Monday, October 22, 2018

Kissing the Forest

October winds arrived last week and kept me off the water for some time.  Often I return from a break and find myself limited to noting observations.  So, I was pleased to have thoughts flowing through my mind not a moment after setting out.

There has been much change during the short break.  Today, the temperature will peak at not much more than 50 degrees.  There is a wind that I would consider pleasant on a summer day, but today that wind will be the primary cause of the chill in the air. It is the first day this fall that I have worn my heavy wool trousers and they will be not the least bit too warm.  And, I put a recently carved alder paddle in the water for the first time.

The new paddle has a somewhat fictional river painted on it.  I was more interested in painting than in researching maps for actual rivers, so I painted my own river.  It is a river that in its entirety does not exist.  But, the details - the meanders and ox bow lakes, the braided sections and sand bar islands, and the tributaries, these all exist.  It is my river and no one else will ever recognize that.  Within the first half dozen strokes I know that it is a good paddle.  Being of alder, it is a bit heavier than the cedar paddle that I've been using this year.  The trade off is that the hard wood is more durable.  I am in the habit of selecting a paddle to use for a full year and this one is an instant candidate.

I set out just after the tide had peaked, or maybe an hour after.  In either case there is a good strong ebb with a contrary wind.  The canoe travels upriver just a hair faster than the waves created by the opposing motions.  It is a 2 to 1 current, unexpectedly strong for this river.  I head up the Neck River and Bailey Creek and through the Sneak, the water high enough so that I have an expansive view across the salt marsh.  The marsh is contrary as well.  The three foot high grassy dikes that run through it are in reality low land, the low land occupied by the tall spartina alternaflora grass.  The grassy dikes are actually channels and ditches.  The low spaces where spartina patens grows are the high land where the tides only flood a few times each month.

Fighting the current, I figured that paddling all of the way to Foote Bridge was not necessary.  It seemed only right to go so far as to kiss the forest.  However, when I got passed the stone arch bridge and kissed the forest I found that, even though I've been here a hundred times, I needed to go around the next bend to see what was there.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Very High Tide

I set out from the forest about 2 hours before high tide.  Already the water is well up as the the tide today will be just 5 inches short of the record 6ft 10 in.  The sky is overcast, with a surprisingly swift moving watercolored wash of greys and blues without distinct edges. 
Pocket Knife Bend
 There is little in bird life to be seen.  The mudflats and shallows have been swallowed by the tide.  I spot a couple of Kingfishers and flush some ducks as I start across the Gravel Flats.  By call I know that the ducks are either Mallards or Blacks, and since they have flushed from such a great distance that I cannot identify them, they are probably Black Ducks.  At the Big Bends I spot 3 Snowy Egrets, 2 Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron.  The Snowy's are pretty much migrated out at this point.  At the last bend a good sized mature Bald Eagle takes wing and circles several times before moving off.

Coming down the Neck River
The current grows slowly, stagnant above Duck Hole Farms, gentle in the middle marsh, and stronger when I get below the railroad bridge.  I take the well flooded Long Cut over to Bailey Creek.  The current there is making the paddle a bit of a grind.  The sun breaks through for awhile.

The Neck River boat launch is thoroughly flooded, so much so that I can paddle through the parking lot.  I return up the East River riding a good current.  At the bottom of the Big Bends I find 2 dozen Yellow-Legs lined up at what would be the top of the river bank.  Normally, they are scattered about back some 50 yards where there is a panne, which is flooded temporarily.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Not So Wild Waters

I set out upstream from the Feral Cat Park on a humid but not too hot of a day.  The sky was overcast and would pretty much remain so.  The very high tide had been falling for a short time, so the tidal current added to the normal river current was not a bother.
 I stayed to the east shoreline as it is more wooded and backed by wide margins of wetland.  The opposite side of the big river has a road that runs along not far from the bank.

This was not an especially peaceful trip.  There was a fair amount of large boat traffic, at least for a cloudy October weekend.  Worse were the small herd of jet skis that followed the larger boats around jumping off the wakes and generally making a lot of noise.  My friend M told me one day that jet sk drivers almost always had the same body type.  She was correct....I observed that the drivers were balding un-athletic 30-45 year old males who whooped and hollered a lot.  Kind of an idiot fest.

I went three islands upriver, about an hour and a half one way.  There were quite a few Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets and most of the time there was a Kingfisher somewhere near.  On the beach by the Dragonfly Factory I spotted a Greater Yellow Legs.  I usually dump Greaters and Lessers into one pile, but this time I was able to see the slightly upturned bill.
On the return I followed the west shore once I was below the Dragonfly Factory.  The current flowing over the bedrock shore creates some interesting boils and eddies.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Mad Hawk

 I set out up the west side of the big river following the shoreline fairly closely.  A crow lets out an odd call.  It flies out from the trees with a Coopers Hawk in hot pursuit, tail fanned wide, wings fully spread, a slow speed highly maneuverable chase.  The hawk is giving that crow hell.  The crow takes a quick perch under a branch to shake off the hawk.  Then the crow retreats, not far, but a retreat none the less.  The hawk disappears into the trees, not too far off but out of my view.
The Essex Steam Engine

I head into a tributary that I've only gone into once before...maybe last year or the year before.  The bottom 1/3 of a mile or so is a big boat parking lot.  They have to be somewhere, but it isn't what you set out in a canoe to see.  On that last trip I went up to where the boats ended just to see if there was more.  At the railroad bridge, where the boats end, I flush a Great Blue Heron.  Then, three swans, one is a cygnet.  Another few hundred yards takes me to the road bridge.  Two hundred Red-Wing Blackbirds are feeding in what is left of the wild rice.  Passing under the bridge for the first time, I see that this is a good spot for them.  There are tens of acres of wild rice upstream of the bridge although there is little rice left on the plants.  The river takes a few wide meanders as it passes through the rice marsh before it narrows and becomes forested.  The current picks up a bit, but it is not preventing upstream travel, yet.  I cross a gravel bar and note ceramic remnants, a pretty typical sighting when nearing towns in Connecticut.  I collect an old beer can, old enough to have been opened using a church key.  The river narrows more and picks up speed.  I recognize the buildings up above as the town of Chester.

While on my way back to the take out, I paddle back out and turn up a small river that leads to Deep River .  I 've been in here before, a small river that goes from marsh to forest to town.  It's just a pleasant diversion to make the trip last a little longer.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


I don't need to see you
No reason to look over my shoulder
I know who you are
I know your wing beats on the surface of the water
No one else does that
People ask me if you're a loon
But you hold your chin too high
Too proud

Tall Spartina at mid tide
I set out clockwise around the Wheeler Marsh in a southeast wind, comfortable temperatures and a sky with dark clouds around the edges... a forecast of rain for a time after I take out.  The tide is mid level and rising, an ideal time for canoeing in this marsh as you can get mired at low tide and the wading birds take tree perches as the water rises.  I make frequent sightings of Night Herons and Great Egrets all of the way out to Milford Point. 

Snowy Egret at right
From there I head down the inside of Nell's Island where there are few birds other than a congregation of five Great Egrets and one Snowy Egret - the only Snowy sighting of the day.  At the top of the marsh I flush a few Great Blue Herons from the edges of the tall spartina.  This marsh is almost all the tall spartina gets washed over on almost every high tide.  The short version grows on higher ground that only gets flushed during the highest high tides.  Coming up the edge of the marsh close to the launch site, I start seeing the Night Herons taking their perches in the trees.  The numerous Snowy Egrets that I saw earlier in the month are absent.
Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Monday, October 1, 2018

Old Coots Day

I woke up in the middle of the night with a rough draft of a poem running through my mind and this all seemed to be a solid signal that I should go canoeing in some body of water that was geographically fitting for the poem.
In the Mattabesset River

A short, older and more grizzled man drags his kayak by a rope from the parking lot down the rough stone path to the water while I am gathering my gear.  I do the short 75 yard portage and find that guy already gone, which is a surprise since the typical recreation boater usually takes something like an hour to get their boat launched.  I head out downriver, the water high with rain runoff and the current faster than normal, but still gentle.  It is a pleasant day, heavy overcast in the sky and temperatures in the low 70's.

I catch up with that guy in about a half mile as he comes out of a backwater.  He is a good paddler and I pace him from behind.  I sense that we both want to paddle alone and I am giving it a bit of time to see if he maintains his pace.  He eases up in a few hundred yards and I go ahead.

At the beaver cut place there are three lodges where I seem to remember only two.  One is a crude bank burrow, one has had recent home repairs of added mud, so it is definitely occupied. The third is the one I don't remember, so it may be new.

In the big open marsh below the forest I spot three Great Blue Herons and two Mute Swans.  A short way farther on I sight a Harrier prowling.  Their hinting style really is an airborne prowl.  It weaves and dips, skimming across the tops of cattails and wild rice.  I've seen quite a few Harriers this year and I do not know why I have not noticed them as often in the past.

I pass another old coot in a kayak coming the other way.  We exchange a few brief pleasantries.

At the first point below where the tributary enters, the air is thick and heavy with the scent of beaver castoreum.  The humid still air is holding odors in place.  I spot a couple of swans ahead and a large fish splashes behind me.  After a minute, I begin to wonder if that splash might have been a beaver tail slap.

Near the railroad bridge I spot six wild turkeys.  At the bridge I spook a Green Heron.

At the big river I take a turn around the long island, there is almost always an island where tributaries come in.  The island will extend the trip to a length where I can be farther away than I am.  It also give the other old coots a chance to be alone on their trips.

I don't see all of it, but that beaver confirms its presence by making a diving leap from the bank into the river.  It surfaces and we watch each other for awhile.  As I head on, I spot another Green Heron back in a small inlet.