Tuesday, January 29, 2008

If Blocked by Ice, Head North

That was my only choice this afternoon, after encountering ice on the lower Assabet River. I backed my kayak out of the ice I had been able to break through, swung my bow around and headed north. Between Lowell Rd. and the Old North Bridge 7 pieces of trash were recovered. Also saw a large beaver sitting on top of his dam in the Mill Brook outlet, seemingly lost in thought.
Things went great paddling along with the current until I ran into more ice downstream of Monument St. This ice was thinner than what was on the Assabet, and after a little work, it allowed me passage. Near Sawmill Brook, I came upon a lone merganser and we went downstream together with him in the lead, occasionally diving. Passing the small cabin on river left, I watched a grey squirrel enter the cabin at the roof beam. This people vacant cabin must be seeing some wild times inside! At the next bend, after the cabin, both the merganser and I turned around and headed upstream. The merganser stayed in the lead until Monument St. when he turned around once again. I picked up two more pieces of trash and then came upon the only creature stirring at the Old North Bridge. A lone raccoon patrolling the shore between the Old Manse boathouse and the bridge. No sooner had I left him to his twilight rounds, then I came upon the same beaver I had seen earlier on top of his dam. This time, he was on land and hobbled over to the riverbank, stepped out on the ice until his weight broke through, causing him and the ice to submerge. His head popped up shortly and he watched me disappear upstream. It was a most enjoyable afternoon on the water and netted me another 9 empty containers. YTD= 174

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Patrolling the Upper Concord River

Yesterday's pleasant afternoon sunshine proved too tempting for this paddler. Once again, had to break some near shore ice, but shortly was out in the river's main channel and gliding towards Egg Rock, where I decided to head down the Concord River. The first trash encountered was a plastic bottle just upstream of the Old North Bridge. After passing under Flint's Bridge, I watched a red-tailed hawk soaring above the tree tops. On the left bank, a farmer was doing some burning in an excavated area. Downstream of Great Meadows Landing, I came across a beaver busily engaged in munching some tree roots. He was so engrossed in his work, that he didn't notice me until I was only 15 feet away. There wasn't enough time for a tailslap, so he just quietly slipped under the surface. Directly across, on the right bank, a mink was scurrying along the shore. In between the two, a dead Canada goose floated on the water's surface. Here the river makes a 90 degree turn to the left and passes through one of my favorite sections. Deer are often seen on the hill just after Sawmill Brook, and once I encountered a pair of river otters in this stretch. A little ways past the brook, there is a small cabin close by the river on the left bank. It appears to be unoccupied and has been this way for several years, which is a shame because of all the homes along the river, this one looks the most natural. If it's wanting for a tenant, I'd be glad to reside there.
Two more 90 degree bends and as I approached the area near Ball's Hill, my route was blocked by solid ice where the river widens. Paddling up to the dividing line between water and ice, I noticed what appeared to be a coconut sitting on the ice. Can only wonder how that got there!
Turned around and headed back upriver into the late afternoon sunshine. Found a few more bottles, Ronsen lighter fluid, trash bags, and styrofoam cups. The current required a little work which was good as the work provided some nice warmth, and soon I was watching the last of the sun as it disappeared behind Egg Rock. Heading home, I realized how lucky I was to be able to spend another afternoon on the water. Total trash count = 11 empty containers. YTD = 165

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Friday Afternoon's Patrol to Concord Junction

Thanks to a new work schedule, I was free at noon. The day that dawned snowy and later rainy was now sunny with temperatures in the 40s... a good afternoon to spend in my other realm, waterworld. After a quick stop at home to gear up, I was breaking ice near shore to gain entry for my boat and I. About 10 minutes of methodical ice breaking and we were free and drifting down the main channel. The sky was deep blue and, even though it was breezy, I was snug and warm in my boat's cockpit. On the way to Egg Rock, I encountered an aluminum canoe that, like I, had decided to head out on the river today. The fact that it had no occupant as guide left it at the mercy of the wind and current. If it had a bowline, I would have had tied it off to a tree or dock.
Arriving at Egg Rock, it was time to decide on a route. If not for the breezy conditions, I would have headed down the Concord River, but on a windy day such as this, the Assabet is the better choice. Nathaniel Hawthorne said it best "It is sheltered from the breeze by woods and a hillside; so that elsewhere there might be a hurricane, and here scarcely a ripple across the shaded water" in Mosses from an Old Manse.
Paddling by the Leaning Hemlocks, I recall Hawthorne's preceding sentence "A more lovely stream than this, for a mile above its junction with the Concord, has never flowed on earth, -nowhere, indeed, except to lave the interior of a poet's imagination". I came across Hawthorne's descriptions in Ron McAdow's The Concord, Sudbury and Assabet Rivers, a guide to canoeing, wildlife, and history. This book has a wealth of information on the 3 rivers that compose SUASCO and provides the wouldbe paddler with launch sites, distances, safety tips, and detailed descriptions of the rivers and all the various forms of life in and along them.
Going by Dove Rock, the river's height can be gauged. Another 6 inches and Dove Rock will be submerged. Little more than a month ago, nearly 2 feet of the rock was exposed. Just past Willow Island an empty Heineken bottle is my first recovery. It sits alone on my deck until about a mile before Route 2 when it is joined by some nip bottles and empty water bottles. Between there and Route 2, my count would climb to 12 and reaching my turnaround point at the commuter rail bridge in Concord Junction I had 19 empty containers. My dry bag was full.
On the easy paddle back downstream, I would watch the 3/4 moon, that sat high in the sky, grow gradually brighter as twilight approached. Wildlife observed consisted of robins, cardinals, hawks and squirrels. Near the Nashawtuc Road bridge, I saw the paddlerless canoe trapped in the brush.
A 1-liter soda bottle, some pint bottles and a can of "OFF" brought my total trash count for the day to 23 empty containers. Year to date: 154

Saturday, January 12, 2008

January Thaw Yields Trash Bonanza

Old Man Winter winked today and gave us a taste of mid-March. After another 4 days of warm temperatures, the ice that stopped me last Tuesday was gone. All the melting snow combined with yesterday's rainstorm resulted in the highest water levels since last spring.
A perfect day to ascend the Assabet River!
Immediately upon entering the Assabet at Egg Rock, I espied several beer bottles on the river right. Paddling closer revealed a mother lode of bottles and cans, half in the water and the other half on the river's bank. After recovering the ones in the water, I landed my boat and began picking up the ones on shore. Spent over an hour here gathering 80 containers and then stashing them in my boat. One container was a 1-gallon plastic bottle filled with used motor oil. Cannot imagine why someone would dispose of oil this way, but at least they had the cap on tight.
Re-launching my now much heavier boat, I began paddling upstream against a fairly strong current. By the time I reached West Concord, I had over one hundred containers on board. Called my wife by cell phone and she agreed to meet me at Pine Street and help unburden my boatload of trash. This being such an unusually big haul, we snapped a few photos which I hope to post here soon.
Re-launching my now much lighter boat, I paddled under the Pine Street bridge and up to the large blowdown near Damondale. With the work part of my outing over, I enjoyed a cup of hot cocoa and a power bar before letting the current turn my bow downstream. The trip down was a joy with such a swift flow and springlike warm temps. Picked up another 24 containers on the way back to give me a total count for the day of 128. Year to Date = 131.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Breaking the Ice for 2008

Tuesday's record warmth demanded this paddler to break the ice and get in his first 'Trash Paddle' of 2008. My hope was that 4 days of unusually mild weather for January would have melted the ice that formed from 3 days of unusually frigid weather last week. It took only a short distance on the Assabet River to find that ice doesn't melt as fast as I hoped. Just upstream of Egg Rock, the ice was fairly thin and I could break through it. However, as I went further upstream, the ice kept getting thicker, until it stopped breaking and was 1/2 " thick. I could see the Leaning Hemlocks but could not get there. So, I decided to stop fighting Nature and head down the Concord River. Much better! As I approached the famous 'North Bridge' I encountered my first river trash of the New Year. A plastic water bottle, a styrofoam container, and a candy bar wrapper. Slim pickens, but better than nothing!

I thought about the recovered piece of 'trash' that I saw on display at the Concord Museum last Saturday. Back in 1980, during an unusually dry period, a man was showing his daughter how to fish in the Concord River. He saw something sticking up out of the mud. It was a 10,000 year old spear point! Encased in glass at the museum, it is awesome! Try to imagine how bad the person that lost it, felt. The hours or days that went into crafting it. What items might have been traded to aquire it? It was the high tech device of its time. It reminds me to be vigilant in my continuing search for stone tools or weapons. Perhaps 2008 will be the year.

After passing under the 'rude arch' I head around the bend and under Monument Street and less than a quarter mile further encounter more ice. Same drill as earlier, but again the ice eventually becomes 1/2 " thick and I am forced to back out and turn around. Arriving back at at Egg Rock, I decide to head up the Sudbury River expecting to encounter more ice as the Sudbury's flow is slower. Sure enough there is ice after the first bridge, but I am able to break through fairly easy. Going past the South Bridge boathouse, the river is still open, with ice along each side. Soon, I'm paddling under Route 2 and very happy I went against my hunch. After I round the bend at Clamshell Bank, I see 2 beavers on the ice that lay across the river up ahead. Here the breeze was warm, the sun was getting low in the sky, and it was close to 4 pm. Using binoculars, I observe the beavers doing their work for a while, then slowly paddle up to the end of open water, where the beavers asked me to leave with a few slaps of their tails. Letting the current turn my bow, I notice a big red tailed hawk silently watching over the area from his lofty perch. Now, with my paddling appetite temporarily sated, I head back to my launch site feeling reassured that Spring will return. Total empty containers recovered = 3

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Hot Stove Plotting 1/3/08

Three days into 2008 and any paddling plans/trash patrols are on hold due to extreme cold. The ice of mid-December had just begun to recede from mid-channel before this recent setback. Fairhaven Bay will be off limits for a while longer. My hope is that the Assabet will stay open or only lightly iced until this weekend's warmup.
Then, with the Assabet's water level up, I'm looking forward to paddling upriver to Damondale again as I did last Saturday. It is one of my favorite routes. Starting at Egg Rock, my boat will find the right hand side to swing around the bend at Leaning Hemlocks, then cross to the left before picking the right route to Dove Rock and Willow Island. Many deer have been seen in this stretch, as well as beavers, mink, ducks and geese. After Willow Island, it's past the faux coyotes, the real dog kennel and the mouth of Spencer Brook. The first obstacle encountered is just after Spencer Brook at the point where the bridge that once carried the Reformatory Branch of the B & M RR over the river. Some of the old bridge pilings are still here as well as assorted rip-rap. The lower the water level, the harder it is to overcome the current. It is a good indication of what one will encounter further upstream at the active MBTA RR bridge in Concord Junction. If you make it past that one, you then figure 'what the heck', maybe Pine Street will be worth a try. Pine Street can be a chore though. The river is narrow here and the flow is split between a bridge support in the middle. This requires picking one side or the other. Both are narrow. I have been having good luck on the river right as there is an eddy that gives me a push into the opposing flow. At this point, one has to paddle as though failure is not an option. It will feel as though I'm not making any progress, but just when ready to abort, I sense a little gain and paddle as hard as I can and voila! I'm on the other side of the bridge. My heart is pounding, any worries about being chilled are long gone and I feel the same kind of satisfaction that I knew when I was 12 years old. Now, I can paddle another 1/2 mile, going by the school my grandson John attends, and up to a large rock just before a large blowdown near Damondale. Here, I can sit in the eddy downstream of the rock, have a cup of cocoa and a powerbar and savor my last hour and a half's work. Fully sated, especially if my drybag is filled with flotsam and my foredeck decorated with trash, I will aim into the current, let it turn my bow, and enjoy the leisurely pace back downstream. These days I often wonder if, when I am long gone, this will be the work I was most satisfied doing. Regards, Suasco Al