Sunday, September 21, 2008

Early Morning Mist

This morning I had the opportunity to see that which we rarely get the opportunity to witness. In the cool, post-dawn air, sunlight glancing across the river where it found openings between the leaves and branches of the tall trees lining the riverbank, the morning mist rose from water’s surface with the warming air. I paddled more slowly and deliberately than usual trying hard not to disturb the quiet gentleness of the crisp morning air.

The vision of little wisps of condensed moisture rising and spinning reminded me of an experience while crossing the vast expanse of the Ottawa River where it separates Quebec from Ontario. In the company of 9 other men just completing a weeklong voyage down the Dumoine River, I witnessed an amazing display of atmospheric artistry. Then, too, the air was still with the early morning sanctuary of northland dawn. Silencing our busy tongues, a wall of mist rose vertically like a giant ethereal curtain some hundred or more feet into the reaches above our small red canoes. For many minutes we all felt as though immersed in a strange obstruction of time, feeling one another’s presence more fully as we all plunged into deep awe.

Far from the magnitude of my Ottawa experience, today’s exhibition was more of a delicate lesson in the complexity of air movement. As I indulged the energy necessary to stay focused on one wisp of moisture at a time, I realized that the pattern of air rising was not in contiguous blocks of matter. Rather, the effect of rapid vertical movement, a consequence of the relatively intense heating in direct light, was displayed as tiny vortices of mist that maintained their integrity long enough for my eyes to linger before seeking another similar helical display.

It struck me as fantastic that we move through the air of each day never fully realizing the elaborately fluid architecture of the space around us. Yes, on a grand scale we are able to witness the power of cyclonic air movement in the form of tornadoes, waterspouts, hurricanes and typhoons. But seldom are we privy to the intricate matrix within which we make our way each day. There are those, however, who find a way through and among these tiny eddies of air in the same way that the eagle rides the voluminous thermals of air leaping upward alongside a mountain slope bathed in full sun. The smallest aviators of the animal kingdom, tiny insects, ride these invisible escalators in a calculated effort to minimize their expenditure of energy. Feeling the subtle boundaries of rising and falling air lifting one wing and leading to a brief roll and then correction, these beings test and retest the mircocurrents with a skill unmatched by even the best of human pilots in the most technologically advanced aircraft.

We are humbled by these elements that are all about us. Their magnitude may be small in measured value, but in concept they are vast and difficult to fully comprehend. With the pause of reflection, one can resolve the mysteries that abound, taking along a new sense of understanding that will serve to better integrate with one’s surroundings on that next small adventure.

Old Inuit Poem

I think over again of my adventures, those small ones that seemed so big.
For all the vital things I had to get and to reach.
And yet there is only one great thing, the only thing.
To live to see the great day that dawns and the light that fills the world.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Gathering

One of the attributes of the internet that I enjoy (there are some that I find less appealing) is the ability to communicate with a group of people with relative ease. Where it might have been a chore some twenty years ago to organize and plan a gathering of like-minded souls, today one can use community websites to "meet" with and negotiate intentions such as my trip this past Saturday on a stretch of the Farmington known as Crystal Rapids. Northeast Paddlers Message Board connects paddlers of all types in this region of the country. It allows several hundred people to share ideas, tips, techniques, humor, and, sometimes, irritation as they indulge themselves in this wonderful appreciation of aquatic resources.

Saturday was a typical summer in New England. Warm and a bit humid, with billowy cumulonimbus clouds forming at the turn of midday. We paddled with a river volume of about 550 cubic feet per second which is approaching "low" for boating purposes. But each level brings a unique look and feel to the river, particularly the areas of class 1 and class 2 rapids. Rocks appear and disappear with changes in flow. A line of approach on one day may be unavailable on the next. The change in levels can even influence your awareness of the static shoreline features such that the river presents itself as a new adventure with each visit.

The three hour float was marked by constant conversation between paddlers as different as the boats in which we paddled; a pair of kayaks, two solo tripping canoes (one poled and one paddled), two OC-1 canoes, and two inflatable kayaks. It was, to be cliché, a rainbow of boats and personalities. Fun? That goes without saying. Any day on a river, even in less than favorable conditions, is a joy that is difficult to convey to those who have not spent time on the water.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Gone Fishin'

Summer days are here and the river keeps folding itself around each meander bringing new mysteries into view. Gabe and I carried the Old Town 169 down to the "Elbow" and paddled downriver to the confluence with Salmon Brook.

It was just before 7 a.m. as we eased our way down the sandy slope off the bike trail to the put-in. The birds had been actively singing for well over an hour and were in full chorus as we navigated the first few bends in the river where its course moves away from the highway and the noise of morning traffic. A few small patches of mist swirled in quiet, ethereal eddies hiding until the last from the sharp rays of sunlight that emerged above the tops of the locust, oak, and poplar trees lining the banks.

Within the hour, we arrived at the mouth of Salmon Brook and paddled upstream a few hundred yards to a nice pool where we were able to cast about freely. It was pleasant to be in such a peaceful place with good company and the challenge of tossing a fly toward a deep pool where one might expect a trout to be moving languidly while awaiting a small meal. We didn't see a single fish rise in the hour that we were there, but no matter.

Back home before 10 a.m., we enjoyed a well deserved breakfast and cup of coffee and chatted about our next adventure.