Sunday, September 21, 2014


It rained often during the night and it seems to have rained often during the night over most of the area.  But, it is warm and the soaked landscape brings a quiet to the air, a quiet that only becomes more perfect when the sprinkle of raindrops, near and far, mingle into a curtain that excludes the man made sounds that permeate nature.  Just as I set out, it begins to sprinkle.

The town grocery opened at eight but I knew that if I waited that half hour to buy the snack that I should have taken along, I would miss something important.  So, I continued to the put-in hoping that I still had an old mangled granola bar somewhere in the bowels of my pack.  I did not.

A low thin haze hangs over the river, a haze that cameras have a way of removing, but a haze non the less.  The tops of my eyeglasses fog, so no matter how clear the day becomes, I will paddle in a haze.  I am hungry, but only in the stomach.

I flush a great blue heron here and there.  I scare up a few wood ducks and get visited by a kingfisher every so often.  I see one hawk.  The osprey are all gone.

It is a symmetrical world.  With not a puff of wind, the forest and banks above the water are reflected below.  With not a hint of breeze, I paddle as often on the left as on the right, no corrections for wind.  I plan on three hours up river.  Just about then I see a party of canoes coming down and I turn, preferring to not pass and then repass them, keeping the river in front of me to myself.

Two fast canoes slowly catch up and pass me, gaining a few inches with each stroke.  They go out of sight in a half hour, not far ahead, but always around the bend.  I pass them when they stop to rest, and see them no more.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

There are Blackbirds in the Rice

We set out into a head wind, following the shore or the edge of the marsh islands closely as to shelter us as much as possible from the wind.  Fall is coming.  The day is sunny and cool with short mare's tails high aloft in the sky. 

S paddles from the bow and once or twice uses a draw stroke to pull the nose back into the wind.  At the big open bay, a shallow exposed circle of open water, we count twenty swans.  Swans are once again gathering for the winter.  These may end up in the big flock that winters in Salmon Cove.  Migrating osprey are fishing, taking advantage as they work their way south.

Past the open water, we enter the narrow channels of Lord Cove, flushing here or there, a duck or two.  S sees a white spot in a distant dead tree.  I tell her it is a great egret.  She says that it might be just a white patch of wood.  I respond by telling her that there is always a great egret in that tree. 

It is a great egret.

We circle through the channels.  Unlike most marshes, most of the channels in this one are not dead ends.
There are blackbirds in the rice.

It is a leisurely paddle.  It is a much more leisurely paddle for one of us.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Sixth Bridge

A couple of my friends are in the Quetico, a couple others are in the Boundary Waters.  I'm drifting downstream on a tailwind and an ebb tide in the East River when I stop to write.

spartina in seed
The tall spartina grass has gone to seed and some of it is turning red, while the short spartina is starting to turn blonde and the cattails went tan at least two weeks back.  The cattail pods are just beginning to go downy.  I use the Bailey Creek sneak, taking advantage of the high tide.  The sneak is a more intimate route to the first bridge.

Bailey Creek Sneak

There are not too many osprey visible today and as I paddled the river, I was amazed by the large number of schools of menhaden in the water, their tail fins above the surface looking all tiny shark like.  It's a fish that is similar to herring - the name menhaden is derived from a native american name that meant fertilizer.  They form tight schools five to fifteen feet in diameter and scatter only when the canoe reaches the edge of the gathering.  The lack of osprey is probably due to the osprey needing to digest the equivalent of a Thanksgiving dinner.

school of menhaden

I came in at high tide, riding the lag most of the way up the river.  A high tide means that the river will be canoeable bank-to-bank to the fifth bridge, the Foote Bridge, without any risk of touching bottom with the paddle.  I pass the fifth bridge and when I get to the next bend, I pass a kayaker who has been dipping his way upstream.  He says, "looks like this is as far as it goes" and I tell him that one can go at least one more bridge, although it requires doing the limbo.  I continue, he turns back.

the sixth bridge
The river here changes from a marsh river to a forest creek.  I duck a few low trees, but mostly I weave around them.  The water stays deep and I paddle easily to the sixth bridge.  It is only the second time that I've been here.  But, the tide is a little extra high today and I keep going.  Another hundred yards and I have to crawl over a deadfall tree that spans the river.  Another fifty yards and I wade and clear a small log jam.  I wade more and paddle less the farther I go, and finally the creek becomes a wet foot hike, and it is time to return.

American Bald Eagle

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Lieutenant River

My neighbor, I., stops and asks where I am off to and I tell her, "I don't know, but I'm going canoeing."  I break that rule often, the one about telling people where you are going.  But, when I am canoeing, I make my decisions as if no one will ever come looking for me.  It all works out in the end.

I head to a new place, a new river for me to explore, but I find the wind rising and know that I will face a stiff paddle on the return, and recognize that this river will have nowhere for me to get out and walk back.  So, I go someplace that I know.

I head up the river, two green herons, two adult swans, two cygnets, a great blue heron, a great egret, a few osprey, two kingfishers.  Noah's ark for the literalists, without brontasauruses and tyranasaurus rex.

green heron

When I get to the widening, I paddle with ease through the boulder bay, the six to ten foot diameter boulders that dot the marsh mostly covered and the mud bottom plenty deep for my paddle.  Those oversized boulders, seemingly out of place in a big marsh make this place unique. I find the creek that I suspected to exist on my earlier low tide trip coming into the bay at the far end, just around the corner where it had been out of view. 

The creek is beautiful and well forested.  I suppose that it is seldom visited.  It doesn't go anywhere in particular, but it is entirely worth paddling, just a few hundred yards to a small bridge where, on the other side, the creek forks and both arms are canoeable for just another hundred yards.  And since it is entirely worth paddling, it takes me someplace, someplace important.  I'll bring someone here sometime, and they will probably go someplace different.

As I head back downstream, I catch the two adult swans overseeing the flight lessons of the two cygnets.  The grey cygnets paddle around and flap their wings remaining firmly rooted in the water.  The wings look well developed, but aren't yet strong enough for that wooshing wing tip splashing take off that swans do.

I continue down to the big river and sit on a rocky island for a while, waiting for the tide to drop and expose the shoal, which will draw the shore birds in to feed on stranded critters.  When I get back in the canoe and round the corner, there are ten or so snowy egrets working the silt.

snowy egrets

Monday, September 1, 2014

Oblivious of the Annoyance

The first passage is through a small flotilla of moored motorboats and toy ships - still quiet in the morning light with a few people up and fishing, a few people up a basking in the early sun, and a few people still asleep and dreaming of the two or three mai tais coming with the start of the motor.

Three guys on jet ski things follow me into the shallow bay that comes next.  They are matching my speed and I assume that they think that I know where the deep channel is.  I do.  So, I stay in the six to eight inch water and skim over a few barely submerged rocks and soon they turn back oblivious of how annoying they are.  And then, I slide over 20 yards into the deep channel where I can get a full draw with the paddle.  (I will not see a single person or boat for the next two hours, until I am nearly back to the put-in).

There are about two dozen great egrets in the big shallow bay with a few great blue herons and a few mute swans.  Two hand-sized crab take a defensive position, claws spread wide to the side, as I paddle over.  They are thinking, "he is oblivious to how annoying he is."  But, I am not...and I leave them to their own devices.

Fish have been rising to the surface all along, and the osprey are feeding, making steep glides to catch fish instead of their more usual and dramatic dives.  I watch one struggle in the water for several seconds before it finally gets airborne with a rather large catch.  When I paddle over to the rocky and tree lined shore for some shade, an immature bald eagle flushes...then a second immature also takes wing.

I re-enter the narrowness of the marsh and note that it is not a cattail marsh as I have always thought, but rather it is a cattail and wild rice marsh.  The plants are intermingled, the cattails supporting the sparser rice plants.  To us, it is unharvestable rice, of course, because you need to be able to pole a canoe through the rice to harvest it, but the red wing blackbirds are doing well managing their crop.

I turn a bend and something slinky moves through the water some 50 yards, carp, eel?

I spot three river otters.  There might have been more.  One takes to the cattails while the other two dive.  Each time they resurface they let out (or take in) a loud wheezy breath.  I never heard this out west, but out west the otter were somewhat used to people and not so alarmed as these are.  They dive and resurface, always leading the way for the next couple hundred yards.  It has been a long time since I have seen otter.

As I paddle back across the big shallow bay, taking a route out into the main river, I get splashed by a couple large fish.  One of them rumbles the bottom of the canoe as I pass over.  I don't know what they were, but sure did annoy them.