.
the O cove

Farmington River near Tariffville.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Neither Lands

I put in on a river that was new to me and one that I expected much from, but when I took out at the end of the trip I found that I had not written a thing in my journal.

I started just below Mystic Seaport, one of the best of maritime museums.  Here, the river is fairly wide and the current benign.  Paddling past the museum turned out to be the highpoint of the trip, first passing under the iron hulled sailing ship, Joseph Conrad, and then past the whaling ship, Charles Morgan, the only sail powered whaling ship afloat.  It is a surprisingly small ship.

Charles Morgan ahead, Joseph Conrad to the right

I found myself in the neither lands, so to speak.  The river was much more like a lake than a river, and it no longer had the curiosities of a working seaport.  There were no cargo ships, no fishing vessels, no processing plants or drydocks.  All of the diversity of purpose that those earlier boats held had been replaced by motor yachts...all of them individual and different but all of them built for the same purpose, to be driven around in the water six or ten days a year.  They are boring.

Upstream, the river stayed lake-like for a bit over an hours worth of paddling.  It was sub-natural or sub-industrial to borrow a slant from the word suburban.  Suburbs lack the energy of a big city, but also lack the tranquility of the country....similarly the Mystic is stuck lacking enough nature to be interesting and missing the curiosities of a working port.  It's just water.

Anyway, after that hour, the river narrowed sharply and became a river, for a quarter mile.  Than it split and became two shallow creeks.  I waded one for awhile until it seemed that the effort would go nowhere.

I passed my put in on the way down and paddled on a half hour, under the unique 4-bar linkage Mystic drawbridge, then turning back at the railroad swing bridge, quite weary of paddling in a boat parking lot.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Lords Cove

The cold air and light rain tell one that it is windier than it really is...the additive of mild unpleasantries.  The breeze is out of the NE and it chills the back of my wet hands, the rest of me clad in my array of cold weather clothing, but it seems that wind doesn't slow the canoe one bit and the cattails sweep by with good speed.

Entering the cove, I went up the outside of Goose Island for a change...in the main channel of the river.  I saw but one small fishing boat during that half mile.  Rain and cold, it's a day when most people turn their backs to nature, although nature never forgets them, or lets them out of its sight.

This is special weather for me, weather that I don't get as often as I did when I was on the Pacific side of the country.  The rain throws a heavy blanket over the marsh.  It becomes a little more wild and a bit more isolated. The rain adds 5 miles to the space between me and there...and it keeps the camera cased.  It is very good weather to canoe in.

Wrens are building nests at full bore.  I am rarely out of sight of one as I paddle through the inner channels of the marsh.  Most of them are working away and their calls come from the interior without being able to see them.  But now and again, one will be high on a reed or cattail, singing away.  I suppose these few think that they have built enough nests (the males build up to 15 or so) to attract a mate.

I am glad that I have brought a thermos of coffee.

I passed four pair of non-breeding swans.  They are mellow compared to those with a nest and they just keep a safe distance from me.  With the tide nearing high, I passed on the shallow inside of some small rock islands on the way out.  Not seeing it as I rounded one of the islands, I came far too close to a nesting swan.  I turned the canoe away and the mate was satisfied to give me the evil eye and let me pass without the aggressive threat/charge/bluff that I have become familiar with.