Wednesday, November 30, 2016


On the way to the marsh in the big river I change plans as I often do and this time I put in from the town harbor.
It is a calm day with a thin fog and a thick overcast.  These special atmospherics are wasted on the close up world of paddling in marshes.  This is a day for expansive long distance views.  These days make the distant distractions fade and cause the visible to be at an indeterminate distance.  I always feel farther away from everything than I am.

I find a few buffleheads in the harbor, one large common loon in the mouth of the harbor, three more loons not far from the turn out and up the shore.  They dive gracefully, no splash, no wake, and they stay down until they are far enough away to feel safe.  They can cover remarkable distances underwater.

I follow the shoreline as usual in cold water conditions.  This time I head south until I reach the bar that leads out to Charles Island.  Then, I follow the bar, more or less, as most of it is submerged, out to the island.  It is here that I hear the calls of long tailed ducks...hearing before seeing is typical with them.  I spot the tiny black dots of the flock well off to the the south...too far for the telephoto lens.

The island trees are leafless, the island now grey and looking more windswept than it really is.  But, it is rimmed with a band of golden spartina that stands out brilliant on a day such as this.  It draws me in and I stop to take a short walk.

I circle the island and return following the bar and then the shore and then turning up Gulf Pond, which shares a mouth with the town harbor.  Three oystermen work their allotment froma 20 ft. skiff, the first time I've seen anyone dragging for oysters in here.  I continue up and into the Indian River, just to take stock....but I end up with not much to report.  It's all okay.
 A tributary to Indian River

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The View Obscured

It is too fine of a day to not take advantage of, even for a short trip, and while I have no allergy to rain, having lived in the Pacific Northwest for 27 years, tomorrow's forecast looks particularly grim.

I set out to circle the big marsh, a short trip that can always be extended by getting lost in the interior, which is actually easier done than said.  A half mile along I find a 50 gallon drum.  It is empty and not particularly heavy, so I pull it out and rest in on the gunwales as it is too large to fit inside the rather narrow solo canoe.  It has little effect on the handling of the canoe on such a calm day other than to give it the appearance of a tiny blue steam locomotive. 

I wander a series of back channels that I can't recognize, but they seem to have a good bit of flood current and they might go through to somewhere.  Eventually I end up in the Nell's channel, which I leave for a smaller passage that I remember from previous trips. 

Hunters are out today.  It is more bird sterile than normal, but I doubt that the hunters have much effect.  I hunted when I was younger and I would not bother with this marsh if I still hunted, except when the migration is in full swing.  Anyway, the hunting seasons here come and go with no obvious pattern and once in awhile I end up in a marsh during season.

I spot a hunter out in center marsh standing guard over a large patch of open and birdless water.  It is a good day to sit in the sun.

At the Archaeology Ridge I come across another hunter.  His duck and goose decoys double my bird count for the day.  We chat a bit.  It's been quiet.  He asks me about the tides.  Seems he forgot to check them and ran aground in the morning.  I tell him he'll be okay heading upriver, but by the time he leaves the water downriver will be too shallow for my canoe...from past experience.

And, I go on my way.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Circumnavigation of Cedar Island

I came here for the record high tide, 6.8 feet at the nearest gauge, a match on the highest recorded.  It is a rare opportunity to see the salt marsh awash.

But, I put in at Foote Bridge, up in the forest.  The launch at the lower end of the river will be a foot deep in salt water in an hour or so.  I head down plowing through a thick band of leaf litter that lays where the main current of the river is, a meander of leaves within the meander of the river.  It is thick enough to slow the canoe.  The water is already so high that I can paddle well off to the side.  I pass the little cedar swamp, I flush a flock of mallards and black ducks from the well submerged gravel flats.  The river is glassy, the fog that my exhalations make doesn't align with the warmth of the sun.  The air is still catching up with the sun.

After the railroad bridge, which for a change I have to duck to pass under, I enter The Sneak.  The short spartina, the great majority of the salt marsh, is awash - deep enough to float the canoe, not quite deep enough to paddle. 

A light sea breeze begins and I suspect it will be welcome as I return against an ebb current.  From Bailey Creek I strike out into one of the old WPA mosquito control ditches.  It peters out, but there is enough water to keep going across the flats.  Tall grasses signal deep water (the tall grass being spartina alternaflora, which grows in deeper water)... it is backasswards to the eye, but the highest vegetation is also the deepest water. 
Cedar Island

I stop briefly on Cedar Island after spotting a large amount of oyster shells in the bank.  It may be cultural or natural, or both, but it appears to be eroding from the bank down to more than a foot deep.  It would've been a good dry place to collect shellfish, whether you are man or animal.
oyster shell fragments
I paddle a short distance up the East River and take another WPA trench back to the Sneak.

I was asked to show the new red handled paddle that I wrote about yesterday/  I commented on how it felt full of spirit.  Spirit is something that you feel.  It is what these 700+ canoe trips has become, a seeking of spirit.   No photograph or painting can do justice to being in the canoe surrounded by forest and marsh and river. 
The red handled paddle
No image of a paddle can substitute for having it in ones hand, for feeling it slice cleanly through the water, for having it do everything it is supposed to do.
Spirit is something that requires all of the senses, including the ones you don't know about. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Spirit Paddle

I started out with a new paddle in my hands heading from shore and into a cool west wind with a steeply falling tide that created more current than I would normally see.  Tidal currents in the big salt marshes are either out or in, upriver or down has little meaning.  It is unpredictable, the high points in the maze being only a few inches above the lows.  All that matters is that you are out before you run short of water.

The new paddle is light and well balanced.  It is one piece of western red cedar, something I carved a few months ago that has been waiting for the right design.  I can feel that it has spirit.  It may not be as fast as the other recently finished paddle, but it has more life.  When I switch sides I give it a spin, just a gentle kick with the tips of my thumb and fingers.  It spins as if it will not stop in the loose grip of my hand.  The grip is a carved wavy shape some 20 inches long and painted red.  With each a wave of red passes my eyes.  This paddle has some spirit.

The spartina has gone red - about the same color as the red gold in my wedding ring. It is positively lush considering it is going into winter dormancy.  I flush a good size flock of black ducks from the inner corner.  Then I head to the point.  As I near a flock of geese takes off.  At first I think, Canada geese, but they don't enter a formation and their wing beats are too fast.  In two minutes they circle back close enough to hear them...brandts.  I spot a red loon.

I continue upriver though the Nell's channel taking in a few of the dead ends that lead into the interior of Nell's Island.  Then I continue on my way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Near the Mouth of the Connecticut

We put in on the back channel of the Connecticut River, not more than a half mile from the sea.  This spot is known for the number of osprey that one can see and from the launch there are twenty-some nests in sight.  But, the osprey are gone for the season.
Near Great Island

K lives not far up the Blackhall River, which comes in just a hundred yards or so from here.  She is an artist friend of mine and this is one of those bonding canoe trips that I take my art buddies out on. 

I steer us upriver into some waters that she's not been in.  The tide is out, but it is not a particularly low low tide, so there is enough water all along the route.  We pass the Watch Rocks without seeing too many birds...a few great blue herons and a docile pair of yellow legs that let us pass close.

In the Lieutenant River
We continue up the Lieutenant River, which I tell K is probably one of the best three mile long rivers in the state.  It is actually longer, but the upper mileage is not canoeable.

It is a fairly spectacular fall day.

At the top of the paddling in the Lieutenant River

This time of the year is quiet when it comes to birds. It is in the top of the Lieutenant that we find the most birds, a family of seven mute swans, a flock of Canada geese, a few golden eye ducks, some kingfishers and some common mergansers. 

We return with the wind in our face and a gentle flood current against us.  But that just makes the trip last a bit longer...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

When It Flows In

I didn't write anything today, at least not while I was in the canoe.  There seemed to be nothing much to say.  Instead, it was a trip where things flowed into me.  It was a great autumn day where any chill in the air was more than compensated for by the sun. 

I head out paddling down river toward the sea against the flood tide with a quartering wind from behind on my right.  I circled the big marsh before returning.  The spartina was tall and turning was rich.

I saw few birds of note.  It was mostly black ducks and mallards with just two Canada geese.  Behind Peacock Island I flushed a mated pair of wood ducks and saw two great egrets.  It has been awhile since I've seen egrets, most of them are now gone.

I took some photos, but most of the time I seemed to have some crap on the lens.  It just didn't matter.
The guardian of the feral cat park canoe launch

Thursday, November 3, 2016

In the Big River

I turn back at Wooster Island, an hour and a half upriver from the feral cat park.  I've ridden here on a decent flood current, somewhat stronger than I expected, and also with a light tailwind.  I won't get much help on the way back, but with the tidal curve approaching its peak, I won't have much against me either.
looks like raccoon

I've counted fifteen great blue herons so far.  Ten alone came off of Great Flat where eight of them were in a single tree.  I flushed three more off of Wooster Island and the others popped up out of marshes, unseen until they were in the air.  I have also seen one osprey, one immature bald eagle, and a large hawk.

It is an entirely pleasant autumn day.  The temperature is warm, the wind light with a hazy overcast and a very light sprinkle of rain that doesn't even dampen my clothes.  I have a new paddle out, one of my long taper wide tips...its first use.  It needs a bit of thinning on the shaft and grip, but the blade delivers a powerful pull and makes the j-stroke correction with hardly any effort at all.

An hour out, the wind starts to come up.  It's not bad.  I pull away and do what I seem to do best, move and pay attention to stuff.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

More Eagles

I headed toward the Wheeler Marsh but having forgotten my sunglasses, which will be needed today, I return home.  I take such things as signs, so when I leave again, I head east towards the Quinnipiac, but I pass that by when I get to the turn not feeling particularly up to canoeing in the underbelly of former industry.  I head on towards the Mattebasset, which I've not been in for a few months.  But, when I set the canoe in the big river, I turn it away to the south onto water that I've never paddled before.  It is a restless day.

It is still cool, but it is calm and in the sun it is downright pleasant.  There is little if any current and I cross over to the sunlit side of the river.

A low land that is at least part marsh is held back by the river bank, which forms a berm.  I surprise a small mature bald eagle that crosses the river.  The low land gives way to craggy and forested hillsides that are about 200 ft high.  I flush a couple of great blue herons.  It is a quiet bird day, a few ducks, some geese, a kingfisher, a cormorant.  I stop to collect a shelf fungus from a downed tree..another specimen for the collection.

I pass some private riverbank camps.  These private camps always look like shit when they are vacant.  The owners leave lawn chairs, old barbecues and other crap behind when they go home for the next nine months.  There are several of these on the sunny side of the river.

At the power plant I cross the river again and began my return.  The scent of the damp forest is thick.  The heavier cool air is sliding down the hillside bringing all of the smells of the forest.  I flush that small eagle again.  And, in a few more yards, I flush a much larger mature eagle.  That makes six eagles in three consecutive canoe trips...pretty good for Connecticut.

From there I continue upriver to the towering metropolis of Middletown where I have a nice 20 minute talk with a couple of guys as I exit my canoe...pretty typical for Connecticut.