Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Timing Makes the Difference

A patch of inclement weather, at least for canoeing, has passed.  Three days of deep freeze and wind was followed by an unseasonably warm and windy day followed by a day of heavy rain.  The cold was low enough to form good layer of ice on anything a short distance from the sea, but now that is starting to break up.
female hooded merganser

I set out for the big river, but pulled up short at my town's small and protected harbor having overlooked this area for far too long.  The flows near the landing have to be pushed gently with the bow of the canoe, the ice being thick enough that anything bigger than four square feet might crack the hull.  The sportsmens boats are all shrink wrapped and hauled out waiting for summer and not knowing the secrets of winter waters.  Workmen are putting a new dock in where the oyster boats berth.  Most of the oysterboats are out.  Otherwise, there are some buffleheads and hooded mergansers, and one fearless swan who stands his ground as I approach, an unusual behavior for this time of year that catches me a bit off guard.

At the mouth of the harbor, I turn up Gulf Pond, busting the ebb tide to get under the first bridge and into the calm of the lower section.  A flock of Canada geese come in.  A great blue heron is perched on the branch of a shoreline deadfall.  I head straight up, the depth still deep enough that I can paddle where I want and I push through the current under the second bridge to enter the upper pond.  At least half of the pond is still ice covered.  Two thirds of the way in I come to a shore to shore band of ice that is too thick - the canoe just rides up onto it when I try to break it.  I will not get to the Indian River today.
long tail ducks

Back at the mouth of the harbor, my watch shows that this trip has been far too short to register as a canoe trip.  I follow the shore of the sound west, a roundabout path out to Charles Island, the Mt. Rainier of Milford, for it claims senseless people at about the same rate.  Each year a few people whose level of skill and common sense don't add up to the amount of liquor in their system head out sans PFDs to the island and become victims.  The relatives talk to the newspaper as if the deceased were mighty sea captains swallowed up by a great fog on the ocean deep, when they simply had not one ounce of respect for nature.  Well, everyone is stupid at one time or's timing that makes the difference.
Charles Island
I head west and follow the long bar that leads from shore to the island.  This is winter safety.  I am pretty close to knee deep water the entire distance.  I find more buffleheads and flush a flock of mergansers.  Farther out, I find the long tail ducks.  The island is secondary.  It is the long tail ducks that make the trip worthwhile.  They summer at the Arctic Ocean and winter here.  Most of their life is spent on thirty to forty degree water.  I shoot a few photos as best I can.  They and I are bobbing in the chop...timing makes the difference.
male and female long tail ducks
I round the island and return as I came.  I have a nice talk with a woman where I take out, showing her some of my winter gear, telling her a bit about the trip.  I live in a swell town.

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