Sunday, December 24, 2017

Raw Day

I call it "halfway" when I get to the Gravel Flats.  I could wade the 150 yards or so, but I see no point - this trip has already reached "good enough".
I put in at the sea with much more wind than expected given that it was calm when I left the house.  The wind chill is downright nippy.  But, the tide is near low and I am down in the banks where I can find, from time to time, protection from the breeze.  I head up the main river knowing that the Sneak will not hold enough water for passage, yet. 

I spook ten Buffleheads at the second bend.  Otherwise, it is pretty quite until I get up to the Big Bends, where I find the action as I did on my last trip.  I figure that I flush about 75 Black Ducks with a few Mallards in the mix.  They commonly intermingle and are even capable of breeding together.  Other than coloration, there is little difference in appearance.  There are also a couple types of wintering sandpiper-ish birds (Dunlin).  Unlike the ducks, they are quite undisturbed by my presence.
Tomorrow people will celebrate the birth of a middle eastern Jewish boy to migrant parents that gave birth in a barn.  Let that sink in.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

On the Lietenant

I stop at the Lieutenant River and then get back in my car and head upriver.  But, when I get to Hamburg Cove I see that it is fairly well frozen in with a thin layer of ice and this does not bode well for my recent plans, so I turn around and return to the Lieutenant.
Hooded Mergansers
I put in and head upstream.  The Lieutenant is a nice river of sparse houses that often set well back from the river, marshland and forest.  It is an easy and pleasant paddle.  Up a couple miles it broadens into a open bay that is deceptively filled with car and truck sized boulders for a canoe to bash into when the tide level is just wrong.  I paddle through it at normal speed well aware of the danger and focusing my attention on what lies ahead beneath the surface.

There is a long meandering backwater that I like to explore, but today that area is frozen in and the effort required to make headway through what looks to be thin ice is not worth it.  I head up the true river instead, a very narrow creek that is canoeable for about a 1/3 of a mile.  There is a good deal of fresh beaver sign...lots of gnawings, one lodge that I don't remember from past trips and one that I do.  The dam near the bridge is at least 18 inches higher than it was earlier this year.  But, it has a breach that might be due to a tree that fell pulling its root ball, which was a part of the dam. 
While I am observing the area, an otter swims into view.  It tucks in under the brush on the bank and watches me as I watch it.  Then, it submerges and I watch the bubble trail, air squeezed from the fur, until it swims out of view.  It is time to head out.

New lodge at left edge

Monday, December 18, 2017


My friend, C, who is as close to a sister as anyone I have known, referred one day to my canoeing as a ritual that I perform as part of my art process.   I've always been a bit tongue tied as to how to describe my "canoe thing"...sometimes it just takes a friend to put the right vocabulary out there.

I put in by the sea with the temperature at about freezing, the sky heavily overcast, the winds calm, and the tide just approaching high.  It has been some time since I've been out, the weather being too gusty or too snowy on my free days to even think about setting out.  Even today I hesitate with the idea expecting cold and little to see...time lets one build up bigger walls than there really are.
I head up the Neck, then Bailey Creek, and then into the Sneak.  I flush a few Black Ducks and a few Hoodies (Hooded Mergansers), but overall it is quiet.  The Sneak is open with some floating chunks of ice until I reach the high spot.  I suppose this high spot is an inch higher than either end, but it is where the currents meet or divide with the tides.  So, it is the most still section of the Sneak and here I find a 100 yards of solid ice.  But, with the tide high, there is an open channel to the side of the ice, the ice having conveniently taken the shape of the Sneak at a mid tide level. I paddle past and back into open water.
At the Big Bends I flush a mixed flock of a hundred ducks (mostly Blacks) and a hundred Canada Geese.  It is impressive to see and hear.  As I continue through the last of the Big Bend I continue to flush Geese and Ducks from the shallow pannes in the marsh as well as from the river.  I figure a tally of five hundred easily before I am alone.

There is more ice in the river above the Arch Bridge.  This all makes sense if one pays attention to the vegetation.  Cattails have replaced the spartina...this indicates fresh water instead of salt...and a freezing temperature 4 degrees higher.  None of it interferes with my route other than to cause me to perform some pleasant zigs and zags.
I turn from the bend above Foote Bridge and ride a gentle ebb current back.  In the lower marsh I spot a Northern Harrier...obvious by head shape and bright white rump patch.  It is my second sighting of a Harrier this fall.  The clouds thin and the light comes through and the marsh becomes a spectacular scene of golden grasses under deep blue clouds.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


8:22 am, set out from the Foote Bridge just barely above low tide.

JM posted a question today asking his friends how they defined and sought authenticity in their lives.  It is a fine seed for thought before setting out in my canoe.  It fills my head as I paddle.

A light breeze at my back strengthens suddenly and I pull into an inlet to sit and wait and see if the wind will hold or dissipate.  I have just gotten over a nasty cold and this is the first day that I could've paddled and although not ideal, it will have to do.  I came down out of the woods with just enough water to float the canoe through the shallows except for a couple hundred feet of the Gravel ankle deep wade.  I saw the man who lives in the house overlooking that spot.  I have never seen him before, nor anyone else from there, and I wonder if he has seen me during my many trips.  But, he is too far away for that conversation.  We wave to each other.
Integrity is the first word that comes to mind when I consider authenticity.  In fact, I see no difference in the words.  Say what you mean, mean what you say.  Choose friends because they are friends and allies because they are allies and know that the two sets are not identical.  Follow your own path.  The paths of your parents, friends, heroes, ministers or famous philosophers are not your path.  Think of them as periodic guides and learn what you can from them.  At times their paths will coincide with yours and at times they will be distant.  Know that you do not know where your path is leading...there are no shortcuts.  The world is littered with people who have tried a shortcut and can no longer find their way back to their path.  You are not in control of anything except staying on the path.  Be wary of inertia, it can help you along your path, but it can also drive you off of it.  Do not medicate your emotions or frustrations.  Sooner or later you have to deal with them face to face or they will eat you.  The middle road is the road to enlightenment.  The Jones' have their own path, do not try to keep up with them.  Your success is definable only by you, because no one else is on your path.  You may not see it this way...this is my path, not yours.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Nothing to Add

 I have nothing to add other than it was a spectacular autumn day.

 Menunketusuck River.  8 mallards, 6 black ducks, 3 buffleheads, 3 mid sized hawks of all same species, 2 kingfishers, 2 great blue herons.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Returning to Where I am

Winter is approaching and soon enough  the Great Swamp will freeze over.  Each day that comes is one last chance to return and see how the new and impressively active beaver colonies are preparing for winter.

fresh cutting
I put in at the top and find the water maybe a foot down from my last trip, which occurred after a large storm.  Rain seems to drive water level here and I imagine that the swamp catches everything from the surrounding hills as long as it is wet enough for the ground water to percolate.  The swamp is a high point with rivers heading both north and rivers drain into the swamp.
Anyway, the water is still high enough for easy paddling.

The water begins to pool, reaching into the riverside brush, when I am between Pine Island and the Cult facility on the hillside. 
New lodge - owners of the lowest dam
It is a beautiful day with sun casting long shadows in the gray sticks.  The wind is variable and more than likely comes as strong gusts with near total calm in between.  I flush a pair of wood ducks once in awhile.

the lowest dam
Every so often the outside world starts to intrude on my trip.  I inhale deeply, as if to inhale the entire surrounding, as if to inhale all of the sounds and silence and dried cattails and gray sticks, as if to inhale the Great Swamp.  And when I do so I find that I have returned to where I am.

I turn back when I get to the lowest dam, which is also one of the newest.  The dams have not changed much since a month ago, but the new lodges have been winterized.  Each was near five feet tall and packed recently with mud to seal the structure from the coming winter.  Both of those new lodges also had a good mass of cut saplings and branches in the water near the lodge - food for the freeze over.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Finding Ganesha

Note to self:  If you're wearing wool pants to canoe in, pack a thermos of hot coffee.
I woke to a windy day and it seemed that my plans might have to change.  But after a brief and hard rain the air went comparatively still.  I began to scan weather reports looking for the best weather.  I found a spot, and I went there.
I spotted a large fungus at the base of a tree a few yards from the put-in.  I walked over and found a Ganesha.  I don't usually like to leave man-made things in wild spots, but this was hard to spot, besides being someones spirit object.  I let it be.  Besides, Ganesha has all the right attributes for my journey.
I headed up the river deeper into the forest.  The sky was a heavy overcast with a definite possibility for rain.  It was dark, dank and what most people would call, gloomy.  In my mind it was just nature...take it as it comes, experience it in all of its twists and turns.  I hoped to continue upriver farther than I had gone in the past.  I had a gut feeling that I would find high water and easy paddling.  This was, however, not the case.  40 minutes out the river ran low, just as I neared the railroad trestle.  A couple hundred yards of wading would be necessary to go higher.  Instead, I turned back to explore the lower marsh.
The sun popped through just as I passed my put-in.  Somewhere not too far below this point is where the tide is noticeable.  Today's very high tide began to show its stuff - water at the base of the trees, the berm that contains the river (separating it from more marsh) barely rising above the water.  I met a duck hunter on his way out.  He had seen only two ducks this morning.  I told him that I had seen about 30 mallards, but all on my upriver foray.
The side channels of the big marsh were topped up with the tide.  I spent my time exploring a few places that I've not gone to before.  I spotted one dark mid sized raptor with a white butt...Northern Harrier.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Here I Bow Down

Today is the purge.  Nine days in a row of working for the KoolAid drinkers, watching them engage in the tired old games with the belief that they will look good in the eyes of people who have drunk far more KoolAid than they.   Sometimes I think that I am standing far too close to a manure spreader.

The river makes that all, more or less, irrelevant.  I'll do my work, but I will not bow down.

Beyond all of that, here in the marsh where the high tide ebbs with a strong current under bright fall sunlight and a cool sky, beyond all that there is a balance.  I don't count for much here in the marsh, nor should I.  I am here at the mercy and pleasure of something far greater that I will never fully understand.  Here, I bow down.

The day is quiet and few birds are about....1 Great Blue Heron, 3 Hooded Mergansers, 1 Kingfisher, a dozen Yellow Legs, 1 unidentified hawk.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Real Purpose

I didn't come here to look at the birds and I didn't come here to look at the new beaver dams and lodges, which went up in the last two months.  Of course, I would do all of these things, a fortuitous by-product of my real purpose, but not the real purpose.

I was here just four days ago.  I come here five or six times each year between April and the freezing in, so two trips in four days is a bit of compression.  If I lived closer, I would probably spend most of my paddling days in this swamp.

Wood Duck and Kingfisher
Four days ago the water was high when I put in at the lower end of this stretch.  Today, I start up at the top and the water still looks high, very high in fact.  I suspect another new beaver dam not too far down river.

The water is deep and dark, the bottom rarely appearing.  The narrow river is wider than normal and the "step-overs" - bank to bank logs - are either paddled over or end run.   A half mile in I begin to flush wood ducks and mallards.  I spot a large hawk and one kingfisher.  But best of all, it is a good and easy paddle in the deeper waters. 

When I get near the only bridge, I can gauge that the water is about two feet deeper than it was four days ago.  It is a by-product of a strong storm of heavy wind and rain.  I also wish that I had brought a bow paddler with...another by-product of that storm is that there are strands of spider web and spiders everywhere and I am constantly brushing them from my face.  No doubt they are rebuilding their traps.  I paddled over three beaver dams without noticing them...high water.

There is something about finding new beaver dams and lodges that buoys the soul.  Particularly at this time when we have an immature brat running our country, corporations trying to cash in on the last of the oil reserves before climate change kills us and threats of much shortsighted stupidity.  Finding a new beaver dam and lodge demonstrates to me that some parts of the world go on functioning as they should.  Beaver build dams to protect their lodges and territories.  Wood ducks take cover in the flooded shrubs, woodpeckers feed and nest in the flooded trees, fish lay eggs, survive and do better in the deeper and cooler waters.  No matter what is going on in the inhumane human world, the beaver do what beaver do.  The marsh grows, the trees get flooded and die, the marsh silts in, the marsh becomes a meadow, the beaver move to another place, the meadow becomes a forest, and that is continuing is comforting.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Seven Dams

A group of 10 boats sets out while I am preparing for my own start.  They have five minutes on me, so I hurry at a good pace to catch up and pass them, my new adage, "first one up the river sees the most" on my mind.  Groups of 10 boats don't see much anyway...too much talking.

I catch them at the first bend.  It is a guided tour and the guide is giving the first lecture.  I turn the next bend and get to watch a 8-point white tail buck wading across the river.
The first beaver dam comes unexpected.  It was not here two months ago...not even a hint.  In fact, it is still soft, silt and plant material have not filtered into the sticks and branches.  But, it holds back a foot of water.  It also holds back two kayakers, one sleeping and one preoccupied with looking through a camouflaged 12 zillion power zoom lens.  I cross the dam.
Around the next bend I find the new beaver lodge that is associated with the brand new dam.  Their dam is holding water that will make this entire trip an easier paddle than normal.  I begin to flush ducks, dozens of wood ducks with a rare mallard at times.

In the low autumn light the gray sticks area of the lower marsh is nothing short of spectacular.

Dam 2 comes unexpected as well, although there were new scent mounds in the vicinity before I saw the dam.

Dam 3 is no longer important.  It has been the first dam for a couple years, but now it is barely higher than the downstream water due to the new works.  It is clear that no one has been up here this morning...I am flushing wood ducks at regular intervals.

It is the middle section...a stretch of forested water between the two open air marshes where is goes wild.  At each of the bends I shake loose a dozen or twenty wood ducks.  As I was getting ready to write that I have spotted dozens of wood ducks, I have in short order spotted hundreds.  I have never seen so many wood ducks, period.

Dam 4 is a pleasant surprise.  While it was here before, it has recently been raised a foot or so.  Immediately, I know that this will change a couple of awkward deadfall "step-overs" into "paddle-overs".
Dam 5 comes right after 4.  It is a minor new dam on a narrow section of the river.

Dam 6 is an easy step over and it supersedes Dam 7, which barely shows above the water.  The beaver have been quite active in late summer and early fall.

I turn back when I am near Pine Island, skipping the last partial mile of constant turning and weaving.  Already, this has been one of my best trips ever into Great Swamp.

I meet no other person until I am just above Dam 1, which is still holding a foot of water back on the upriver side...and four kayakers on the downriver side.  They ask me how to cross a beaver dam...I respond, "Well, you will have to get out of the boat."  They watch me...because it is still soft, it is tricky.  I do not leave them confident....I continue down.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Following the Storm

Yesterday brought a storm with rain and winds out of the southwest at 35+ mph.  The last bit of road leading to the put-in spot is covered in beach sand with large puddles of salt water in the low spots.  The strip of houses on this road live on borrowed time even with their concrete stilts.  Their garages and carports no doubt ran with water yesterday and it was not even a particularly high tide.

The lower half of my paddle disappears from view with each stroke, the water in the river clouded with the silt that the storm washed from the tops of the spartina meadow...what constitutes firm ground in this area.  Even now, there is a swirl of silt (the pattern that one sees when they put cream in coffee without stirring) at each of the rivulets that continue to drain last night's rain.

But, for all of yeaterday's bluster, it is very calm and very peaceful under a low and thick overcast.  It is more than anything, marsh weather...the weather that I associate with wetlands, something from my youth when I went to pothole swamps in the fall to hunt ducks with my dad.

The lower marsh is scarce of birds.  Only when I get to the Big Bends do I start to see animal life with regularity...a couple Great Blue Herons, some Black Ducks, a small flock of Canada Geese, and quite a few Yellow-Legs.  I spot two hawks as well, returned now that the Willets aren't here to sound the alarm and make their hunting nearly impossible.

I turn at Foote Bridge and paddle back against a gentle flood tide current and light wind, both of which do nothing except make the day feel special.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hot Coals

I was short on energy today, but this is the time of the year when you go with the weather and tomorrow is predicted to be raining with gusts to 38 mph.

 Messerschmidt Pond.  Not great fall color, but not too bad either.  The maples were the color of hot coals.