Saturday, September 30, 2017

Storms Around

About two weeks has gone by since my last trip and I am aware of the contrast between today and then.  My trip planning is mostly keeping a close eye on the weather.  Today is a cool and somewhat blustery end of summer day, a warning shot of autumn.  Checking different locales shows steady north winds, but some areas have strong gusts, and some carry the potential for thunderstorms and hail.

I tell S that we will head east and figure out where we are going when we get there.  Our first stop is at the Lieutenant River and we find the wind mild enough to set in.  But instead, we head downriver to the nest put-in....nothing more than taking advantage of a return tailwind.

This is an Osprey rich area of the Connecticut River, but they seem to have begun their migration, and we spot just two as we paddle up to the Lieutenant.  In the bigger marsh, we spot a good half dozen Great Egrets, then as we get into narrower waters we spot a few of the smaller Snowy Egrets, then a couple of Blue Herons.  It is almost as if the birds are organized by layers. 

We find more Osprey up higher in the Lieutenant.  It is not nearly the summer contingent, but I suppose that the fishing is better here.  With the treed shoreline we add regular Kingfisher sightings to the mix.  We turn back from the broad boulder strewn and marshy bay.

Dark clouds are sweeping from the NE across our path.  It is time to paddle steady and either finish the trip or reach a better protected spot before a thunderstorm finds us.

An especially dark cloud holds my eye.  As it passes by it does not dump any rain.  It does bring in some strong gusty wind and we work hard to hold a course when the wind is on our side.  S does stationary draw strokes while I power paddle...swinging the canoe into the wind and keeping us from getting mired in mudflats.  It was a good and invigorating paddle, but a busy one with few chances to pause and photograph.

Friday, September 15, 2017


My friend, A, posed a question last night, "When you feel like you've lost your wildness, what do you do to find it again?"  What a great seed for thoughts.

The Scantic is 40 some miles of narrow meandering eastern forest river.  I've paddled the same few miles up near the top many times, a mill pond start, a creek sized river, a nice tnagled beaver pond, and more creek sized river.  And, I've been a few hundred yards into the mouth, until a massive log jam made it un-fun.  Today, I located an access somewhere in the middle.
The middle Scantic
I put in under the small bridge.  It's a genuine water access spot...has room to park, but getting down to the water is a bit of a scramble with a canoe on the shoulders. Then, I use my tried and true rule of exploring rivers, paddle upstream first.  It is quite full of downed trees, but some kind souls have cut passage through most of the trouble spots.  I will not go far on the map, this type of river is meanders within the straight lines anywhere.

Almost immediately I have to wade a couple gravel bars.  But, the river looks good as long as I don't have to do that every couple hundred yards.  Trees shade the water, which is cool and clear, the river is cut down ten feet into the banks and except for right at the start there are no houses in sight.  I decide to head up for two hours and then return.
1 hour and 55 minutes out.
Wildness?  I told A that I don't think she has lost her wildness, she just wasn't using it.  My own definition of wildness, because we all have to have our own definition, pertains to my connection to nature.  Two or three canoe trips back, a heron croaked in complaint when I flushed it.  I few seconds later I realized that I had croaked back at it, an instant and unplanned response that, once I thought about it,  I was rather proud of.   Putting myself in wild surroundings is how I create my own sense of wildness.  These are places where I am unimportant, small... places where I do not command, rule, lord over, places where I am to some extent at the mercy of nature.  These are places where I have to deal with whatever comes.  These are places where I most perceive that "nature always wins".  There were times in my life when I lost that wild sense, times when I became a cog in the machine, when I drank someone else's KoolAid.  But, whenever I returned to sanctuary of wild, the wildness came up from within.  I suppose that wildness moments get so etched into your spirit that you can never lose them.  At worst they are just waiting to be rekindled.

I pass under one bridge a bit more than halfway out.  After that the water is faster, running more often over rocky shelves, a bit more wading on the upstream, but I'll probably coast most of them on the down.  Just short of two hours I come to a big bank to bank log jam.  Taking a photo I deftly flick my prescription sunglasses into the river.  Then I deftly leap out of the canoe into thigh deep water to keep the canoe from drifting...wait for the surface to go smooth and the silt to flush.  It takes a few seconds to spot the dark oval lenses and pick them off the bottom.  Time to go.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Industrial Revolution Archaelogical Subsurface Survey

I put in early in the afternoon with a rising tide and the resulting flood current helping to propel me up river.  Unlike yesterday, when I had no reason to be where I was, today I set out to check on a river that I haven't visited for awhile.  Right from the start I am flushing Great Blue Herons.  In fact, it seems as if I spot one about every two minutes or so as I head up into the primordial sections of the river.  Great Egrets are around as well, but the highlight is a Pied Billed Grebe that surfaces about threee boat lengths away. 
Pied Billed Grebe
It sinks (they have a flotation sac which allows them to sink without splash, no surface disturbance at all).  I stop paddling and wait for it to come up.  When it does it is over a hundred feet away and it shows only it's head and neck.  It sinks comes up to check on me, sinks, comes up, sinks...fascinating bird.

Great Egret

I watch for the wild apple tree, but miss it on the way in.  The farther I go the more dead falls in the water there are to maneuver around.  I used to be able to get up to an old abandoned neighborhood, but the deadfalls have gotten worse and I hit my high point after an hour.

submerged cobble structure
What I did notice that is new to me is that there are cobble structures below the surface of the river.  The first that I spot looks like it had been the riprap on the outside of a bend, before the river flooded and washed the supporting bank away.  It's a long cobble dike paralleling the bank.  A bit farther I come across one that extends out from the bank, possibly a wing dam.  Wing dams are designed to funnel the river flow into a narrower channel...these were used on big rivers to keep a deep channel open for boat traffic.  The highest one that I find might also be a wing dam, or perhaps it crossed the whole river to create a deep pond.  It never was tall enough for water power.

On the way out, I add some Ravens to the count, plus a young bald eagle.
Garter Snake
I find the wild apple tree, pretty much where I thought it was.  The apples aren't ripe, yet.
On my next trip I need to bring a saw to clear some of the dead falls out.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Eagle Day

I check my watch.  It has been seven minutes since I left shore.  I have seen four bald eagles - two immatures nearby and up at the mouth of Hamburg cove, two adults.  I cross over to the island out in the middle of the river off of the cove.  The raspy whistle calls of the eagles come out of the forest behind me. 
The fifth eagle

I have no reason to be here today.  There is nothing that needs to be washed out of my "system" nor do I have some project to work on or some specific place to explore.  I have no reason to be here except that I want to be here.  In fact, only when I had stopped at a grocery on the way did I pull out my maps and decide where to start.  I will paddle until I find myself back where I started.
two great blue herons
I spot a fifth eagle on the broad and exposed sand bar on the upstream end of the island.  I spot a sixth about halfway between there and the bottom of the Selden Channel.
Great Egret
Schools of fish are tail slapping the much so that it looks like a hail of stones striking the surface. (I will find out at the end of the trip that these are bunker probably being pursued by predator fish).
Part way up the Selden Channel I spot a low four-engined airplane well out away from my.  Even there, it is an easy identification, a B-17.  It flies overhead

I finish the Channel and cross the river and follow that shoreline down river.  I turn up a side channel that I've been in before but don't clearly remember.  After ten canoe lengths I am not sure I've been here.  After the first bend I know damned well that I've never been here.  I spot a seventh eagle, a mature.  I follow the creek in a short mile until it ends and there I recognize that I am near the center of the town of Deep River.  I am in the feature that the town is named for.

I head into the next channel that I come across when I continue down river.  This is Pratt Cove.  I leave some of it for a later trip, but it is a broad tidal freshwater marsh with a wide main channel.  It isn't particularly exciting today....I will return at other times of the year.

When I am taking out, a guy on a bike sneaks up behind me.  We exchange a few short sentences...or partial sentences.  Once my canoe is up on top of the car, we start talking...that goes on for an hour.  We have a surprising amount of stuff in common.

Friday, September 8, 2017


I race upriver against a healthy start to the ebb current with a moderately strong wind coming mostly on my left.  It is a race because I don't intend to continue far up river, rather to catch the Sneak while it still has enough water and cut across into Bailey Creek.
It was a shitty day at work, the result of poor training and under staffing devised by some knucklehead executive who doesn't shop in his own stores.  I hate being set up to fail.  So, I threw my canoe up on my car and raced to the East River, because the shitty stuff in life has a very short shelf life in anyplace that is the least bit wild.

The short spartina, spartina patens. is starting to go red while the tall spartina, spartina alternaflora, remains green and in seed.

There are some small gulls with gray on the back of the head and black bills.  They gather in groups of 6 or 8...I don't remember them as regulars.

The autumn light is returning, especially at this hour of the afternoon.  The lower sun is throwing shadows and bringing a glow with high contrasts in the details.  It is spectacular.  There is no longer any need to race.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Threatening Skies

I drove through a long steady rain to get here.  It let up and looked hopeful as I arrived, if one considers a lack of rain to be hopeful.  I myself enjoy the rain, but would rather not deal with the possible lighting in the forecast.
Lightning in my mind, I hug the forested hillside shoreline trying not to be the highest point in the surrounding terrain.  My eyes watch the trees for osprey and herons and kingfishers, but I put more concentration into listening for and sensing the bandicats and drumheaded stumpthumpers and rock people and groundslithering leafrustlers....the things you hear but never quite see in the best parts of the forest.  They are the best parts of the forest.
Out west, Eagle Creek is is in a narrow steep sided 3000-4000 foot deep gorge.  S and I backpacked it one time, a five day round trip that returned on the ridge that forms the east side of the gorge.  On the north end of that ridge in an area called, the Benson Plateau, we wandered into a forest of identically sized trees.  They are the new growth from a scorching fire that occurred just over a hundred years ago.  That fire left nothing behind. 
The current fire was started by teenagers tossing fireworks off of a cliff into a tinder dry forest.  Besides starting a fire that has grown to over 20,000 acres in 2 days, they almost killed 150 hikers that were on the trail, most of whom escaped by an overnight forced hike in steep terrain.  There were witnesses and the teens were apprehended.  In some respect, it is not much different than how big corporations treat the environment...without a deep connection, it's just a bunch of trees.
Green Heron
On my return I detour out into the main river watching a passing dark cloud that is at my back.  It comes my way, the temperature dropping 5 degrees or so and I pick up my pace heading for the high shore.
Water Snake

Broad Winged Hawk
 Lord's Cove in the Connecticut River

Salmon River

 Salmon River.  September 4, 2017

Swan feathers

Riverside home under construction.  Owner unknown.

Friday, September 1, 2017


I make my own canoe paddles, and I make a lot of them.  Sometime each January I carve one that will be used for the entire year.  I view these critters as spirit paddles, I think of them a bit more like a living object than the actual piece of dead wood that they are.  Almost all of them are finished with oil, which is actually water repellent and not water proof.  I could make my paddles sandwiched in fiberglass, light, strong, and practically invincible, and they would end each trip as they begun, living a protected life free from risk, but also free from experience.  Meanwhile, my paddles acquire dents and dings, scratches and gouges, and sometimes a split in the tip.  They also acquire the microscopics of everyplace they go.  By the end of the year they look like they have lived a life - scarred but they also have character. They also carry the memory of each trip in their pores.  My 2017 paddle took on a nasty split on my last trip.  It's usually an easy repair, a simple thin saw cut up the split, then a piece of thin and contrasting colored wood glued into the gap.  But this split cut through the blade at an angle and I botched the saw cut.  I ended up opening the split to an 1/8 inch and filled it with red resin. It is back in the water bearing four inches of deserved and earned red scar.  It's what a spirit paddle should do.

I came here to a more forested river because the coast was quite windy.  It is quiet as far as birds go, very quiet.  But the wild rice is up and I figure that soon it will draw quite a few birds in to feast.

 Mattebasset River