Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Color of Temperature

We set out from the Foote Bridge, the crossing of the river of Bearhouse Hill Road, with the tide coming up to meet us. 

It was grey and so standard for November in the north, except that it was unseasonably warm.  We talked little, but instead listened in the still air and kept our eyes aimed well out ahead of the canoe.  The wintering ducks flush from much farther out.  We spotted a pair of downy woodpeckers at Pocketknife corner, and S found a bluejay not too much farther on where we flushed a small flock of ducks too far off to be identified with any certainty.

A light sprinkle came on, but it was not enough to wet our clothes.

After the stone arch bridge where the marsh opens up into big sky, we spotted a single yellow legs and then a hawk, which was actively vocalizing...skreeee...and it led us to a second hawk perched in a tree by the big bends.

The Sneak was well topped up with water by the time we reached it and we paused to walk around.  S had not stepped on the spartina before and wondered if she would sink in.  "No, it is as firm as a soccer field.," I replied.

We headed up Bailey Creek as far as the old boathouse, because I knew that we would see some ducks along the way. 

aerial photograph of spartina marsh
And, we talked about how this day would be called a steely grey day, if it were not for the balmy temperature.  That unusual heat colored the day in our eyes.  We saw warmth in the golden spartina grass while the grey bare trees that would dominate in normal weather faded away.

Out return was on the flood tide with a light wind in our face.  Only in the last mile was it less than ideal as a light rain began and held until we lifted the canoe from the water.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Getting Small

It is calm and sunny at the put-in, the light still low in the autumn morning, the cattails and phragmites as golden as they will ever be, and the bare hardwood trees as grey as they will ever be.  A very high tide has just peaked a half hour back and already a stiff current builds in the constricted spots.  But that high tide also means that there will be no shallows, the water will be deep right to the cattails, right to the rocky banks.  I get close up views of the forested edges and I can visit inlets that I normally bypass.  I glide over boulders and submerged ridges that I normally have to skirt knowing they are there, but never seeing them.
coffee break

The wintering birds are around, but in the lesser numbers that cold weather brings.  In the big bay by Goose Island, I spot just a half dozen buffleheads and two swans.  In the channel leading upstream out of that bay, I come across a family of swans - two adults and two cygnets still with the last of their grey feathers.

But, it is the scenery that stops all. It is nothing short of glorious...a word I do not toss about with ease... it's really not in my vocabulary.  If I was less an explorer I would probably sit and fill my camera with images.

It has been awhile since I was in the canoe with both work and weather keeping me aground.  And, as usual when such things have happened, it takes an hour or two for me to drop in on where I should be.  Somewhere deeper in the marsh I begin to shrink from my civilized self, I become small just as I should be in the presence of nature, and I become at peace with "it".  I go on my way.

Lord's Cove, Connecticut River

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Very High Water

I follow a red brick road of fallen oak leaves, the serpentine path meandering within the meanders.  It is the time of the year when the canoe no longer slices cleanly through the water - wads of leaves collect on the bow as I go and create a chaotic splash and patter until they slide away and are replaced by others.

It is also the first day of cold fingers.  Although the temperature is not that low, the light mist wets my skin and chills it just enough to remind me of what's ahead, and to remind me to start packing gloves.  There is no sun on such a day, but there is also no company on the river.  Even the birds lie low on days like this.

It goes to rain when I get down to the stone arch bridge and it rains solid and steady through the big bend and until I reach the RR bridge.  Today and at this time in the tide cycle the Sneak is anything but a sneak.  It is wide, deep and open.  In the river, I have been paddling into the flood current but less than ten feet into the Sneak I cross the line and I am propelled at good speed.

Something odd is going on with the tides today.  The tide is already as high as I have ever seen it and still there is a strong flood current.  It should be going slack by this point. 

When I get to Bailey Creek, I turn up instead of heading to the sea.  The flood is strong and there are eddies in the sharp bends.  Over four or five of those bends I flush about of fifty black ducks, going off in 5, then 2, then 8, then 4 and finally a good two dozen or so.
approaching the sawmill dam
When the rain comes again, I turn back.  I head up the sneak a short ways and then turn off onto a channel that I've never passed through.  The short spartina awash by eight inches, this narrow cut has broadened to never less than ten feet.  I head up river to visit known places at very high water if for no other reason than to gauge the phenomena.
the sawmill dam
I find the water at the sawmill dam ruins high enough that I can enter the stone channel that fed the undershot wheel.  The water has flooded the trees closest to the river.  Something I've never seen before.
the  swamp above Foote Bridge
And when I  return to the Foote Bridge, I find that I have to duck to pass under, yet another first.

(I checked the tide table when I got home and it was supposed to be at 5.6 ft, which is not particularly high and something that I am quite familiar with.  It looked to be in excess of 6 ft to me.  Perhaps there is some surge from offshore weather systems.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

To the Center of the Earth

It is time to write.  It has taken a couple of miles to drift away from the minor irritants that come with a somewhat normal life and return, at least to some extent, to the center of the Earth.

The tide is high with grey overcast skies and a light mist mixed with a surface fog that is the result of an unseasonably warm November day.  More than anything, this seems to be a trip for the nose.  And in the calm I paddle close up to the tree lined shore to take in the strong scent that being exhaled by the forest.  It can't be photographed, it can't be recorded, and it probably can't be described to the uninitiated.  Hanging in the mist, perhaps held in place by the mist is the tangy and slightly acrid smell of fall.  It is the smell that one finds when they dive headlong into a pile of raked leaves and it seems to contain the dry foliage, honey, acorns and a hint of smoke all softened ever so slightly by the damp of the day.  Now, it fills the valley, but it will go away when the weather chills so paddle close and remember it.

When I turned the first point and entered Salmon Cove, a hundred or so mute swans formed a line near the far shore a half mile up.  They come here in the fall from their dispersed places and overwinter.  I suppose that here is where the new cygnets are introduced to the flock.  They are easy to spot, grey or mixed grey and white.

I pass two fishermen anchored in midstream at the second bend of the river and greet them, "It's a hard day for November," the temperature in the upper 60's.

I spot a couple great blue herons along the way and, near the bridge, two kingfishers who seem to be hashing it out over territory.  One spreads its wings open and wide while perched.  I read it as more of a warning than anything else.  I reach the Leesville dam and turn back, the water above the dam being shallow at this time of year, and I begin collecting molted swan feathers as I go.

The wind comes up, first in short gusts that shake leaves loose in dismembered clouds, then it becomes more steady, sometimes in my face, sometimes swirling from the side for no particularly obvious reason.  Following the right hand shore and still ten minutes away from the flock of swans, they all turn to the left in unison and leisurely swim to the far bank, assessing my path and speed from 600 yards.  By the time I get to where they were, they are just as far away as before, and I am not where I was when I started.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Indian Summer

I started at the west end of the ferry route, surprised to find that the ferry was still running, although I imagine that it might be in the last few days for the year.  It is a glorious fall day and a fine one to set out in after a week of having a nasty head cold.  The air is almost calm, the sky cloudless, the sun low and casting the contrasts that one would expect, and the temperature climbing, already to shirt sleeve status.

I cross the river, head down and into the cove where I find two mute swans call back and forth, the nasal whistle and fart vocalization being heard clear from well back in the calm.  At the first big bend I flush a medium sized hawk...maybe a red flies a short distance to a new perch and I don't get a good look.  Just below that, two kingfishers are busy hunting and a short time later a coopers hawk sits high as I pass.

I slow down, softening the paddle only to make less noise, and listening for motion in the forest on either side of the channel.  Much is going on on such a nice day, but sound cannot be relied upon as a clue to what is there.  With the leaves on the ground a squirrel makes as much noise as a cow would.
coopers hawk

As I near the osprey nests, a dog squeak toy call signals the arrival of a pileated woodpecker, which lands only for a second in a tall dead snag before it thinks twice about sharing the area with me.  It flies back in its signature pulsing motion to the forested hillside across the marsh.  I turn up the long dead end channel that splits the lower tip of the island. 
three beaver scent mounds
It is a few hundred yards up to the first fork, and a bit more to a small somewhat ramshackle bank burrow that is worth keeping an eye on.  I've seen little beaver lodges like this triple in size in short order, which I believe is a sign of the beaver reaching breeding age.  Anyway, once at the fork, it is clear that the beaver are still active as it takes no effort whatsoever to spot eight rather large scent mounds, the territorial markings of beaver.