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Canoe on the Creek




 

AKA, More than you ever wanted to know about a canoe trip and my thoughts about it.

 

Ron and I took the canoe out this morning.  Two weeks ago I finally figured out how to make a “hard” to launch the canoe.  The term “hard” refers to a packed earth slide, down a riverbed into the water; these were used to launch completed ship hulls, back in the day of wooden ships.  The shipyard would then add the top hamper—masts, yard arms and rigging—once the ship was water borne.  There is such a place in England named “Buckler’s Hard” near Portsmouth.  Originally it was named “Buckles’ Hard” and I wanted to go there, to see the museum, but with the convolutions of rivers and streams, we could not get there without a taxi ride or renting a car.  Maybe not even then.

 

I made my hard from plastic trellis, which I bought last year for the wild blackberries.  The harvest thereof was so poor, I ripped up all the brambles.  The 3 trellises—trelles?—are 2 feet by 4 feet long and I laid them end to end, from the bank onto the mud of Lucas Creek, where the fiddler crabs live.  I drove in stakes; a wooden coat rack with 4 pegs; and 2 iron shepherd hooks made for hanging plants.  The later at 3 feet tall provide the surest hope of permanence.

 

The hard worked very well this morning.  Ron got in the stern of the canoe and I pushed it down the hard into the creek, with the stern line wrapped around a tree.  I could clamber into the bow, holding the rope, while stepping from the trellis.  The last time we tried this maneuver, I sank ankle-deep into the mud, and it sucked the Crocs right off my feet.

 

We set off, upstream, gazing at the docks and grounds of our neighbors.  The creek meanders through the poquoson, the reed beds of cordgrass.  Lucas Creek takes several switchbacks, which leave you traveling one way, then the opposite.  You cannot see over the cordgrass to know which way the creek is bearing.  It is equally hard to know which way the current is driving, so keeping to a straight, efficient line is impossible.  Sometimes you paddle yourself right smack into the bank; other times you seem to make no headway at all.  There is a bend in the Nile like this that the ancient Egyptians called something like “he who is going one way goes another.”

 

It has been a long time since we paddled a canoe together.  We had a canoe as newlyweds in Tennessee.  In those days, Ron loved to fish and we often went out, finding that we could quietly sneak up on fish and other wildlife.  Once we looked down into a clear mountain lake and saw 3 perfect little trout laughing up at us; they knew we couldn’t afford a trout permit that year.  We also took the canoe over some modest rapids.

 

Ron always took the bow in those days.  It is the power position because you can dig the paddle straight down into the water slightly ahead of the bow and lever the paddle against your hand nearest the water.  Doing a J-turn with the tip of the paddle keeps the water from drowning the stern man.

 

The stern position is the guide.  Paddling, yes, and, indeed, this is where a lone canoeist—canoer? canoester? canoedler?—sits; but the paddle can be turned side up in the water to act as a steerboard.  This trip, I took the bow, as Ron’s shoulders are causing him great pain these days.  I gloried in feeling my arm and shoulder muscles pull the craft along.  If I am to dwell in a huge body, at least let it be strong.

 

We made our way under Lucas Creek Bridge (for cars), where the creek turns left toward the opposite bank.  We paddled along parallel to the road which we take to “civilization”  that is, shopping.  People along the creek have swings and park benches; docks in good or poor repair; boats of all sizes and shapes.  But no one was sitting or boating.

 

Though we had gone past scores of red-wing blackbirds perching on the tallest of the cordgrass, we were complaining about the dearth of wildlife.  Then we rounded a bend to find a muskrat swimming from the shore.  Swimming muskrats look like tiny beavers, with just the square head showing, but when he saw us, he dove underwater, showing his ratty—not beaver-like—tail.  Our neighbor’s son used to trap muskrat and sell them.  He made far more money this way than on his paper route.  The fellow who bought them cured the pelts and sold the meat to some black folk to whom this was soul food.  Imagine the luxury of having your rat caught and skinned for you!

 

As we passed the U-bend of the creek, we caught up with a swimming family of 6 Canada geese.  The mother—I think—leads the way, alert for danger.  The goslings are nailed to her and the father brings up the rear, sometimes veering off into streamlets in the cordgrass.  The family did not seem afraid of us, but we lagged behind, so as not to make them feel pursued.  While thus lagging, we saw a wood duck and a frog.  I have never seen a frog on the creek before.  Sometimes I get brilliant green frogs under my sundeck, but this is the first time I have seen one so near the salt marsh.

 

We went a short bit further, then turned around to return home.  As we did so, 4 Canada geese flew over us, perhaps 10 feet in altitude, constantly calling to each other.  You can hear a goose-commute coming for a long distance, so loud are they.  And around another bend we saw a nesting Canada goose.  I thought at first she was dead, as her head lay stretched out on the ground.  But immediately I knew she didn’t smell dead and that she was nesting.  She was close enough to look Ron in the eye.  He said she was watchful, but not afraid, and we quietly paddled on lest we disturb her.  Her nest consisted of a built-up cup of mud, surrounded by cordgrass.  I’m sure it was lined with down from her breast.  The cup shape of the nest allows her to make a cold-proof seal with her body and partially supports her weight.  She was probably well hidden from above, and normally the creek traffic is sparse.

 

Thus it was that we saw the three natural states of geese -- on ground, on water and in the air.

 

“Swallow!” I called out. 

“Gulp,” said Ron.  But I was pointing to a small, swift, fork-tailed bird.

 

 

2. Tinker on Lucas Creek (homage to Annie Dillard)
          cCarol Kerr Buckles

Oak Grove Landing

May 9, 2009