Sunday, November 30, 2014


For awhile and at times, it almost didn't make sense.  The wind had come up as I drove in on the beautiful, winding and narrow Joshuatown Road.  The wind that was building on the river would not show itself in those dense eastern hardwoods, even with the leaves off as they were.

I started near the Chester Ferry, which was running for the last day this year.  The two of us were ready to go at the same time, but the ferryman waved me past...and into the teeth of the wind as I rounded the dock.  And so it was a claw into the wind, but near shore and without much in the way of waves.  The worst that was likely to happen was that I would be blown to shore and have to walk my canoe for a distance.  And every time the wind seemed too strong to make much headway, it dissipated and convinced me to keep going as it was only a mile to the inlet behind the island, where I knew that I would find comparative tranquility.

Once in the narrow channel, the wind lessened and I could bask in the sun and rest without being blown backwards.  Two swans occupied the entrance bay and a single female mallard was near shore.  Most of the other waterfowl were probably out of the wind somewhere out in the marsh.  But, with the tide at its lowest, those side channels were not paddleable.

I saw a couple hawks, but at such a distance that I could not identify them.  I spotted two downy woodpeckers working rotten trees near the shore.  I photographed one that was fully inverted on the underside of a tiki-log.  They did not seem to mind me or the wind. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Before Ice Up

I came up here to check on the beaver dam that lies a mile or two up the river from the mill pond.  It had been breached early in the summer, but whether by man or nature I do not know...I was curious to see if it had been repaired.  There is a thin sheet of ice over 3/4 of the pond, but a narrow channel where the current runs stays open.  The thin ice at the edge sings in wake of the canoe - sand or sleet of a sheet of glass with an underlying "twang", 30 feet behind as if I'm being followed.

the mill pond

There is a lot of beaver sign as soon as I leave the pond.  Stumps of saplings and half cut full grown trees are frequent.  There is also the peeled sticks left behind, pencil to thumb diameter, with the obvious scooping cut of a beaver incisor...having been rolled in the dextrous front paws just like corn on the cob.  Winter is coming, it is a busy time.

A few blue jays scold me as I paddle, but the first bird of note is moth a moth with 3ft wings, blunt headed, big bodied.  It rises from the shore, unseen until it moves, and easily, instantly identifiable by the absolute silence...not a peep, not the slightest woosh of owl.  It perches a hundred yards off and I can see it's "mule ears".  A great horned owl.

At the tight left hander where the water always runs a little swift, it is running fast.  A new beaver dam has been built and while it doesn't cross the river completely, it constricts the flow to a narrow channel.  It raises the water upstream water level a foot.  The new lodge, the reason for the dam, appears within 50 yards of paddling.

the beaver pond
 The old dam, the one that had been breached, is repaired.  But, it is no longer two feet high like it was in the spring - the new dam downstream of it having raised the water level on it's lower face.  I cross it on the right side as usual, scaring up a flock of mallards from the beaver pond.  The lodge near the dam didn't look good in the spring and now it looks worse.  Clearly, it is abandoned and I would guess that it was abandoned when the dam was broken.

Beyond the pond is a section of meanders...narrow with deep water, but very tight turns, almost doubling back on itself.  It's a labor for me in my long lake canoe, calling out every stroke that I know...sweeps and pries and well forward draws to pull the nose around...slow down, speed up.  Paddling, but without rhythm.  Response to the situation.  It's a busy time.

food supply to the left, lodge to the right
Past the second bridge, I find a new lodge on the outside of a turn, just past a small dam.  Mussel shells show that raccoons have been using the outside of the lodge for a feeding spot.  A massive brush pile - branches and saplings jammed into the bottom of the river are beaver preparations for for when the river ices over.

I probably won't get here again before it ices in.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Hamburg Cove

I put in at a new spot on that side of the big river, on a road named for a ferry that is long since gone.  It shortens the distance to the cove by about a mile, but that mile is, in turn, put to use following all of the shoreline's undulations, going in and out of the places that don't go places.  After entering the cove, the first round bay turns out to be a crooked "Y" with a secondary arm that features the remnant of a fallen down dry stone wall.  A heron drops down out of a tree and flies off.  A fish jumps, but when I paddle to where it jumped, I find bird sign - a white stream of bird crap disolving into the water.  I did not see the bird and there was no fish. With the slightest knock of my paddle on the canoe, a sharp echo returns from the forested hillside.

At the town of Hamburg, I paddle under the narrow bridge into a small pond, and under a second narrow bridge into another pond that is fed by a small creek passing through a thick marsh.

Eight Mile River comes in at the top of the cove, it's entry through a beautiful arched bridge.  I continue about a half mile up the river until I get to where it jets down out of the hills.  It is a shallow river filled with boulders once you start into the hillside, as is typical here.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Running Away

Just short of #6 (the sixth bridge), in the jungle where ducking and twisting goes hand in hand with paddling, I flush two white tail deer.  One leaps directly into the narrow river and out again on its second effort. 

Then, a third appears in the brush on the left bank, and then a fourth.  No one hurries, all of us surprised, but not threatened.  We all wander off in our own directions at our own pace.

It was a day when I felt that I was going to bust...that internal energy that won't stay contained, that won't be satisfied by tapping out a new website on the computer.  It was time to go.  I loaded my canoe and I packed a lunch fit for a four-year old running away from home - crackers, cheese and two huge handfuls of chocolate chip cookies.  I decided to toss in an apple, just in case I was in a car accident and someone went through my possessions.

The tide was nearing its peak and the put-in was just a few inches above the water level.  But, there was still a bit of the flood pushing the river backwards.  I set out and headed up the Neck looking out high over the short spartina grass.  I turned up Bailey and then into the Sneak, where I stopped to walk the salt hay marsh.  From the canoe the grass looked high and dry, but it was, in fact, three or four inches awash.  Most people don't know this, but the footing in the spartina marsh is firm.  It's slippery, but the ground is built of a thousand seasons of root and grass.  I don't find anything.  It's the kind of ground where I'd expect to find long lost debris, but I suppose that the highest tides carry most of it away.  I return to the canoe.  I need to make a map of this place, sometime.

I spot a hawk, I scare up a good number of black ducks, which seem to be the most skittish of all ducks.  Lots of yellow-legs along the river bank, and on the return, one loon.  It took awhile to identify the loon, silhouetted in the settling sun and at a distance.  But, it dove and resurfaced some 75 yards away...three times.  A cormorant would have flown off, as would a duck, but a loon evades by diving.  They seem to fly only when they have someplace to go.  It's a good bird.

It is all New England pastoral.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Oyster River Morphology

We put in on the salt water just 200 yards down from the house.  It's been almost two years since we moved in and S has not started a trip with me from our "own" shoreline.  We head north up the shore on a rising tide, the peak still three hours away.  But, even now we can skim over the boulder groins just being mindful not to take a chip out of the paddles on the rough and barnacle covered rocks. 

S finds the sea water fascinating...the gentle swell underlying the waves that raises and lowers the canoe.  It's a bit hypnotic.

The flood carries us into the Oyster River.  It has been several months since I've been here.  I always wondered why it carried the name.  I started coming here not long after Hurricane Sandy, and rarely saw any sign of oysters.  The river had a rather flat and sandy bottom.  Today, things are different.  I guess it took awhile, but once the tidal currents started moving sediment, it really started to move it. Much of what I had gotten used to must have been sediments carried in by the can't get into the Oyster at low tide because of a 1/3 mile wide sand bar at the entrance, and the hurricane easily topped the road that separates the marsh from the sea.  There is a dense oyster bed where there had been sand (they must have been buried), and an obvious deep channel is cutting itself in along much of the river's short length (only a mile is paddleable).

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Among the Grey Sticks

 The Great Swamp

I don't remember the first beaver dam, but it has a blow out in it that I can paddle through.  Maybe that's why I don't recall it.  Memory isn't perfect.  The beauty of oral tradition is that it is a tradition.  Memories are preserved, at least somewhat intact, through the telling and retelling.  Maybe I didn't tell the story often enough.

The second dam is a good thirty inches high and steep faced.  It is neat, crisp, well-built and has come too soon.  It looks new, as in newly built.  Maybe I remember it wrong.  I portage it on the end.  The grey stick swamp above the dam is well flooded and I flush a good number of mallards from the wet footed brush on either side of the river.  There is a new lodge not far above the dam.

The third dam... well, there wasn't a third dam this spring.  I step out onto to it for an easy crossing.

The fourth dam I remember, but it is only an inch above the water.  In the spring it was 20 inches high, a graceful curving bit of work out in an open sky section of the swamp.  It is becoming obsolete.  Several new lodges and the increased size of the beaver pond show that the beaver are doing what beaver do... colonizing.  It is all so very good.

At this point, the grey stick forest is so well flooded that the main channel of the river doesn't stand out.  Obstructing deadfalls lie lower in the water.  The going is easy.

There's not many leaves left here in the grey sticks, but there weren't many leaves here in mid summer.  It's great blue heron and woodpecker country...lots of tall dead or stressed trees, roots too wet for there own good...beaver making meadows, so that a new forest can grow someday.

I turn back just short of the counterfeiter's island.  Short days that turn cold when the sun dips...I have eight beaver dams to cross on my way out. 

I spot a mink swimming across the river.  I ready my camera, because it has just gone behind a stump and I know that curiosity will get the better of it.  It reappears and stares at me...they always do.

I see a muskrat...too small for an otter, too small and high in the water for a beaver.  It dives.

And finally, at the tree recently felled by beaver, two white tail does with huge tails bound off deeper into the trees.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

In the Ember Forests

The ferry docks and disgorges its cargo of two cars, ten dollars worth.  There's been a ferry at this location for over 200 years.  There's something to be said about that, just not sure what it is.

The ferryman climbs down out of the bridge and walks over to look at my canoe.  He has no schedule.  If a car shows up, he takes it across.  If a car shows up on the other side of the river, he goes over and brings it back.  It's about 15 miles in either direction to get to a bridge.  Anyway, he comes over to look at my canoe, which is just a polite invitation for a chat.  I hand him one of my cedar paddles, why look when you can touch.  He tells me about a restaurant out on Block Island that is decorated with painted oars... second time someone has brought that up after looking at one of my paddles.  A car shows up on the other side...a polite way to break off the conversation on a day when there is no hurry to do anything.

I head across the river in calm with a sun that is just starting to warm everything.  I head into Whalebone Creek, an inlet that I've bypassed on prior trips.  A hundred and fifty Canada geese fly out in four groups while I head in, but I am not the reason.  Perhaps they nighted in there, or maybe they were just flying through the gap in the hills.  It is a beautiful forested wetland.  The remaining autumn leaves are red and orange, ember colors, and the forest feels like it is radiating heat, I feel a glow on my face.

I spook a few common mergansers, then some mallards, some wood ducks, a few black ducks.  The coots stay put, or at most, skitter a short ways into the cattails.  They always seem to be in a panic.  The first branch that I try dead ends in swamp, but the second takes me on a longer and more circuitous route that turns out to be the creek.  I hear a duck call as I make my way, but it sounds like an idiot trying to sound like a duck and not at all the sound that any normal duck would make.  Might be a blind back there...but I'm well out of pellet distance.

Back at the big river I turn down and head to Selden Creek, which is not really a creek anymore.  I explore the several inlets that branch off of it, I have passed those before just as I had passed Whalebone Creek.  The inlets are surprisingly good...wide enough, deep enough and long enough.  One is near a mile before I backtrack.  I fill in blank places in my internal map.  I spot a couple hawks, one is a red tail, the other is too far off.  A heron lets me pass by, a kingfisher dives and catches, I keep paddling.