Thursday, December 27, 2018

Burying Ground

I've always hoped that this journal would get at what I was feeling, how being in my canoe in some river or swamp, or some wild place changes the soul.  It doesn't always work that way.  Sometimes my entries are just lists; went here, saw this, saw that.  It's not the best of nature writing.  One of the most important reasons to preserve wild places is how it makes us feel, and how it puts us in our place.  But, sometimes the thoughts aren't there, and sometimes the pencil doesn't come out when it is needed.

I passed a burying ground on my way to the put-in.  Burying ground is a term that I had not heard until moving to New England.  I like the honesty of it.  Now, when I say passed, I really mean "passed".  This little plot of 5 or 6 tombstones lies directly next to the state road.  There is no wall or fence and barely a foot of earth between the graves and the pavement.  I'm glad that the rule of the day when this road was put in was to not move the graves.  There is something quite honest in the burying ground being left as it is.

The current in the big river is faster than expected, which is probably due to the low tide a dozen miles downstream giving a little extra space for the water to go.  There is also an unexpected wind coining down the river.  I change my downstream plans and go up instead, preferring the luxury of coasting for the end of the trip.  Grind now, coast later.

The current doesn't slacken one bit until I am passed the remains of Gillette's miniature railroad, which looks to my eye as if he intended not only to replicate a railroad, but also some of the rail disasters of the 19th century - he built several precariously located trestles along the cliffs overhanging the river.  Gillette was an actor who created the most familiar version of Sherlock Holmes.  His batshit crazy mansion is preserved high above on the bluff as a state park.

The current finally lets up when I get to the lowland that contains Chapman Pond.  I turn off the big river and take the half mile meandering route into the pond.  It is calm and the sun makes it feel warmer than the day actually is.  I flush about 50 Mallards and no less than three Great Blue Herons.  I stop here to write and an Eastern Bluebird lands in a tree above as if to approve of my arrival, or at least confirm that I am no threat.  I had to look this bird up when I got home and was surprised to find that we are in the northern end of its wintering territory.

I exited Chapman Pond through the upper channel, a straight man made cut that was dug by some 19th century shad fishermen who were being denied access through the lower channel by a landowner.  Then, I continued up to the Goodspeed Opera House before turning around and speeding back.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Naming Rights

I put in from the well hidden launch on the east side of Wheeler Marsh just after the peak of a high high tide.  The temperature was in the 30's, the sun out and there was just a bit of breeze making it cold enough on bare skin that I wore a pair of thin gloves. 

I headed upriver and then back into the first inlet, which is formed by a 1/4 mile long and twenty foot high forested ridge that appears to have glacial origins in that the exposed bank is mostly large rounded cobbles.  It was used by Native Americans as a temporary fishing/hunting camp site.  The town has some artifacts on display at Town Hall. It's no way near large enough to live on for any length of time.  Anyway, the ridge peters out near the mainland and with the high tide there is enough water to push through the spartina into the channel on the upriver side.  I flush one Great Blue Heron and ten Black Ducks in the process.

Then, I head back out to the "main" marsh and continue upriver with an opposing current that is steadily increasing.  The water marks show that the tide has dropped no more than 2 inches, usually this does not come with much current, but I suppose due to the very high tide there is already a strong flow.  Out in the main river the current is 3 to 1. That is, three times as long to go up against the current as to return.  A large Common Loon surfaces 50 yards away, but as I am already paddling away from it, it just goes back to fishing.
Pepe's Rock
I crawl up to the first bridge, cross the river and begin speeding down the east bank.  I cross over to Nell's Island at Pepe's Rock.  I have no idea who Pepe was, but there is a Pepe's Farm Road in town as well.  If both are named for the same person, then the question is what does a farmer have to do with a rock in the river.  I also have no idea who Nell was or why this barely sea level island deserved to be named at all other than to alert steamboats not to run into it.  In Nell's channel I spot another large Common Loon and another Great Blue Heron.

Nell's channel
When I get down to Milford Point, I turn left and follow the shoreline more or less back to where I began.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Up to the Boulder Swamp

It started as a sunny day, but the clouds are filtering the sun, an effect that reminds me of a November day, although this is well into the final month of the year.  But, it is in the 30's and calm and too fine to waste by not canoeing.

I put in on the small unimproved launch site on the Lieutenant River which is showing a moderate current as it is the midpoint of the ebb.  I paddle upstream edging up along the cattails,  There are few birds about although I spot what I think are a couple of Hooded Mergansers.  But like Hoodies, they take off fast and low before I can get close enough to be sure.

There is a bit of skim ice along the shoreline sections that see little current.  The canoe slices through without any effort.

Two miles up is the broadening that I call the Boulder Swamp.  It is a sizable pond where two arms of watercourse meet.  It is dotted with sizeable boulders that I assume are left behind by the last ice age.  I head up the west arm until, with the lowering tide, I start to run out of water.  Then I return and after weaving my way slowly through the boulders I head a bit up the east arm.  I flush a lone Swan that takes off in my direction.  The sound of the large wings and slapping of the feet as it builds up speed is machine like. 
Boulder Swamp
The creek runs out of water pretty soon, right by the first beaver lodge, a bank burrow that seems to still be in use.  There is a good amount of cut saplings and gnawings near it. 
Bank burrow - note tide line
There is more beaver activity, including a dam, not far upriver from here.  That will have to wait for a higher tide.

There are many more birds in the river as I head out.  I suppose the low tide is good for feeding.  I pass a flock of fifty some Canada Geese, spot two Great Blue Herons, and flush a couple dozen unidentified ducks.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Big River

December 15, 2018
I set out once again from the Feral Cat Park.  This time I headed upriver.  There was a light headwind coming down the valley, but the temperature was near 50 degrees.

A wide scatter of small white feathers on the water hinted that there might be a kill sight up ahead.  The scatter tapered and pointed to the power line towers, a likely place for a hawk to perch.  I suspect the feathers are from a gull.

There is a large number of gulls on the sand bar downstream of Fowler Island.  I continue up the shallow east channel, pass under the high bridge, and pass by the Dragonfly Factory.  Several boatloads of fishermen are upstream of the Factory fishing for striped bass.  They seem to be landing them fairly often although a legal keeper is usually 26-30 inches, so I suspect many of them have to be released.

I continue up to Wooster Island where I turn back.   About halfway back I notice a change in the air.  I can see my breath and it feels cooler but I suspect that the temperature is the same but the humidity has changed, something that matches the weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Big River Island Tour

It's one of those days when you look out the window and try to convince yourself that it isn't a good day for canoeing, or that you won't enjoy it.  It's gray and somewhat gloomy, but warm and calm enough so that there is no good reason not to go.

I set out into the big river from the Feral Cat Park where, it so happens, a couple of women are feeding the cats.  I head straight out across the river rounding the upper end of Pope's Flat, crossing the channel over to the top end of Long Island (not that Long Island), crossing the next channel over to Carting Island, where I then follow the shoreline down and around Peacock Island.  All of these islands are low and inhabited primarily by spartina or phragmites.  There is a lot less phragmites than in the past as the government has done a good job eradicating the invasive non-native reed so that the spartina can grow.  Spartina provides habitat for many more birds and mammals than does the denser and tougher phragmites.

I head down river against a mild flood current flushing a few ducks here and there.  They are all either Mallards or Buffleheads.  A quarter mile below the third bridge I spot a pair of wintering Common Loons in a loose group with several Mallards.  I swing way around them and cross the river to make my return.

It has turned out to be a most excellent day for a canoe trip.  It usually is.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The In-between

The river in the forest is calm.
Smoked mirror reflections of what is above are crisp and focused below.
The canoe runs in the in-between.
Everything doubled, the world twice as big.
Above me is 10,000 feet of sky, below me is 10,000 feet of sky.
If I fell from the canoe I would fall a great distance before I touched the clouds.
In time the rattling scolding of an escort Kingfisher reminds me of which way is up.
The Kingfisher can tell me where my body is at, but the soul...
 I set out on the last of a rising tide that helped me make way up the river through the salt marsh, through the freshwater marsh, and into the forest river.  It was in the 20's this morning and it will warm into the mid 30's.
In the reach below Cedar Island I spotted a lone male Bufflehead.  In the reach above the Cedar Island I found fifteen more as well as flushing a couple dozen Black Ducks.  Black Ducks in the main river indicate that the more private pools out in the marsh are frozen. 

At the Big Bends a flock of 60 or 70 Canada Goose fly in and circle away, honking continually of course.  It is the sound of autumn.  They circle away having spotted me below.

I continue a quarter mile past Foote Bridge before turning back.  It is a good day.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Three Beaver Day in the Selden Channel

I headed up long backwater having seen a fair amount of beaver sign in the past...scent mounds, drags and a small lodge.  As I neared the upper end of the backwater I was thinking, "not a single sign of beaver" when I came to a blocking beaver dam.  It is a very old dam and has not seen any maintenance in a long time.  I figure that the only time I've been up here the water was higher or I would've noticed the dam as it is 40 feet long.  Beaver archeology can be just about as interesting as human archeology.

Half of the dam
I set out on a crisp sunny day with not a cloud in the sky and barely any breeze at all.  I put in at Ely's Ferry Road and hugged the eastern shoreline up to the mouth of Hamburg Cove, where the two Ely houses are situated.  I think it is safe to guess that the former ferry and the houses have some relationship.  From there I continued up to the Selden Channel, also known as Selden Creek although it resembles a creek no more than it resembles an airport, at least since a mid 19th century flood rearranged it. 

Ely House
Selden Channel
Once in the channel a Great Blue Heron escorted me for a few hundred yards, a Kingfisher scolded me for another hundred, then I turned up the backwater mentioned above.  When I returned to the channel I did not go far before spotting a small beaver on the shore. It took to the water and then, most uncharacteristically, it dove without the slap of its tail.  I waited near a minute and found it about 60 yards downstream swimming back and forth waiting to see what I would do, which is typical behavior for beaver.  Most amphibious mammals will swim to shore and find a hole to hide in.  Beaver will stay in the water until you leave, swimming side to side and often diving with a slap of the tail.
Castor Canadensis
Near the cliffs, I spot a large flock of Robins.  I'm not sure what I'm seeing because I've never seen so many Robins together, but that is what they are.  Fifty would be a safe estimate.

Just past the cliffs two large splashes bring my eyes to two adult beaver that have launched themselves from the bank with my arrival.  I get a tail slap from each as I paddle by.  I find a new beaver lodge across from the island cabin.  There is a large supply of winter food stashed immediately downstream.  From here I make my return.
New Beaver Lodge
I find two Common Loons near the mouth of Hamburg Cove.  They still have their summer colors.

I make a small detour over to a stranded boat.  I passed it on the way out but figured they were fishing.  I asked if they needed me to tow them free, but they politely declined.  They stuck it in the very long sandbar that runs from the island at Hamburg Cove.  They were waiting for high tide and the Coast Guard had arranged to come if they didn't float free.