We had thought to give it a go this past Sunday afternoon, but the wind was up and temperatures had dropped to a point where it would have been uncomfortable out on the open water.
My friend checked the weather forecast on his smartphone. “Let’s shoot for Wednesday,” he said. “It’s supposed to be clear, considerably less windy, with highs in the mid-forties.”
“Sounds good,” I said.
True to predictions, we awoke to clear skies this morning; the air a bit nippy. By midafternoon the temperature had climbed to 44 degrees.
The phone rang. “Are you still game?” my friend asked.
“I’m on,” I said.
We pulled away from the curb in front of his house at 3:30 PM with his old blue Old Town canoe strapped to the roof rack and headed for Curtis Park.
“I can’t believe the river is so low,” I said. “It must be down at least four feet.”
“They haven’t been able to release any water from the dams because of the drought this summer.”
A brisk breeze was blowing against the current.
“Let’s head upstream,” my friend said. “We’ll have a tail wind, and hopefully the current will help us a bit coming back.”
We pushed off from the bank and swung the bow into the current. Clusters of leaves floated in arcs on the water. You could see the river bottom matted with yellows and browns that had lately hung suspended from branches above the banks on either side.
Up ahead a big hawk dropped off a high bleached branch and flew off through the far trees.
We dug our paddles deeper and pulled with rhythmic stokes against the current with the wind at our backs.
“It’s not too bad once you get your arms moving,” my friend said.
I was glad I had thought to don my long underwear and layer extra clothing against the cold.
A lone grey blue heron lifted off the branch of a tree half submerged up along the far bank.
“Lots of fallen wood in this section,” my friend said. “Great for bass and trout.”
We paddled for a good hour before checking the time.
“I guess we should turn now if we want to get back before dark.”
I feathered my paddle momentarily, then swung it in a wide arc to bring the bow around.
Downstream below the bend a black Labrador waded near the bank, lapping up great gulps of water. We heard a whistle sound, and the dog bounded up the bank. Shortly, the pom-pom of two shotgun blasts deafened our ears.
“They’re out hunting pheasant in the fields,” my friend said. “Small game season opened the other week.”
Another large hawk soared overhead and disappeared into the trees.
A sudden sound of nails rattling in a bag shot across the water. I scoured the sparse foliage for a small dark blue bird with a white collar and sighted him as he dropped off his perch and flew downstream.
We chased the kingfisher all the way back to the boat launch, pleased to endure his ceaseless cackles and scoldings.
A good autumn afternoon: two hours on the open water, far from the madding crowd.