Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where the Spirits Are

I am still a visitor in this place.  I can feel, and see, in my notes that I have not yet crossed over into where the spirits are.

Finding the spirit in nature has never been as easy as stepping out of a car at a scenic overlook and oohing and aahing at the view.  It takes effort and more than that, it takes time.  It is observing until noticing becomes knowing, where knowing is not simply the facts, but knowing inside yourself where you are in as many different meanings as you can conjure up... and in many meanings that you cannot.  In fact, knowing the facts isn't all that important.  It is becoming aware and opening all of one's senses, especially the senses that biology has not discovered.  I have not put my time in for that, yet.

I miss the water mammals most.  The otter and harbor seals, and especially the beaver were spirit animals for me in my west coast travels.  They were creatures that helped one cross the boundary.  I have not seen any of them here, yet, but I do see loons.  They winter here and they are a power to be reckoned with.  They will lead somewhere, I will follow.

the smaller red throated loon

I put in on the calmest day I have yet seen here.  Long Island Sound is almost glassy smooth.  Low overcast disappears the horizon.  The tide is rising but will be of little interest as I head up coast.  I push brants ahead of me at each rock outcropping and when I get to the next point, where there are rocky islets, I find a few long tailed ducks.

the larger common loon

As I cross the next cove, new water to me, a common loon calls to my left.  It dives and a few moments later surfaces to my right, perhaps a swim of 150 yards.  It continues to vocalize as it swims off, its head rising just a bit with each call.

When I get to that next point I recognize it as the neighborhood that some new friends live in.  I round the point until I can see New Haven in the distance.  This is far enough.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Timing for the Indian River

I've learned through trial and error (pretty much how I learn anything, by the way) that canoeing the Indian River is mainly a matter of timing the tides.  Canoeing on the coast, as I do, is a routine of checking the weather forecast and checking the tide tables.  Today, with a morning start, I can arrive at the stone bridge entrance to the Indian River at some time pretty close to high tide.  And that means I can paddle under the bridge on a flood current instead of wading in cold water and pulling the canoe through.

A light off-shore breeze that sometimes lays on my back makes for an easy and pleasant trip along the seashore.  Five months after the hurricane and I still pass dozens of houses in various states of un-inhabitation with plywood over windows and blue tarps stapled to former roofs.  At near high tide, it is easy to see the problem...the storm math is straight forward.  The houses clear the water by maybe four or six feet at high tide.  High tide comes twice a day, and so, it will come twice during a big storm.  High tide + 8 feet of storm surge + 8 feet of wind waves =  pounding wave driven water in the second floor of many houses.  Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to own one.  They're actually quite affordable, if you can afford to rebuild a house once in awhile.

I ride the flood current into Gulf Pond with no effort other than to bend over and lay my chest on the center thwart as I slide under the rusty bridge.  Here, in the brackish tidal marsh are the Canada geese and buffleheads.  I pass the second bridge as I did the rusty one.  The third bridge is a bit tighter, but I know to stay to the left where it is just an inch higher.  With the stone bridge, headroom is never a problem.  Instead, it is the height difference of the bottom, the Indian River side being about 18 inches higher than the Gulf Pond side.  But, the tide, both coming and going, backs up at the narrow passage.  If you time your coming and going right, it is downhill in both directions.

the second bridge

The Indian River starts with a broad wetland, but, at the highway bridge, necks down to a placid tree and brush lined creek that would be an fine hundred mile trip, if there were a hundred miles of it.  When you see wildlife on rivers like this, you see it close, if only for an instant.  Ducks are surprised as the bow of the canoe rounds a bend.  A white tail deer runs off after seeing my motion.  A hawk just sits as I pass under, not threatened by me, but probably a bit perturbed about my alarming its prey for a minute or two.

In the Indian River

The fifth bridge is always the lowest.  Going up I just lay in the bottom of the canoe and push myself under.  Returning I have to wait for 45 minutes for the tide to drop before I can repeat the trick.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ice Weather

I paddle a good long distance, all the way to the upper piece of Gulf Pond before I stop to write.  I put in down in front of the house, launching from the talus that forms the bottom of the sea wall, a project that was more clunky and clumsier than I expected.  The wind is out of the north or east and so the land protects me from some of it and the rest is a very light following breeze.  The foot high waves are more than the wind predicts, it is just that in that direction there is little out there until one gets to Europe.

I found some buffleheads in the salt water today.  I figure that the cold weather must be icing up the protected brackish waters where I usually find them.  Short spells of cold doesn't usually affect wintering birds behavior, unless that cold brings snow or ice, which is what are recent weather has done.  It's the phase shift that gets you.

I paddle up to the mouth of Calf Pen Creek and discover that I can enter it at this almost high tide level.  It is a narrow creek running through a wetland and separated from the ocean by a road that is lined with houses that have survived, to varying degrees, this fall's hurricane.  I find each meander choked with thin ice that the canoe breaks through with differing amounts of effort.  But, before I get to the second bridge, a half mile in, the ice finally does stop me.  It is an inch thick and with the twice daily flooding and ebbing the ice has broken into sheets with 2 or 3 layers of inch thick ice stacked on top of each other.  I turn back and continue.

Calf Pen Creek

There is a red-throated loon feeding in the ebb current at the mouth of Gulf Pond.  There usually is.

If you blow it up real big it looks just like the Loch Ness monster

A mute swan sits in the marsh grass on the east shore of the pond.
There are no osprey nor will there be for the next few months.

Milford, Est. 1639

I head up  to the Indian River, but passage through the old stone railroad bridge is always tide dependent, unless one is willing to wade, and I am not willing in 30 degree weather.

I head into one of the side channels to a possible take out spot.  This is a new portage route for me, and with the mid level tide, I can coast through thin ice right up to the road. 

I return home on the Pond Point Portage.

Friday, February 15, 2013

It is a day to just be birds

Sometimes, my thoughts come only after a thousand or a hundred strokes of the paddle.  Sometimes, they come when I do the portage from the house to the water.  Today, I brought the thoughts with me from home and the paddling did its work on them.

The father of a friend died yesterday.  He was an artist as I am, but we never met.  My friend was with his father on his last days and he photographed his tools and shared the photos, photos of paints and a paint box, of screwdrivers and socket wrenches.  If one didn't know better, one might call it a collection of tools, but makers, whether they are artists or machinists or carpenters or potters or weavers, do not have collections of tools.  They have tools.  The images were not of the neatly peg boarded tools of the home handy man or the clean, ordered and oiled precision of the machinist.  They were jumbles and clutter with only a loose categorizing that made it clear that they were not ignored discards.  These were tools used, not tools collected.  I saw importance in those images.  The hands of the craftsman extend from the very core of the being, and while we can't always decipher that hand to soul connection, the tools of the craftsman can give a good hint at what lies within.  I could see the creative spirit in the semi-organized clutter of the tools and paints.  It was the creative side speaking out about how rummaging around a bit for the right tool has creative value.  Even the simple handling and shifting of the wrong items as one seeks the correct tool is of some unmeasurable value.  It might not be efficient, but it always gives time for thought, it always opens the possibilities of a different direction.  The photos said, "artist".

And then, I find myself at Gulf Pond.  The thoughts have buried the distance.  I have not been here since we moved into the house.  It has been a good day for birds and Gulf Pond, a salt water marsh of clam and oyster beds, brings a change in species.  Here are the buffleheads, Canada geese, and great blue herons that I don't see at the house.  It has been a good day for birds and I have seen the usuals and, in the case of the long-tailed ducks, heard those that I haven't seen.  Today, I take no tally.  It is their day to not be a count, but rather to just be birds.

The act of seeking, whether things are found or not, leads to somewhere.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


A long stretch of dry land comes to an end.  I portage the canoe on my shoulders from our new home on the east coast down the hill to the water.  Three feet of snow fell not too many days ago - it is a winter scene although the air is warming to 40 degrees under a nearly clear sky.  My neighbor, who is out walking her dog, sees me preparing the canoe in the snowbank that was our driveway, "Now, you are fantasizing," she says.  I reply, "no, I am going."

The walk is easy, except for the last bit, a 40 foot stairs down the seawall, a stairs that is knee deep in snow.  But, canoes slide well on snow and I just lower it with the stern line while walking behind.  A loon wails.  It is the call of a common loon, a bird of my Minnesota youth.  I translate it into "welcome back, where were you?"   It seems odd to me that on the very first day that I put my canoe in from our new home, such a bird should come to greet me.

I head up the coast in waters I've not yet seen.  When I near the rocky point a mile up I spot a long tailed duck (formerly called and "old squaw").  It is silhouetted by the sun, but there is no mistaking it.

As I continue, edging along the rocks, I find a sandpiper that I do not know.  It has a very pointed bill with yellow at the unusual feature for something like a sandpiper.  I find a few more of them.

Purple Sandpipers

In Seattle, I called days like this "tennis ball days" because they were calm enough that I could spot a tennis ball (non-biodegradable dog toys - I guess people think that stuff they throw in the water just goes away) from a 1/4 mile or more.  But, there are no tennis balls out here today.  Instead, it is bird calls.  Bird sounds are traveling unimpeded over unusually long distances.  There is a nasally "uh-uha-uh"...starting with a low note, peaking with the "a" and returning to the low note.  I've not heard it before.  I track it to a small flock of ducks that turn out to be long-tails calling back and forth. I see several horned grebes.

The put-in.  The take-out.

I head down the coast, past my put in, to the next point so that I can see the layout of the next cove, which has a creek that drains a large marsh that will be a future trip.