Saturday, October 28, 2017

Seven Dams

A group of 10 boats sets out while I am preparing for my own start.  They have five minutes on me, so I hurry at a good pace to catch up and pass them, my new adage, "first one up the river sees the most" on my mind.  Groups of 10 boats don't see much anyway...too much talking.

I catch them at the first bend.  It is a guided tour and the guide is giving the first lecture.  I turn the next bend and get to watch a 8-point white tail buck wading across the river.
The first beaver dam comes unexpected.  It was not here two months ago...not even a hint.  In fact, it is still soft, silt and plant material have not filtered into the sticks and branches.  But, it holds back a foot of water.  It also holds back two kayakers, one sleeping and one preoccupied with looking through a camouflaged 12 zillion power zoom lens.  I cross the dam.
Around the next bend I find the new beaver lodge that is associated with the brand new dam.  Their dam is holding water that will make this entire trip an easier paddle than normal.  I begin to flush ducks, dozens of wood ducks with a rare mallard at times.

In the low autumn light the gray sticks area of the lower marsh is nothing short of spectacular.

Dam 2 comes unexpected as well, although there were new scent mounds in the vicinity before I saw the dam.

Dam 3 is no longer important.  It has been the first dam for a couple years, but now it is barely higher than the downstream water due to the new works.  It is clear that no one has been up here this morning...I am flushing wood ducks at regular intervals.

It is the middle section...a stretch of forested water between the two open air marshes where is goes wild.  At each of the bends I shake loose a dozen or twenty wood ducks.  As I was getting ready to write that I have spotted dozens of wood ducks, I have in short order spotted hundreds.  I have never seen so many wood ducks, period.

Dam 4 is a pleasant surprise.  While it was here before, it has recently been raised a foot or so.  Immediately, I know that this will change a couple of awkward deadfall "step-overs" into "paddle-overs".
Dam 5 comes right after 4.  It is a minor new dam on a narrow section of the river.

Dam 6 is an easy step over and it supersedes Dam 7, which barely shows above the water.  The beaver have been quite active in late summer and early fall.

I turn back when I am near Pine Island, skipping the last partial mile of constant turning and weaving.  Already, this has been one of my best trips ever into Great Swamp.

I meet no other person until I am just above Dam 1, which is still holding a foot of water back on the upriver side...and four kayakers on the downriver side.  They ask me how to cross a beaver dam...I respond, "Well, you will have to get out of the boat."  They watch me...because it is still soft, it is tricky.  I do not leave them confident....I continue down.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Following the Storm

Yesterday brought a storm with rain and winds out of the southwest at 35+ mph.  The last bit of road leading to the put-in spot is covered in beach sand with large puddles of salt water in the low spots.  The strip of houses on this road live on borrowed time even with their concrete stilts.  Their garages and carports no doubt ran with water yesterday and it was not even a particularly high tide.

The lower half of my paddle disappears from view with each stroke, the water in the river clouded with the silt that the storm washed from the tops of the spartina meadow...what constitutes firm ground in this area.  Even now, there is a swirl of silt (the pattern that one sees when they put cream in coffee without stirring) at each of the rivulets that continue to drain last night's rain.

But, for all of yeaterday's bluster, it is very calm and very peaceful under a low and thick overcast.  It is more than anything, marsh weather...the weather that I associate with wetlands, something from my youth when I went to pothole swamps in the fall to hunt ducks with my dad.

The lower marsh is scarce of birds.  Only when I get to the Big Bends do I start to see animal life with regularity...a couple Great Blue Herons, some Black Ducks, a small flock of Canada Geese, and quite a few Yellow-Legs.  I spot two hawks as well, returned now that the Willets aren't here to sound the alarm and make their hunting nearly impossible.

I turn at Foote Bridge and paddle back against a gentle flood tide current and light wind, both of which do nothing except make the day feel special.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hot Coals

I was short on energy today, but this is the time of the year when you go with the weather and tomorrow is predicted to be raining with gusts to 38 mph.

 Messerschmidt Pond.  Not great fall color, but not too bad either.  The maples were the color of hot coals.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


I put in on the Lieutenant River and headed seaward against the last of the flood tide and a stiff quartering headwind on a clear and comfortable day.  I spotted a few Great Blue Herons along the way, but otherwise it was quiet.  I thought long about my wife and my family.  I suppose my last trip here with my wife was the seed for that.  It was good and this was a good place for thoughtful meanders.
It took about an hour to get to the Black River, which had been a good plan on a high high tide, but the breeze had stiffened and it was obvious that my return out of the Black would be reduced to a arm busting slog straight into the wind.  I turned back.

On the return I paddled up the channel called the "Back River", which makes no geographical sense.  It put me into the main channel of the Connecticut and so I wiggled and bobbled my way upriver on waves quartering from the rear until I could take the passage back to the Lieutenant.  It was a short trip.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Day for Not Talking

The Elf Forest comes at me with a myriad of scents - the smell of stale wood smoke, perhaps the leftovers of stove burning last night to warm a cool evening, something that has settled here in the lowest of places.  Then, it slides sideways for the sharp taste of a dry forest floor carried down on the heavy cool air...which way is the wind blowing?  ........downhill....the physics of shady forested hillsides.  Then, just for a few seconds, an opening appears and the damp decay of the marsh plays a brief solo.
Entering the Elf Forest
The Elf Forest going golden with the arrival of fall is coming at me with something for each of my senses.
Something is approaching at my right, behind my shoulder...

After I have left the Elf Forest, I pass on oncoming canoe.
"Nice day," he says.
"It sure is," I reply.

I explore another side channel.

I spot two more kayaks coming my way.  It would be rude as shit to not greet them.  But, talking has been a distraction.  So, I circle quickly and enter a side channel that I had just passed hoping that they do not follow me.  I go to the end and return, maybe a 1/3 of a mile.  They have passed, but not by much.  I stay silent and head on my way.  It is a day for not talking.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Doing the Wash

Well up the cove I find myself still preoccupied with those dingy thoughts of daily life.  I turn up the small creek that drains the backside of one of the river's bordering hills.  It is shallow due to low tide and I won't get as far as I normally do.  I stop and sit for awhile. 
The last Osprey
A Great Blue Heron rises up from the shadows of the forest in the bend ahead of me.  Before it flies out of my vision, it circles in the brilliant sunlight and unleashes a magnificent stream of cream colored shit.  It really is that beautiful.  The dingy thoughts are gone.  I head back to the river.

In fact, with the mind unburdened, good and creative ideas race through my mind faster than I can keep up.  When I get to the state park, a former family summer resort..."Holiday in Hell" if the advertising images that I've seen were accurate, I envision cardboard cutouts of men in hats and bermuda shorts smoking pipes with other cardboard cutouts of June Cleaver look-a-likes toting trays of cookies and pitchers of Kool-Aid.  Don't drink the Kool-Aid.

I continue up and take the narrow side channel...a bit of wading in here.  Halfway up I come to a fresh and small beaver dam with a deep and well used beaver drag nearby.  I have something to observe throughout the winter when other people are not around.
Beaver drag and dam

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

When it's Different

I put out onto a long reservoir,that looks enough like a lake to satisfy me, under a blue and gray marbled sky of overcast clouds.  I follow the north shore at a distant that allows me to peer into the forested waterside.
It isn't a day for reflections on nature.  Instead it is a day to wash the dingy crud of daily life from my soul.  But, my problems are minor compared to most people's and not worth writing about.  They just need to be put to peace.  Enough said.

Soon, the forested hillside yields to flat land.  The deep reservoir water goes to shallow, consistently shallow.  I am not over the natural channel of the Farmington.  Somewhere in here that older deeper river course lies.  Occasionally, I pass houses, the owners of which have often turned their shoreline into some sort of white trash encampment...junk lawn chairs, junk boats, junk remains of docks, etc.  Anyway, that doesn't happen too often.

I pass a couple old abutments...later I discover that they are the remains of the late 19th century Oil City Dam.
On the original channel

The reservoir necks down and I finally pick up some head current, the outflow from the Tariffville Gorge.  I turn back and find that one of the inlets that I passed on the south shore is the original channel of the Farmington.  It's uncanny, but I can feel the spirit of a running river when I am over the drowned original channel.  It is different here.

swimming copperhead

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Sock! Dairy Farm Cove

I've only been in the cove once before, and then only about halfway.  It was near the end of a long trip, with about an hour of paddling to go.  I didn't find that lower section to my liking.  The channel through the marsh was too wide for my taste, not intimate enough.  This time I passed under the bridge where I had turned back from.  The cove has some official name, most likely of a person who I would find not deserving of the honor.  I rename it "Sock! Dairy Farm Cove".  Something logical that I can remember.

Past the bridge it is all different.  Not only is the channel narrower, but on this side of the bridge the marsh is almost all wild rice.  Even though there are few kernels left on the plants, there are hundreds of blackbirds perched on the stalks picking away at what remains.  The sound of the bird calls is impressive.  It is clear that the great majority of the blackbirds are hidden from view.
I also note that all of the cattails have burst.  This is unusual.  Quite often I see cattails well into the next summer that have not opened.   

I follow a family of swans, 3 grays and 2 whites, into a narrow channel, but it peters out before getting back to open water.  As I go I flush some ducks, mallards, blacks, woodies and maybe a couple of teal.

I visit another cove, the mouth of which lies about 200 yards down river of Sock! Dairy Farm Cove.
It is smaller and has a good quantity of wild rice as well.  It's most notable feature is a man-made dike that has been cut open.

I reach my put-in just two hours after starting.  So, after some hemming and hawing, I head across the river to circle Selden Island.  The hemming and hawing mostly had to to with my uncertainty in the length of the trip...which I thought was about 2 hours.  Anyway, it was not a contemplative trip, but more of a steady march.  I did spot and pass by a fine steam launch.
I crossed the river immediately upon leaving the bottom of the Selden Channel.  I know this section of the river and I opted for fighting a strong current on the west shore instead of a strong wind on the east.  And so it went.  It was almost exactly 2 hours to circle the island.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Mr. Petty Has Left the Building

Mr. Petty has left the building.

The first time I heard his music I was up on a house roof in Ft. Collins during the winter of 1980.  The housing market had taken a big downturn and I had left my soon to be nonexistent carpentry job to go down to Colorado and do some cedar shake roofing.  I left a good teaching carpenter, but also the 8 hour a day country western "so called music" that played on the work radio.  The radio that Buzz, Craig, Frenchie and I listened to was the local rock station or perhaps a cassette tape, if anyone had one that worked.  "Refugee" was playing regularly at that time. It was a great song, but I wouldn't really clue in to Petty's music for a few more years, having to spend some time with punk and new wave.

I spotted just 3 Osprey in the large marsh below the RR bridge.  There were a half dozen or so Yellow-Legs hanging out at the edge of the high tide water along the bends of the Neck River.  The lower marsh was quiet and the only bird of note was a single Black Duck that I flushed.
As an artist I have learned (slowly, due to my dogged self-taught-accidental-yet-stubborn-artist persona) that all of the good art, whether it is music, performance, written or visual, has one thing in common - it comes from the heart, and the heart is where the truth in art lives.  Most of the non-artist public can sense it, even if they can't articulate what they are feeling.  They can spot a lie.
The fall migration started long before most people noticed.  Some birds migrate in mid summer.  The Willets seem to leave as soon as their young can fly and fend for themselves (early August).  Other shore birds from parts north appear momentarily as they pass through.  Most of us equate the migrations with the ducks and geese that are on the move when the leaves begin to turn.

Anyway, Mr. Petty left the building sometime around eight o'clock last night.  He leaves behind an impressive amount of truth.
The bird sightings multiply once I am up river of the stone arch bridge.  I spot several Great Blue Herons, a few more Osprey,a couple of Great Egrets and a Green Heron.  As I go I begin to flush a scolding Kingfisher here and there and as I near the now submerged gravel flats I flush about a hundred Mallard and Black Ducks in four individual groups.  I watch two Kingfishers chase each other for several minutes.  Today as compared to last month, fewer Egrets, more Great Blue Herons, fewer Green Herons, a lot more ducks, more Kingfishers.
On the return I spot a Bald Eagle at the lower of the Big Bends.