Monday, October 21, 2019

The French Hunter

I set out just short of midday from the Patterson end of the swamp.  It is a spectacular autumn day, sunny with a light north wind.  The river is about mid-level, a good height for clearing deadfalls.  I haven't been here since early summer.  The water is already cool and clear with the summer algae and plant growth gone.  There is only one other car at the put-in.  There is a good chance that it is a duck hunter as the season opened last weekend.

The first mile is narrow and twisting.  For the most part, the river is about 20 ft wide and the turns are sharp and frequent.  I paddle steadily keeping a good rhythm while changing my stroke every to or three dips.  J-stroke, reach forward to draw the bow into a turn, a sweep with the canoe heeled, a draw, a j-stroke, another sweep, etc.  It is a delightful exercise in efficiency and placing the canoe exactly where I want it to be.

The autumn colors have erupted although little of that is in the grey stick trees of the swamp, those trees long standing ghosts, the roots drowned by the machinations of beaver.  It is the marsh shrubs that have turned a brilliant rust red while the cattails are still fading from green to tan.
New beaver lodge below Cult Tower Hill
Not far below Cult Tower Hill I find the owner of the other car.  He greets me with a thick French accent that I did not expect.  We both stop and talk for 15 minutes.  He's in here duck hunting and tells me that at 84 years old, he's not much of a shot anymore.  Neither of us has seen a single duck in the 2-1/2 miles from the car, so I have to take his word for it.  As far as I am concerned, 84 and paddling a canoe solo to this spot is pretty good, period.  He's had to cross one beaver dam and a bank-to-bank deadfall.  I let him know that I've cut that deadfall out leaving a good 6 ft wide passage.  Then we part.
The French hunter
I head down to the halfway point, the Rte 22 bridge.  The 200 yards above the bridge reconfigures itself fairly often and I'm always curious to see how old passages have closed and new ones have opened.  The log tangle below the bridge is still intact, but I'm turning back and don't need to deal with that mess.

I catch up again with the hunter at the only beaver dam that needs to be dragged, although I propel my narrower and faster canoe up through a gap without exiting.  He has it under control...frankly, he's enjoying wrestling his canoe over the dam, so I head on.

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