Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Late Season Canoe Trip

I’ve been working hard lately, so I took some comp time yesterday morning to make one last canoe trip for 2005—I did it solo in weather that was just above the freezing mark. In a month, this river and all others in this region will be iced over. To some, this might not sound appealing, but to me it was a taste of heaven. I saw no one, not even in the park where I took out. I was alone in my boat, watching nature and enjoying the elements. I hope you enjoy my brief remembrance of the trip.
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The tempered-gray sky spits sleet as I slid my canoe into the water below McKeow’s Bridge. It’s barely above freezing. Crawling into the boat, I position myself on my knees, just behind the middle point, and use the paddle to push off. The boat is positioned up river, at an angle, so that the current catches the bow and quickly spins me into the channel, pointing down river. I dig the paddle into the water, with a hook on the end to keep it straight, and take off toward town, eight miles away. A few hundred yards downstream, a great blue heron rises up from the its perch, its large wing-span and long-bent neck looking like left-over traits from some prehistoric age. The bird glides down river, as if a guide. He occasionally stops at a log along the blank, allowing me to nearly catch up, only to take off again in flight as I approach. This occurs over and over again, until finally, a good distance down stream, at a point where the river is wide, he turns and on the far side, flies up river toward his home, staying clear of my canoe. A short while later another heron takes over and leads me further down river.

The sleet picks up and pelts my face. Attempting to read the river, I squint, looking for V’s facing down river. Coming around a bend, the wind suddenly blows against me. The water is deeper and there is no current. I shiver and dig my paddle deeper in order to make headway. Soon, the water is shallower and faster, gurgling over rocks, as it pulls the boat quickly downstream. Another bend and the wind abates, but not for long. As with the herons, the cycle repeats itself over and over.

The trees along the bottomland are bare, hibernating for winter. A few isolated pines and an occasional patch of moss provide the only greenery. On tree branches, I watch the few birds sticking it out in winter: a few flickers, some small songbirds, a cardinal. In the distance I hear the call of a crow. A few squirrels run up and down trees, their summer nest still preciously perched near the top of the trees. At one point, I am surprised looking at a tree recently split during a storm, to see a squirrel pokes it’s head out of a the hollow middle. Seeing me, he ducks back inside, not wanting to give out the location of his new home, I’m sure. In the bare forest, I even spot a few abandoned hornet nests.

I stay warm by working hard, but sitting in the bottom of the boat, my feet freeze. After tiring, I spot an eddy down stream and maneuver the boat so that the current pulls me into the calm waters. I pour a cup of tea from a thermos and sit for a few minutes, enjoying the warmth of the liquid as I make a few notes in my journal. Sitting is too cold, so I push the bow back into the stream and allow it to pull the boat out into the current and continue on downstream. The swampland gives away to higher banks. When I get in sight of the railroad trestle for the long abandoned C, K & S, near the site of the old foundry, the hardwood bottomland gives way to industry. There are still a few factories here in operation. I quickly pass under the trestle and under a couple other bridges, before coming to the landing at Tyden Park. I spot my truck, sitting alone in the parking lot. A few minutes later, I’ve load my canoe and head home in time for lunch.

19 comments:

  1. You painted this so well I could picture it all happening. It sounds like a beautiful way to spend your morning. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  2. There is nothing more magical than a river trip in the middle of winter... especially when there is a thick blanket of snow. The lack of sound is like a thick blanket, stiffling all but the gurgle of the river. For years I had wanted to do a longer trip during winter and getting on five years ago, I finally got the opportunity to spend a week boating the wild and scenic Buffalo River in northwest Arkansas. I think I still have a link to my journals of that trip in my sidebar.

    Thanks for the memories.

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  3. You love what you do...that is magic.

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  4. Christa & poopie, thanks for your kind comments.

    Ed, You must be a kindred soul. I see now why you used Edward Abbey's name. I've seen your Buffalo River journals and have been intrigued. Sounds like a wonderful trip. The only "long" trip I've made late in the year was in mid-October (when the leaves were changing) on the New River in Western NC and VA. It dropped below freezing a couple of nights, but not really cold. I have done a few backpacking/x-country skiing trips in winter, and they're magical.

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  5. Sage, this is written so well that I was there in the canoe with you!

    Thanks for the nice comments about the fans/collections. I appreciate the visit.

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  6. Wow, an amazing way to spend a morning.
    Here from Michele's tonight (my time!)

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  7. i could almost see myself among all that majesty. thanks for that!

    here via michele today. :)

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  8. Plenty time to think huh? On why the heck am I out here freezing my butt off in this cold river??? I bet lunch could not come quick enough....(smiling)

    My son left Thanksgiving night and returned the Monday following. This was his first year for this tradition of hundreds that go to Peace River, FL for a canoe, boat, camping trip. He came back with some wild stories...These people have been doing this for years. We looked up pictures on the internet before he left...looked like the Everglades to us....He saw one of the biggest aligators ever...(and we have seen plenty in our life)...Up on that River...after most had left on Sunday....they stayed an extra day.

    I told him if a motorhome was there, MAYBE!!! (smiling)But the weather was great...in the high 70's.

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  9. I have thought the same thing (kindred soul) from reading your blog but wasn't so bold to say it.

    I have spent a lot of time in my early years out west backpacking in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. I have also taken a ski trip to Colorado for a couple weeks and a hiking trip to the Sedona area of Arizona once. But most of my outdoors time is spent along the Buffalo River either kayaking, canoeing, hiking, or bicycling. I did make one epic journey and spent a month boating in a wooden dory boat on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon proper from dam to dam about four years ago. Those journals are also linked in my sidebar. At the time I thought it would be a trip of a lifetime but after having done it, I know I will be back someday.

    In the last five years, my trips have mostly been overseas to England or the Philippines, the latter which I am leaving for again in just a few weeks.

    That's pretty much it for my trips resume. Love reading your blog. Keep it up.

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  10. Kenju, Bec and Ribbiticus, thanks for stopping and your kind words.

    Suzie, I never once thought why I was out there freezing my butt off. I haven't done any wilderness trips in Florida, but in my long list of things I want to do, the Okefenokee Swamp in South Georgia and continue on down the Swannee River. In a kayak, I'd love to do the Everglades from Chokoloskee to Flamingo (wanta join me?)

    Ed, I haven't boated the Grand Canyon but have hiked down into it from remote points along the north side. I lived in SW Utah for a bit over 10 years and have done a lot of the canyon hiking along the Colorado Plateau--Abbey's country. As for my longer trips--I've done a couple on the New River in NC/VA, the Waccamaw River in NC/SC, the Green River in UT, and the Missibini River to the James Bay in Northern Ontario (a highlight of my life). I've done lots of backpacking too--including the full length of the Appalachian and John Muir Trail and many shorter trails. My "trip of the lifetime" is to paddle the Churchill/Seal River to the Hudson Bay.

    Your travels to the Philippines sounds interesting. Is that where your wife is from? Will you do any hiking there?

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  11. Yeah right...count me in...that is if you have a stable boat, motorhome and all the extras!! Otherwise forget it in a kayak...I would end up turning that sucker over and be aligator bait.

    It was apparent you were not thinking correctly!! (LOL) Logical answer!!

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  12. Suzie, it'd be hard to get an RV down the Everglade trail--I'm not sure if you can take a houseboat--I think the trail is limited to motorless boats... Which would be preferable for those of us who use self-propelled boats. You'd do fine in a kayak!

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  13. Sounds like a grand day out, but I'd sugest a pair of thermal socks under neoprene boots :o)

    Michele sent me

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  14. Sage, thanks for visiting my new blog, via Michele (isn't she the greatest?)
    I'm going to enjoy your blog -- that's the way I prefer to do anything outdoorsy (that is, vicariously). My idea of "roughing it" is no room service!

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  15. There truly is nothing better than being outside enjoying the regal beauty that nature offers!

    Your post almost took me there. I'm so happy you had a great time. :)

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  16. you painted a wonderful picture sage! it is something i would love to experience sometime.

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  17. Sage - Yep, my wife is a native Filipina although strangely enough, I found her on a trip to England. Go figure but it was the luckiest day of my life.

    Probably won't get much hiking done this trip outside of just hiking the streets of Baguio which go straight up and down mountains. Everything in that area is straight up and straight down which is why I am twice as religious when I am riding in a rickety Jeepney bus on eroded roads recently cleared of mudslides!

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