Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Trance Paddling

Although overcast with a middling threat of rain, the day was calm and warm enough to not be a grim mess if the rain should come.  I set out just before the crest of high tide and rode an easy current upstream into the Neck River and Bailey Creek.  By the time I passed through the Sneak and reached the railroad bridge I had seen about 4 dozen Black Ducks and a half dozen Common Mergansers. 
But, this day seemed to be a trance paddling day.  I kept a steady paddle going without pausing.  This brought me to the "trance" of long distance motion.  The land swept by and while I noticed and knew the birds that I saw, I did not devote any mental effort into counting or observing them.  I suppose you become more animal than man, but you definitely become a part of nature when you are not an active observer.  The tidal current went slack by the time I got through the Big Bends and I continued on until the first bend above Foote Bridge.  Then I returned on that slack water not getting any beneficial ebb current until I was again below the Big Bends.

East River

Monday, February 24, 2020


Yesterday, I delivered one of my sculptures to a gallery for an upcoming show.  It's a piece that depicts a forest spirit - a collection of found objects; bones, broken glass and pottery, antlers, driftwood  and a mass of horse hair on a toddler manikin that I pulled up from a sandbar.  So, today's train of thought was already prepared.
I put in from Ely's Ferry as a sightseeing boat from Essex passed by.  A former commercial fishing boat, the motors thrummed as it passed by a 8 or 10 knots.  As I paddled I watched it head away upriver, the skipper guiding it closer to land than most of the pleasure craft drivers would dare.  The skipper knew the river.  I'm sure it was an Eagle watch tour.  When I got near the historic Ely houses, which sit at the mouth of Hamburg cove on one of the best pieces of land on the river, I spotted a mature Bald Eagle perched in an evergreen behind the house.

Entrance to the Elfin Forest
I headed up into the Selden Channel but rather than passing all the way through, as I normally would have done, I turned into a side channel which I named the Elfin Forest.  A few meanders between forested hillsides takes me to an open marsh of grassy hummocks and stunted twisted trees.  It is an intimate place.  I've never seen anyone else in here.  I suppose most people that come this way have decided that this channel doesn't go anywhere, which means to me that it might actually go everywhere.  I've been here on warm days when the cool air slides down the hills of the surrounding forests and flows over my body like water.  I've peered into the shadows of those trees wondering what hides in them.  Today, I just sit and take it all in.
On my return I turn up into Hamburg cove.  There is a little bay of seclusion not far into the cove and today I find the upper end of it still iced over.  The bow of the canoe pushes easily into the front edge.  The ice is a full half inch thick, but totally rotten. I examine a piece, noticing the deep pits that have formed in the surface.  It is in the process of disappearing.  But, today it sings.  The little bay has a sound, a rustling of tissue paper.  It is the rotten ice flexing and yielding.  When I push on the surface with my paddle, the sound is an almost metallic creak.  If this was cold firm ice it might almost hold one's weight but today it has no more strength than styrofoam.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Lower Housatonic

I put in from the feral cat park near low tide with a light upriver wind.  I head across the river to pass behind Pope's Flat and Long Island, not to be confused with the Long Island, this one being a few hundred yards of high spartina marsh.  The tide is too low to get behind the other two islands, Carting and Peacock.  An immature Bald Eagle flies up the river as I make my way across.
It is sunny and I ride a natural downriver flow against the wind which creates a light chop and a few small waves. 

I cross back over the river while passing under the bridges and then continue following the east bank.

There have been few birds. Aside from some Gulls, I flushed about 40 Canada Geese, spotted a dozen Buffleheads and a half dozen Common Mergansers. 

On the return I take the passage behind Peacock and Carting Islands.  It is still shallow but a swift upstream current shows the tide coming in.  A few times I ground out in the silty bottom and patiently wait a few minutes until the canoe starts drifting with the rising water.  I only portage a bedrock dike that I've never noticed before...a 6 ft portage at most.

Back at my put-in, I spot a Common Loon.  It dives and is not seen again.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Fast Water and River Dynamics

Kingfisher with a catch
There is a good amount of current in the river today.  By eye, I figure it to be 2:1, my out and back ratio measurement, twice as long to go up as it takes to return.  It does turn out to be so, although it gets stronger the farther up that I go.  Current, water level and canoeability (for lack of a better term) is an inexact science that is only applicable to an individual section of water.  In some places faster currents happen at low water.  Sometimes an increase in current during high water also makes the river easier to travel on by submerging obstructions.  Some of the best writing on river dynamics is in Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi".  He dedicates a couple of chapters to the power and intricacy of river flow.  In fact, I think those chapters are some of the best in the book.
I grind away upstream and do find all of the gravel bars submerged and easy to paddle over with nothing more than a small increase in current.  I wade only once and that is because I worked myself into a box taking the wrong side of an island.  The entire way I seem to be escorted by Kingfishers.  They fly repeated short hops ahead of me, crisscrossing the river as they need.  If one disappears, another shows up.  Three hawks swirl high off to one side.  The squabbling makes me think that they are about to pair up for the mating season.  There's just that extra bit of hormone rage in their calls.

200 yards below the railroad bridge I come to a section of very fast water.  A short full effort will be necessary to get through, if getting past it is possible.  I charge out of an eddy on the right side of the river and stall out fairly soon, drifting across to another eddy on the left side of the river.  I back up to the bottom of the eddy and sprint forward out into the current, smack my canoe blade on an unseen rock and put a 15 inch long split up the blade.  I swap over to my spare and surrender. The split is a messy one.  But, as the carver of my own paddles I have found that creative repair work is an enjoyable part of the process.  I have something to do during inclement weather.
Work near Tepee Lodge
I return to my put in well short of the day trip that I need, so I continue down.  The current soon goes slack.  Either the tide has backed up the big river, or perhaps the height of the big river without the tide is backing this tributary.  As I said before, river dynamics are inexact.  I push on setting my trun around for the Tepee Beaver Lodge, just to see how that colony is doing.  There's no fresh beaver activity until I get near the Tepee Lodge, but they seem to be plenty active with new gnawings and tree dropping in the area.
Tepee Lodge