Sunday, June 30, 2013

Exploring the Pequabuck

It's a narrow river with a mile an hour current or so to paddle up against, and it meanders tightly, so tightly that I often have to set the canoe up for the bend, even when paddling upstream.  It passes through forests and wetland meadows with no houses or roads in sight, a channel set down between three foot high cut banks.  I spot a green backed heron right off, then a great blue heron, and then a mother wood duck with her brood.   A protesting red-wing blackbird is not unusual, but this time I find the occupied nest built in a shrub overhanging the river.  The baby bird doesn't move a speck as I pass.

The notes that I had found on this river ended at a set of fast riffles just before a bridge not far up the river.  I get there in just short of an hour and the water is, indeed, to fast to paddle against, but it is and easy wade pulling the canoe 50 yards up the inside of the bend.  And so, the river continues.  The current is a bit faster, but not too much.  It is still a 2 to 1 deal - 2 hours up, 1 hour down.  It narrows more, it continues to meander, and there are more trees in the water, but nothing too difficult to maneuver around.  Turtles slide off the bank as I approach.  There are quite a few, and I spot a submerged one with a neck and head as big around as my forearm.

It forks, but the fork returns to the other channel defining an island.  At the next fork, I go left up to a bank to bank tree blocking easy passage.  I return and take the right fork and follow it until I come to another bank to bank tree, although this one could be clambered over.

 I can see a swamp up ahead, a change in the terrain that will have to wait for another day, because I am satisfied enough just knowing that this is here.  Sometimes, there is so much relief in just finding a place like this that all of the gumption just wanders off.
The old bridge downstream of the put-in

Friday, June 28, 2013

Send Him to the Cornfield

Last night, as lightning flashed in the windows, I watched "Apocalypse Now" and thought of its attraction as a river journey, one of many river journeys in art... The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord Jim, TheSand Pebbles (my favorite), and the Lewis and Clark Journals, which may not be art, but are done so well that they should be (no one has yet made a decent film of that story when you think about it). 

I put in on the Quinnipiac once again from the same spot next to the gravel yard that I used before.  Puffing, swirling and gusting warm winds match the cumulonimbus above and there is a threat of thunderstorms.  I turn down river this time into the large tidal marsh, and into the wind and into the flooding tidal current.

Phragmites (a 10 to 20 ft tall non-native reed) dominate the marsh.  It makes me wonder if Monsanto has researched this plant in their efforts to turn the entire world's food source into white wheat, french fry shaped potatoes, and corn grown in the can.  The reeds grow 1 to 2 inches apart so they form a nearly impenetrable mass to wildlife.  The osprey are doing well, but osprey are "edge" critters.  They like vertical (trees) above water with fish, so phragmites mean nothing to them.  I would expect many more shoreline waders such as willets and sandpipers in a healthy marsh, as well as more ducks and geese.

After a few bends, I get up next to a forested bank.  It's a relief to see something that looks normal.  I have to admit that I have become bored with the marsh.  It is like paddling in a cornfield.  I turn into one of the crevices in the islands for a short exploration.  I do find some small normal spots with swamp grass and shrubs.  I spot a bunch of feathers and thinking it to be a kill site, I paddle over.  But there are feathers all along the edge of this stretch.  It is not a kill site, but rather one of the few places where waterfowl could haul themselves onto shore and groom.   The crevice continues a ways.  When it forks, I take the wider path, until the wider path is pretty narrow and finally ends.

Send him to the cornfield

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Down the Rabbit Hole...always down the rabbit hole.

In Canada, it is National Canoe Day...

I put in on the East River in a tidal marsh separated from the ocean by a couple hundred yards of very low land.  The tide is flooding for the next 4 or 5 hours, but it is the flatness and nearness to the ocean that rules the trip - there is little protection from the wind and the clouds are increasing, clouds that look like the precursor to a thunderstorm brought on by the day's heat.  There are several osprey, a couple egrets and more willets in one place than I've ever seen before.  They call out in protest or warning or as a diversion even before I get close.  What the area lacks in diversity, it more than makes up for it in numbers.  There is an old shack on the shore that my friend Ellen would love.

I explore the mouth of the river, get my bearings so to speak, and then head up meandering through the broad level wetland.  Short marsh grass dominates the flats above the bank with only two or three high spots where trees can take purchase.  I sight an umbrella and lawn chairs along the bank, and three people that belong to them.  As I approach, two wander off.  They are counting sparrows and the two that walked off are retrieving a bird or two from nets that they have put out.

I spot a bird that I have never seen before.  Almost black all over and about the size of a snowy egret, it flies off with long legs trailing behind and a long curved bill leading.  (It is a glossy ibis and I will see a second one as well).

Fiddler crab - the claw is as big as my pretty big thumb

I've passed a couple bridges into a wide marsh plain that is bounded by forested hills.  I paddle into a dead end, which seems more interesting than continuing on the river knowing that the river goes much further than I can, today.  I think about the term "dead end" and its near complete inaccuracy being that there is always something worthwhile up (or down) a dead end.  If Alice had not gone down the rabbit hole, what a fine adventure she would've missed out on.  But, the birds have changed...I hear wrens and spot a few as they briefly rise above the grasses (slightly taller grasses here).  A few turns in and there is a small wooden dock coming out of the forest with a rack of three canoes hidden well back in the trees.  The wind change catches my attention.  It is time to go and I turn.

The wind seems stronger and whether it is or whether it is the land form making it so is not for me to say, first time here as I am.  It will be in my face as I near the ocean.  The clouds are now overcast and I would rather paddle than tow my canoe into the wind or sit out a thunderstorm.

It is work without rest most of the way back, as I though it would be, but the willets sing to/at me from all directions all the way back.  I think they are singing, "go away".

Monday, June 24, 2013


I returned from a trip to the west coast and found myself aimless and uninterested, lethargic and unfocused.  I even found myself trying to talk myself out of canoeing, "too hot", or "too many summertime motorboat vacation people", or "too far to drive".  It wasn't like me.

I put in behind the gravel yard at the top end of a tidal marsh on the Quinnipiac River - new terrain for me.  It is hot at 9 in the morning and going to get hotter, but the scenery is already refreshing.  Two osprey sail nearby and an egret hunts the shallows on the far side of the channel.  I head upstream, hoping for shade and leaving the sunny marsh for a later date. 

Osprey (and phragmite tops)

When I look through my camera I see the harshness of a hot summer day.  Summer sun is always too strong, but on a hot day it seems that the heat comes through the lens as well.

The invasive phragmites (a tall dense growing reed) soon give way to significant plant.  The marsh was once known for a very large population of muskrats, but apparently they do not like phragmites.  The river starts to narrow and the current gradually increases its push against me.  I see more osprey, more egrets, a swan, and for a half hour I am "surround sound" by numerous kingfishers rattling their call.  I weave through tree debris at the first railroad bridge and find more shade as the river necks down to 4 or 5 canoe lengths in width.  It reminds me of the upper section of the Duwamish River in Seattle, narrow, forested, with 4 or 5 ft high banks, but it has many more birds and less man-made debris.  In fact, there is almost no litter.

Two black-crowned night herons fly off.  A small dinosaur green-backed heron is identified as it flies away by its primitive shape and bobbing flight.

The amount of wood debris in the water increases, although most of it has been sawed off to leave a passage.  I can continue, but I don't need to.  It is a place well worth returning to and stopping now gives me all of the excuse that I need to come back.  Whatever was missing in me when I started seems is time to get to work.

I ride the current back, but not all of the way back.  The rising tide is backing up the river, the salt water not intruding, but the gradient decreasing.  About halfway back, the current goes slack.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In the Good River

I put in at the town of Avon onto the Farmington River, having found my way, or at least the last 20 miles, by trial and error, a skill that I am raising to an art form due to Connecticut's trait of providing a sign pointing you towards your destination and then leaving you on your own to guess at the next 15 possible turns that you can make.  "If you have to ask, you're not from here."

Recent rains have raised the river, not to a flood stage, but it is high water.  There is a deep and steady "two to one current"...2 hours up, one hour back.

It is a good river.  It runs 60 yards wide and I don't know how deep it is, but it feels deep and I never strike a paddle tip on the bottom.  There are no sandbars on the insides of bends to slow the current.  The banks are lined with full growth trees - maple, oak, horse chestnut, sycamore and tulip poplar.  Ferns and a fine crop of poison ivy are common in the underbrush.  The river doesn't meander.  Instead, it makes a slight bend to one direction and then the other, and then the other... 

At one of those bends, six belted kingfishers leave there perches, one at a time, on the inside of the curve. But, this river's strength is in its sameness.  Small details appear, and there is a house here or there (I can count the total on my fingers) but the overall view rounding each bend is the same as the one before.  That is the goodness of it...the confirmation that nature has no written guarantee to entertain us with constantly changing dramatic landscapes.  It shows us that something else is the boss, that the game is not what we often believe it to be.  It gives the mind, the heart, and the soul time to not focus.  It is the closest that I get to meditation, and it probably qualifies in full at that.

At a bit over two hours, I press on to round the bend up ahead, if only to prove to myself that there is yet another bend ahead and that the current doesn't suddenly change direction.  I turn.  The return trip is less diligent, but it still works out to an hour.  As I prepare to portage the canoe, I slip off the bank.  I put my feet down and they go down and down until I am bobbing in my life vest between shore and the canoe without finding bottom...  an interesting design for the town's canoe launch.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Summer Rain, Summer Wind

There is almost no wind at the house, but at the water, just 200 yards away, I find a fresh southwest wind.  It comes unobstructed across 15 miles of water bringing with it moderate waves.  North and northwest winds come over land and in the same amount of wind I will find calm near the shore.  East and southeast winds pile up and stagnate against the shore causing waves, but lessening the wind.  Today, I get the wind and the waves and as I claw my way down the shoreline, my plan and the necessary timing for the Indian River looks unlikely.

Two good rolling three foot waves bid me farewell as I round Pond Point and enter a calmer bay at Calf Pen Creek.  With my plans in flux, I take the detour into the wetland, passing under the low bridge and into a broad wetland with an egret or two and some geese here and there.  The predominate animal life are thousands of the tiny crabs with the single oversized claw.  Apparently, they have good sight and drop back into the finger sized holes in the mud banks when I am 20 or 30 feet away, but not before telling me what builds those finger sized holes that I have seen so often.

Calf Pen Creek

I hoped to take time to write my thoughts having earlier been too busy with the waves and wind.  But, the first biting insects of the summer greet me and I decide to keep moving.  Rounding a bend, the sight of a dying bird strips those thoughts from where I can reach them.  The bird is unrecognizable...could be a duck a gosling, or even a young heron.  It sits in a couple inches of water, the feathers no longer repelling water and filled with silt - it is grey.  Every so often it lifts its head for a few moments before collapsing again.  I thought about putting it down, a humane gesture, but I don't, taking instead the view that something more complicated than what I understand is occurring.  Nature will take its course.  In time, the thousands of tiny big clawed crabs will feast.

It is not time to return, yet.  I push on, the waves and wind either lessening or being reduced by the geography.  I paddle against an ebbing tide to get into Gulf Pond.  High tide was not much more than an hour ago, so the current is not too difficult.  I might even make it into the Indian River.  It begins to rain for real when I am half way up the first half of the pond.  Then, the sky opens up, doubling its effort, as I get to the bridge at the half way point.  But, the rain is pleasant...the temperature near 70 degrees and its only real bother is that it is far too wet to use my camera.  I find the Indian River draining, but manage to buck the current and pass the railroad bridge.  I figure ten minutes more and I would not have been able to pass.

Gulf Pond

As I make the first meander, I spot a yellow-crowned night heron near where I saw one on my last trip.  Then, I spot another and soon, two more.  They are out in the grass away from the waters edge.  When they see me, they duck low and wait for me to move off.  I stop to bail the takes about a mile for an inch of water to collect at my knees (I kneel most of the time in the canoe).  Just short of the next bridge the first lightning flash goes off.

I return to the top of the pond where I take out, looking forward to the walk home from there.