River ramblings

Posted by Karl on Jul 22, 2005

Just in a good mood and felt like writing. I enjoyed my morning, so I had to write about it. All apologies for the length.

Route 119 through Groton MA is one of those busy, overburdened secondary roads that functions as a commuter passage for the throngs of people headed towards their day jobs in Greater Boston. Forced further out of the city by unrealistic property values, and rental prices, the commuters end up clogging up the Eastbound side of 119 during the morning rush.

Iím thinking about the fact that this is one of the few benefits of working the night shift as I patiently wait for an opening in the flow of traffic, so that I can cut across and pull into the dirt lot that adjoins the put in site for the Nashua River. I pull into the lot and park. As I pull my trusty Chesapeake 18 off the racks of my truck, I realize that one of the other benefits, is the fact that I am the only person in this lot. The rest of the world is headed to their 9 to 5 drudge, while Iím getting ready to wind down from mine with a quiet paddle.

I drop into the cockpit and ease out onto the water. The predictions call for another ninety degree (Fį), humid day, but for now the temperature is still comfortable. The water is glass calm, the only ripples coming from the wake of my kayak. Iím no expert on the moods of the river, but I imagine that sheís happy to see me today.

I set a pace that carries me away from the sounds of the traffic crossing the bridge. Pretty soon I round the bend, and the last of the traffic noise dies away, muffled by the trees lining the banks of the river. The only sound intruding now is the splish, splish of my paddle. As my senses become adjusted to the surroundings, I begin to hear the calling of Blue Jays, Chick-a-dees, and the occasional croaking of frogs.

The rough winter and rainy spring hasnít been kind to the trees on the embankments. Several of them are down, partway across the river. No matter, itís all part of the cycle of nature. I take a break and drift in close to a partially submerged, rotten log. The surprised frog sitting on it leaps and drops into the water with a plop. A little ways further up the river, I see a flurry of activity as a fairly small bird takes off out of the water with a disproportionately large fish clamped in itís beak. I realize that I havenít taken the time to learn the names of some of the local flora and fauna, despite the fact that Iíve lived in the area for some 40 years (my life so far).

My plans this morning call for a short paddle, maybe 45 Ė 60 minutes or so, but the river seems to keep calling. Sheís telling me címon, just around the next bend, only a little further. She wins, I have to look around the next bend, then the next one. Finally I come to the remnants of the old iron railroad bridge. From looking at itís rusted, seemingly delicate skeleton, itís hard to imagine that it once held locomotives carrying freight, the commercial veins carrying the blood of industry to points north and west of Boston. All thatís left of it is a framework supported on crumbling granite piers. The weeds have long since grown over the entrances, and eventually, nature will reclaim all of it.

Nature has done a good job of reclaiming the entire watershed, as it turns out. When I was a child, the Nashua River was regarded with disdain. The chemical, plastic, and paper industries further upstream did a tremendous amount of damage. Local conservation efforts, tighter controls on industry, along with good old fashion economics caused most of them to fold up, move out or get with the program. What was once a source of shame, is now a source of quiet enjoyment.

This seems like as good a spot as any to turn around, so I sweep around and head back. The current is so slow through this section of river that the trip upriver hasnít felt like itís taken any work at all. The only way to feel it is by watching the shoreline on the return trip, and seeing how much faster it slides by.

I travel back down the river. The sun has now risen to the point that it isnít just glinting through the trees, it is catching the river full on in spots. A couple of turtles have already taken advantage of it, and are now sunning themselves on a group of rocks towards the edge of the riverbank.

I come around the last bend and the traffic noise starts to intrude again. Back at the put in, I load back up, and take another look back at the river. Weíve shared an experience, she and I, and itís one Iíll be back to repeat. Sheíll be waiting, she always is.