Thursday, October 19, 2006

Racing Darkness

My schedule has become busier, as it will when the school year is underway. I find myself loading my plate more and struggling to squeeze all of the plans that I have made into the finite time available. My daily trips on the river continue, but efforts to write after each venture have been stymied. Yesterday, I found myself settling into the cockpit and adjusting the spray skirt many minutes after the sun had disappeared behind the horizon of distant tree-covered hills. I knew that darkness would close in soon and if I paddled quickly, I would be able to beat it to the elbow where I pull out and walk home.

I stopped briefly at the beginning of the paddle to get some shots of an autumn dusk. In the short time that I floated in mid-river, all color faded from the clouds and hilltops as the evening grayscale intervened prior to the blackness of an overcast rural night. With an appropriate weight shift and some accompanying paddle strokes, I turned away from the old iron bridge which lies just upstream from the boat dock and locked into a fairly aggressive cadence knowing that this day's visit to the river would be a short workout rather than a leisurely adventure along the shallows of the river bank.

This trip proved to be flush with a series of disturbances which left me unsettled for sometime. Shortly after leaving the boat dock behind with my progress around the first big meander, I saw the unmistakable wake of a beaver about a hundred yards in the distance. As I approached the spot where I saw it submerge in the shallows by the right bank, I was startled by the loud warning slap of a beaver tail to might left. It was followed almost immediately by a twin response directly to my right from the animal I had watched. Clearly these two were very upset with my presence at dusk which is the beaver's time of greatest activity in the water.

With my heart beating a bit faster and the remnants of an adrenaline surge still lingering in my arms and legs, I paddled on chasing the little light that remained toward the double bend in the river where I end my daily voyage. Within a few minutes of having been rattled by the loud reports of beavertail upon water, I was further shaken by blasts from a double barreled shot gun on the flood-plain field up toward my right. This is duck hunting week in Connecticut and the state owns land on both sides of the river here in Simsbury. Although a small game area by most standards, the few hundred acres here attract many buck shot hunters along with the occasional bow hunter. Waterfowl, turkeys, and pheasants (often purchased elsewhere and then released into the state lands) are the species of choice in this area and only shotguns are allowed due to the small land area available and the proximity of residential property.

My company - although never spotted - was intent on working through every shell in his vest as fast as possible. He pulled off some 20 shots in about two minutes as I floated past the area from which his gun continued to shatter the otherwise calm evening. To my great dismay, his over-eager ambition to kill fowl led to some indiscriminate, wanton, kills, one of which I saw bobbing lifelessly past my kayak in mid-river. Another wounded bird was slapping a wing furiously against the water as it tried to get aloft. At first I thought that it was a parent using the lame wing ploy to distract me from its young, but I quickly surmised that young-of-the-year would have long since fledged and be off fending for themselves. This bird was clearly wounded and struggling. I grew angry that this hunter was so reckless and free of a genuine hunting ethos which is to give the bird a sporting chance.

As I continued ahead, I heard him pull of a few more rounds, and was glad to be leaving him in the distance. One more beaver surprised me with a loud slap of the tail, but I took the gesture to be a signal from the collective consciousness of the river that the hunter and I were unwanted. Today I felt welcome again, but my dreams last night were filled with disturbing images of conflict and uncertainty. I heard hunters again this morning and took solace in the fact that the week will end soon and the shotguns will be hung on the wall for the season.

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