As of a couple of weeks ago I had been kayaking exactly two times for the entire summer. It can be a lot of work. The list goes sort of like this:
- Take the kayak off the wall in the shed and carry it outside.
- Place it on the cart and roll to the truck.
- Lift onto the pickup bed.
- Lift from bed to rooftop J-bar carriers.
- Strap it in.
- Tie down bow and stern to bumpers.
- Pack other supplies.
- Travel to river, dismount kayak and put in water
- Paddle for two hours.
- Repack, go home wash the kayak, put everything away.
Maybe that is why I don’t exactly run out to put in some river time. Then one Friday I got a call from a friend of mine, Ken. He is a long haul trucker who doesn’t get that much time to recreate. He asked me when I last went kayaking. I had to admit it had been some time. He was astonished and promptly urged that I get out there as soon as possible. I promised that I would do so on the first sunny weekday.
Sure enough, Monday morning I found myself putting in the Wood River at the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association access ramp (a whole 1.5 miles from home). The water was calm and nobody was around.
After 10 minutes of wrangling the kayak and getting everything squared away I found myself floating upstream at 8:00 am on a warm and sunny summer day. All was still. With just a few strokes the kayak would easily move upstream for 10-20 yards. In front of me the river narrowed to a green horizon of shrubs, flowers, and grasses. It was wonderful. I searched for my cell phone, took a photograph (made sure to include the bow of the kayak) and sent it off to Kenny. Unfortunately it did not send until much later – there is almost no signal along the river; this is wilderness. My only recourse in case of an emergency would be text messaging or blowing on the whistle hanging from my neck. The first 15 minutes of paddling took me past well spaced summer homes and camps. After a while even they disappeared. The river narrowed from about 40 feet wide where I put in to small passages no wider than six feet.
At least I had an idea where I was. The Magellan eXplorist 600 GPS was working fine with no interference from the trees. I was able to anticipate each sharp turn of the river and avoid the numerous blind forks. My main concern was the depth of the water. Was it deep enough? The kayak, a Wilderness Systems Pungo 120, rides about six inches below the surface and one would think that sufficient. Unfortunately the river water level was especially low and in many spots it was only a couple of inches to the sand below. I had checked the depth earlier by using a neat iPad application called River Data. It provides real-time data on depth, flow rate, and temperature for many rivers throughout the USA. The system is maintained by the USGS (US Geological Survey) and is quite costly to run. Recently some monitors were turned off due to Sequestration, so we are told. (I’ll bet the cost of one guided missile would cover the entire program).
One of the first birds I noticed was a Great Blue Heron. It was perched on an overhanging tree limb in a section of the river that was overrun with reeds. I fumbled for my camera. I had stashed it away in the small dashboard hatch.
I pulled on the hatch lever and it gave way with enough pop to chase any wary wildlife. The bird remained just long enough for me to get off two blurry telephoto shots. Then it whooshed across the river to a safer area. I was going to have to find something that didn’t find me first. At this point the river was narrowing to two small streams. I checked the GPS (working remarkably well) and it indicated that the right avenue was a blind alley. I took the one that twisted to the left. I soon found myself in water that was up to 12″ deep at the banks and about 2″ deep in the middle. I could easily touch shrubs on both sides at the same time. This had to get better! Eventually I grounded on the sand and several times had to use the paddle to pole myself to slightly deeper water. When the river finally opened up the waterscape changed a bit. The banks and sometimes midstream areas were populated with numerous downed trees. Whenever I went between two such tree islands there was always a trunk below. I actually had to look into the water to avoid slamming branches. Then came the turtles, plenty of them. It seems that they owned the trees once they hit the water. Each turtle would sit on a trunk and align its long neck and head with the projecting branches. It was often difficult to distinguish turtle from branch until you got right up close. Turtles don’t like me.
Whenever I get within 20 feet they abruptly jump into the water and instantly disappear. My goal was to get close enough to take some photographs. They did not seem interested.
Then one relatively large individual refused to be spooked. I let the kayak drift in his direction and began taking pictures in rapid succession. Yes, he finally made his exit, but not before I got real close and caught him on my film (flash drive, sorry!).
Then I hit the snag. A large tree had fallen across the river. Sawed-off trunks were evidence of it having been cleared earlier.
Unfortunately the water was quite low that day and the space that may have been adequate a month earlier was now barely passable. As I squeaked by the bottom and sides of the boat scraped wood. It took two tries. Not fun. Worst of all, I had to do it again on the way back. The time to turn around was not far off. I eventually reached a point where the entire river was about two feet across and the shrubs from both sides were meeting in the middle. I decided to save that area for another day since I had already done enough back-paddling. I turned (with difficulty, especially since I still can’t get right and
left straight when using a paddle – I ate many branches that day) and eventually came to a wide open area that had a huge plantation of water lilies going right down the middle. I had avoided the area on the other side of the lilies on the way up since the GPS indicated that it went nowhere. But now I noticed that something had settled in that territory, the Great Blue Heron. I had to make it across the lilies and get some pictures. It was only about 150 yards. Maybe he wouldn’t notice me since the reeds at the edge of the water lilies were well over my head. I gave a couple good shoves with the paddle and cruised on in.
The kayak came to a dead stop after 10 feet of progress. I poled it a few more feet. I had a conference with myself and decided that I wanted to paddle home today, not swim. I decided to back out (pushing the paddle into the muck) and then travel around the lily pads. That little detour would take a good 10-15 minutes. Would the heron still be around? I gave it a try and sure enough the bird was waiting for me. I think it enjoyed making fools of people in little boats. I got close enough for a couple more shots before it tired of my forays and took off. I took off too and shortly after arrived back at the parking lot. It was a bit easier getting the kayak back on top of the truck because Tim, a man I met waiting there, gave me a hand. He knew all about the heron I was following. Seems it always hangs out in the same place. He also called off a list of numerous other birds, including owls, that he has seen in this stretch of river. I think I’ll be back (after some heavy rains).
At least the plants stood still that day for a photograph.
There was a good supply of driftwood (but it wasn’t doing much drifting; it preferred to just rest in place, often in my way). This piece appears to be a favorite of the local turtles.
That’s it for now. Send me comments and such. Identify the plants and animals pictured. Above all, get out and enjoy Rhode Island.
Turtles in Rhode Island– download this PDF and you will have all the information you need about turtles found in RI. Published by RI DEM.
Vernal Pool – Great resource for the family. Much crossover with river species such as turtles that may spend lots of time in the woods. Convenient printable PDF.
(Clicking on any photograph will bring you to a full screen version)