Monday, December 28, 2015

Half Way There

Half way is the open marsh, about as far up the river as one can go without hiking, a deceptive open pond with massive boulders that can sit in ambush for a fast canoe when the height of tide is just right.

Unseasonable warmth has slipped away and today the temperature approaches something that is more normal.  A chilling wind out of the north brings the air to a properly cold feel.  Overhead, clouds come in wide rolls...waves of air laden with moisture, the cores of them grey and dark.  But, there is enough open sky that a bright and "happy" sun comes through more often than not.

I put in on the back channel of the river and near the mouth and head upstream into the wind with little help from the flood tide.  Perhaps the recent rains have raised the level some, but the water seems high and the current weak.  The bird life is outnumbered by fish sightings.  Something is running in reasonably large numbers, the backs cresting the surface as I paddle.

The channel opens to a wide bay when I pass the line of rocks...they have a name that escapes me.  The story is that it was a watch point for Native Americans.  A short river comes in from the east and my route continues to the west...a stretch that I call the cornfields.  Phragmites has colonized some of this area, pushing the cattails and wild rice out, and not making for good habitat in general.  Paddling through phragmites is just as interesting as sitting in a canoe in the middle of a cornfield.  Fortunately, it isn't long and I enter the Lieutenant River, on which lies the halfway point.
the line of rocks

It has taken the full half trip to spot 2 swans, 4 wood ducks, about 10 hooded mergansers and a dozen or so black and mallard ducks.  Halfway is coffee.  Halfway is when I notice that my binoculars are missing.  They are either in the car, on the car, or on the ground where I launched the canoe.  It is not something to be worried about when you are restricted to about 3mph.  What happens in the next hour and a half cannot be helped.

When I take out and carry my gear to the car, I find the wayward binoculars hanging from the left side rear view mirror.  The strap is wet.  Someone has retrieved them from where I launched... a favor to be passed on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Winter Birds

I set out from just inside the mouth of the river, not far from the sea, and head inland with a stiff breeze in my face, a breeze that makes the extra meanders across the river to the lee of the windward bank worthwhile.

It is a clear sky above, as blue as it gets here on the east coast with 3000 miles of land for the prevailing winds to cross over.  On the west coast in similar conditions the sky would be a pure blue color that almost hurts the eyes to look at...the visual equivalent of a pure aural tone.

The spartina has finally given up all of its green.  It is now clad in greys below the high tide mark and reds and golds above.  But, it still stands proud, the mild autumn having produced no snow to push the grasses flat.  The birds are winter birds, relatively few in number and spaced well out except for the ducks.  It is crows and gulls until I get to the stone arch bridge where I flush a great blue heron.  Just beyond that, I watch 3 hooded mergansers by peeking around the next bend. 

hooded merganser
Then I flush a small mix of black ducks and mallards.  At the gravel shallows about thirty ducks flush well before I can identify them.  The black ducks always go when I am well distant.  The interesting part of that encounter is the bird that swoops down from the trees.  It takes chase to one duck without luck.  Ducks are fast and even a hawk can only catch one before it is up to speed.  The bird does turn out to be a sharp shinned hawk, which I find surprising.  It is a small hawk and it is a bold move for it to take on a duck (or any bird equal or larger than itself).  That scene finished, I am left with a pair of downy woodpeckers overhead in a tree.

I have passed the nose of the tide by the time I reach the Foote Bridge, the current against me and the water shallow enough to signal my return.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Working Waters

Insanity prevails in my thoughts as I head out from Essex into the North Marsh, which is the short passage into the big river.  Such has become the civilized world.  A 1/4 mile off, three white swans sweep in from around the forested point and the washing begins.  Ahead lies the balanced world, complex yet composed, unknown but predictable, as long as one stays humble and respectful.  Nature always wins, know your place.

Ely's Ferry in the distance

When I enter the river, I spot Ely's Ferry, or what remains of it, across and up a ways, nothing more than a beach at the end of a road, a long time since any ferry crossed from there.  There is small shack on pilings near there, reminiscent of the boat houses that people build in front of their lakeshore houses, ruining their view and the view of their neighbors.  But this shack is a very old store house, mid 19th century if I remember right, and well maintained.  A work building for working waters.  Farther up are the two Ely houses, I suppose 200 years old.  They are the same size and symmetrical - nine windows and a central door on each.  The light colored one has two chimneys, the red one has one central chimney.  I've never seen them from the land side, but it appears that the front door faces the water and I imagine visitors coming by boat.  Homes for people that worked working waters.

The Ely Houses

Today marks the first day of winter canoe season.  It achieves that through my choice of clothing.  It is the first day since spring when I have donned my drysuit, a decision made by the size and temperature of the water.  I head upstream into the wind, against a current that is aided by a draining tide.  A large bird on a drift log spreads its wings.  The feathers match the wood and I would have missed it if it had not moved.  Eagle sized, it turns out to be a turkey vulture.

working boat
Near and hour and a half out, I cross the river to the bottom of the Selden Channel.  A couple hundred yards up, I stop to photograph some trees.  When I take the camera from my eye, I find that I am being propelled by the wind at three or four miles per hour.  It is windier than I thought and so it is time to return across the river and make my way towards Essex.  A bald eagle awaits at the entrance to the North Marsh.  It is not amused by my arrival and it goes.  It has work to do.