We pulled the boat off the back of the truck and walked it down across the sand to the water. My friend held it steady as I planted one foot over the keel and transferred my weight from the sandy shore to the center of the boat. I felt the boat shift as he climbed in behind me. He used his double-bladed paddle to push us off. Shortly, we were stroking in tandem through the clear cool water toward the entrance to Pickerel Cove.
We skirted the beaver dam, using our paddles to force the kayak over the sticks and mud into the still water of the cove, now covered with a veneer of duck weed, New England’s most ubiquitous aquatic plant.
Slowly we paddled through the warm heavy air into the late afternoon sun. “There must be some sort of subtle undercurrent in the cove,” my friend said. “The surface debris shifts throughout the day. When I was here early this morning, this whole section of water was clear.”
I noticed something perched on a wood duck box in the water ahead. “Belted kingfisher,” I said, lowering the binoculars from my eyes. At that moment a great blue heron lifted up from the far bank. I raised the glasses to catch a close up of the long grey wings before it sailed around the oxbow and vanished behind the break of trees.
“There’re usually a couple of them in the cove every time I come,” my friend explained.
We glided through the thin green blanket, skirting the bare branches of a fallen tree. Dragonflies darted about across the surface. Presently, a young duck appeared near the boat. Irregular blotches of dull metallic green on the head identified the immature male mallard. He approached the boat with a curious caution as we rested our paddles across the gunwales to study him.
At the end of the dogleg we turned and retraced our course. My friend pointed out the partially submerged log where he had seen four river otters at play several days ago. “The otters come and go, but the beavers stay here year round,” he said.
We pushed back out into the river and drifted momentarily in the large eddy at the mouth of the cove before heading upstream. Despite the meandering current, the water was so still that you could see the images of the stately trees and scrub vegetation on the bank mirrored in it.
We caught sight of a muskrat swimming along the far bank, its nose cutting a small V through the water. The witchety-witchety-witchety notes of a yellow-throat sounded as we passed a grassy meadow on the near shore.
Three wood ducks took flight as we approached the entrance to the small bayou that paralleled the road. Another great blue heron perched on the bleached branch of a fallen tree, preening his breast with his pale yellow chisel bill. Three wisps of black hair-like feathers hung from the back of his crown.
As I watched him through my binoculars, I heard a muffled shout behind me. My friend pointed at the narrow patch of sky in the break ahead. I barely glimpsed the white tail of a big bird as it disappeared around the bend. “Eagle,” my friend whispered.
But it was not the eagle that dropped down from another high branch as we rounded the bend ahead; an osprey rather, beating its massive wings to gain purchase through the still evening air.
We paused at the entrance of a secluded pool to observe another heron wading at the far end, its long neck extended above the dappled surface, waiting to strike an unknown prey.
A female wood duck glided beneath the overhanging vegetation at the far end of the bayou, its large eyes accentuated with white-ringed spectacles.
We paddled back past the pool where the heron still hunted. A pileated woodpecker creased the sky overhead.
As we drifted back downstream, a young doe raised her head from the bank and watched us silently slip by.