Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Art, Animals, and Deep Ecology

Pocket Knife Corner
And so the argument rages.  My morning check in with friends on social media finds the architect writing that only humans are capable of art and an artist protesting that as an arrogant and incorrect statement.  Such is the thought seed for my trip canoe trip.

The Gravel Flats
Several year back, a good friend told me, I think while we were out wandering about in a large forest, that I was a "deep ecologist".  This was a term that I was unfamiliar with and even now can't fully explain.  However, I read up on the idea and agreed that for the most part, that is where I lay.  It is a belief that all species have a right to exist, and a reason to exist, and that those rights and reasons are rather equal to our own.  It's the idea that you should have respect for the natural world.  Use it, but use it with respect and care. 

So, from that place where I stand, I see that humans are not the only species capable of art.  What we have learned about animals in my lifetime is quite remarkable.  Once, tool use was the difference between animal and man.  Then we found out that apes and crows and who knows what else were modifying found objects to use as tools in their daily routines.  Then some scientists taught a gorilla to communicate with sign language.  We figured out that whales communicate with each other over great distances and that elephants and Crows perform elaborate funerals for lost members of their tribes.  Male Bower Birds gather and organize blue objects to entice a mate...and a Bower Bird's display rivals any home-made valentine.  And., many other birds compete through dance or song.  The reason for these other-species arts are little different than our own.  As an artist I make a fairly large quantity of art while making a fairly small quantity of income from it.  My main reason for my art is to draw others into discussion.  My reason is not much different than the animal arts.

The Long Cut
I set out from Foote Bridge on a spectacular sunny autumn day.  The morning 35F temperature and sunlit surface of the waters put a thin low fog over the marsh.  The tide is high and the current nonexistent up in the forest where the water is still backing up.  My course is often set by covering the harsh reflection of the sun on the water with the bow of my canoe.

When I get below the railroad bridge I take the alternative route into the Long Cut.  On my last trip here, a hunter asked if I'd seen any ducks and I told him that I often spot a lot of Black Ducks in the area near the Long Cut knowing that they weren't going to figure out how to get back there anyway.  So, I head back there today to satisfy my own curiosity.  It is an easy go with the water high and the narrow gap is about as wide as I've ever seen it.  By the time I am down to the confluence with the Neck River I have flushed no less than a 150 Black Ducks and half that many Canada Geese.  It's a pretty busy place today.

The state boat launch
From the flooded state boat launch I return up the main river. 
Pocket Knife Corner
A squat shorebird draws me over to the bank at the first railroad bend.  It looks somewhat snipe-like.  Then, it stands and stretches out and it is a Yellow Legs that had me fooled.  I spot a couple more off behind it.
Foote Bridge...also, the old stage coach ford

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Low Tide East River Day

It is windier than I expected, somewhere in the 10 mph range, but according to the weather service this is the calm day of the week and so it goes.  According to myself, this is also the sunniest day in the last week.  I head out with a light chop on the water, the result of the ebb current going opposite to the wind.
The west bank has been exposed to the sun for several hours and it is now populated with fiddler crabs.  While the air temperature is about 40F, I suspect that down in that inch of air where the fiddlers live the sun on the dark silt has raised the local temperature to maybe 60F or 65F.  It won't be long until they stay burrowed all day.
Fiddler Crab
A Hawk circles low near Cedar Island.  I don't get a good enough look to ID it, but I suspect it is a Harrier.  But, without a better look it remains just Hawk.  The bird of the day right now is the Yellow Legs.  There aren't more than a few sighted as I head upriver, but they are content to let me pass and then get back to picking the mud at the water's edge.

At the bottom of the Big Bends I flush a large Hawk from the trees on the outside of the bend.  It gives me a good enough look that I can ID it as a wintering Rough Legged Hawk.  The dark patches on the bottom of the wing leading edge were quite obvious, even if I didn't get a photo.

I pause for coffee in the Big Bends.  It's been an hour against the current, but more to the point I have found a small spot near the bank where the canoe does not drift.  There are a good many raccoon tracks in the silt.  Some are fresh from after the tide started dropping but there are many more older tracks that have had the tide wash over and fill them.
I turn from above the Arch Bridge on a line between Duck Hole Farms and the smallpox graveyard.  The water is getting shallow enough that my paddle is touching bottom on most strokes.

The return is unremarkable except that it is an easy cruise with the current and wind, and with the wind dropping the lower marsh is particularly calm and peaceful and a sense of solitude washes over my soul.

Friday, November 15, 2019

First Autumn Loon

The local art festival season just finished and that along with inclement weather when I did have a day or two free has kept me out of my canoe.
I waited for high tide which arrived not long after noon.  That extra time also brought the temperature up from freezing to about 40 degrees.  I made the short drive across town to marsh put in.  And, for the first time since spring, I put on my cold water gear - my drysuit.  I set out into a fairly steady stiff west wind.  I suppose it was 12-15 mph.  But, with the sky clear and sunny and the cord grass spartina having turned gold, it felt much warmer.  I paddled the grind into the wind to Milford Point seeing no birds other than a few Ducks.  They were all true quackers - either Mallards or Black Ducks.  From Milford Point I turned upriver into a channel. 
 This marsh is a low salt marsh - about 90 percent cord grass that floods daily.  On a higher than normal tide like today, it is possible to push the canoe through the grass, but it is also more difficult to figure out exactly where you are as it tends to all look the same.  I;m heading for Nell's channel, but I miss the correct turn.  So, I follow the long blue fingers of water deeper into the grasses.  When the path splits, I follow the one that looks longest. When none looks good, I peek up over the grass for the next patch of open water and forge on through the grass....just keep heading west.  Without warning, the broad Nell's channel appears.

Upstream a hundred yards is a wintering common loon.  It has already lost its speckled back colors and I need to scope it to make sure its not a cormorant.  It stays a hundred yards ahead of me all of the way up the channel until we go in different directions.

To add to the Loon and the dozen or so Ducks, I spot 3 Great Egrets and 2 Great Blue Herons.

I try to round Cat Island, but the spartina is too dense and perhaps the water is just a couple inches too low.  Anyway, it doesn't go.  I back out and continue to the take out.