Of time and the river

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. —Thoreau, Walden

My friend and I both agree: we have never seen the river so shallow as this year.

For the first time in as long as we can remember, certain rocks, previously hidden, are now visible, having risen Brigadoon-like from its watery depths. What was once the beginning of the sluice that diverted river current to power the turbines in the old mill is now clearly outlined by the sweep of river rock just west of the bridge, and the bases of the concrete abutments downstream are readily apparent where the old Tunxis bridge once spanned the gorge.

We dip and swing our paddles beneath the bright sun and faultless blue sky. The old blue wooden-ribbed boat glides silently through the clear water. Arrayed along the sandy river bottom, the last leaves of autumn are clearly visible, a patchwork of yellows and browns.

Shortly, we kick up a gaggle of six Canada geese. Their wide wings beat the air, lifting heavy bodies off the water’s surface in a cacophony of honks and splashes. In formation they fly upriver, then at the last moment diverge at the steel bridge, four birds ascending above, two below.

Gradually, we move upstream against the current; continually, it beckons us back; but still we force our way forward against the flow of water.

Scoured trees stand sentinel-like, guarding the brambled banks. Any number have been undone, strangled and broken by the ubiquitous yellow-orange bittersweet.

Eventually, we turn the canoe in a grand sweep and begin our descent, drifting downstream, no longer fighting the force of the current.

A red-shouldered hawk drops from its perch and silently disappears into the woods.

As the thin current carries the blue boat along through the mirror of blue sky, past the leafless trees, now stark in their late autumn nakedness, soundlessly we become one with the water and the overhead expanse, drifting through momentary lapses of time into the eternity that remains.

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Sunday afternoon paddle

“Interested in an afternoon paddle?” my friend said, as he stood in the front yard holding his pointer on a short leash.

“When?” I asked.

“I’ve already got the canoe on top of the truck,” he said.

I looked at my watch. “Twenty minutes?”

“Give me a half hour to take care of the dog.”

“I’ll be there.”

I ascended the stairs to change clothes, then grabbed my camera and binoculars. I paused at the bathroom sink to slather sunscreen on my face and hands, then reached for a hat on my way out the door.

We headed down to the park and put the boat in at the sand beach by the turnaround. The sky was blue; a steady breeze rippled the water. Straightaway we shot across the channel and over the remnants of the old beaver dam into Pickerel Cove.

2014 Pickerel Cove 7-6-2014 002Blue-violet clusters of pickerel weed flowers (Pontederia cordata) were in full bloom; yellow heads were forming on the lilies. Duckweed peppered the surface of the cove. Up ahead, off to the left, a great blue heron took flight and disappeared around the bend.

I peered down at the weeds in the murky water. “Have you seen the otters lately?” I asked my friend in the stern.

“Not since last spring. The bass fishing had been good up until fairly recently, when this high-pressure system put them down.”

We paddled past thick stands of pickerel weed around the dogleg through a sea of yellow-green carpet. I noticed the silhouette of a bird perched on a stump in the shadows of overhanging trees and raised my binoculars to have a look. “Green heron,” I said. Momentarily, he took flight, and we followed him down the backside of the cove.

2014 Pickerel Cove 7-6-2014 001Sitting motionless on the caned thwarts in brackish water, we heard the trills of a veery in the wood, while overhead a vireo sounded his broken refrain. The great blue heron lifted up off a scoured half-submerged tree trunk and circled back down the cove.

“It’s like being back in the 19th century,” I mused.

“Yeah, when I’m out here by myself, I think the same thing.”

We slipped our paddles into the yellow water and propelled ourselves back to the entrance over the beaver dam out into the current and headed upstream against the wind.

It was warm in the early afternoon sun, but the breeze kept the mosquitoes away. Tree swallows skimmed the surface of the water and pulled up sharply into the canopy of faultless blue sky. A flock of waxwings rose into the weeping branches of a silver maple.

Slow, steady strokes with deep purchase took us past the old bridge abutments to the entrance of the bayou. Here the current ceased as we glided silently into the still water.

Painted turtles basked on logs in the afternoon sun. We counted seven along the bank. Here stands of pickerel weed had not yet bloomed. Elephant-eared catalpa trees dotted the water’s edge.

We spun the canoe around across the duckweed and headed down river, making the trek back in nearly half the time, running with the current and the wind at our backs.

Two hours on the river; a picture-perfect afternoon, spent in snapshots of remembered time.

"Painted Turtles" 2014 © Brian T. Maurer

“Painted Turtles” 2014 © Brian T. Maurer