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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sea Kayaking around Great Island at the mouth of the Connecticut River between Old Lyme and Old Saybrook, Connecticut


I went kayaking around Great Island yesterday afternoon in the estuary of the Connecticut River with my outdoor adventure friend, Alan S. We kayak together, mostly surf-kayaking in big water in Rhode Island during hurricane season, cross-country ski as a team, and road bike on occasion.

But yesterday Alan had the day off from his therapy practice and called me on a whim. “Hey Bob, we haven’t sea-kayaked together for a long time. It’s time to get the paddling muscles in shape for hurricane surfing season. Wanna take a paddle around Great Island?” I had planned to meet a friend for coffee but was able to postpone that, so Alan picked me up and we loaded my 14 1/2 –foot Merlin sea kayak onto the roof rack on Alan’s car. In a little over a half-hour we were at the put-in in Old Lyme, just off Route 156.

The weather was sunny with a lot of southerly breeze. We unloaded the boats. We both wore bathing suits and long-sleeved spray tops. We did not need our dry tops, which keep all water off the upper body, because we did not plan to need to roll our boats in such calm water. When Alan and I go surfing in our Riot Boogie surf kayaks, which are only 7 ½ feet long and shaped like short surf boards, we almost always wear dry tops because we always roll while surfing. That’s because when surfing, either on boards or in kayaks, every surfer gets wiped out on more than one wave. If you cannot roll up in a surf kayak, it takes a lot of time, effort, and energy to swim back into shore, empty out the boat, get back in, paddle carefully over the rocks in the shallows to avoid damaging the fins on the bottom of the kayak, and paddle back out to the break. In very large waves, like the 12-footers we surfed during Hurricane Bill a few years ago, not being able to have a “combat” roll could put your life in jeopardy. When you surf waves that big and powerful, you can understand why combat is the adjective which applies to the ability to right your surf kayak after being wiped out by one of those monsters. It’s hard to imagine how exponentially more powerful a 75-foot wave would be to surf. The movie “Riding Giants” shows what that experience is all about.

But yesterday giant waves were only a passing thought. Great Island is a magnificent benign-looking wilderness, just one-half hour south of Middletown.  Benign-looking because so green, so wind-swept by gentle summer breeze, so filled with birds flying overhead and diving for food, so quiet.  But wilderness because covered with thick jungle of tall green reeds and grasses, composed of thick dark brown mud, teeming plants and animals and birds and insects all clawing for food and space and life.

Alan and I got into our boats, covered the open cowlings with our neoprene spary skirts to keep water out of the cockpit, and pushed off to the south towards Long Island Sound.  It was mostly gentle water, with some southerly wind swell in the shoals south of the big island, but lots of fun. The shoals are shallow areas, especially at low tide, which it was when we put in yesterday.  In the shallow water the southerly wind whips up the water into small waves which you're actually able to surf with a long boat like our sea kayaks.  I mentioned to Alan what he apparently did not know, that because there are these shallow waters at the mouth, or estuary of the Connecticut River, which shift in location as the tide and current moves the bottom sands around over time, there is no port there.  The Connecticut is one of the few major rivers without a sea port at its mouth, because of these shoals.  Thank God for this or we'd have cruise ships and naval vessels cluttering up our beautiful river as they do in the port of New London, Connecticut, at the mouth of the Thames River and in Bridgeport at the estuary of the Housatonic River.

As we paddled our way north around the west side of Great Island, our progress was rapid because of the waves we surfed northward and the strong wind at our backs.  As we approached the north end of the island, Alan noticed a flock of very large birds in the trees which live there where the island must have more soil.  He thought they looked like red-tailed hawks.  There were also many osprey flying overhead and diving for fish.  Alan didn't know that Roger Tory Peterson, the great bird artist of the Peterson Bird Guides, once lived in Old Lyme, on the banks of the Connecticut River.  Peterson went on a campaign in the 1960's to get Congress to ban the use of DDT to control mosquitoe populations.  DDT was getting into the water system and osprey ingested it.  The chemical thinned the shells of the osprey eggs.  As a result, the osprey were dying out.  Within a few years of the DDT ban taking effect, the osprey population returned.  Now there are osprey nesting stands all over the coastline along Long Island Sound.  Many of these tall structures with osprey nests atop them can be seen throughout Great Island.

I wished I'd had a camera with me when we saw Momma and Papa geese with their 5 baby goslings on the northwestern corner of the island.  They were all standing right on the shoreline, in a 20-foot section where the reeds were absent.  We did not want to get near enough to them to disturb them.  At this point we wished we'd brought some binoculars to see Mr. and Mrs. Goose and the babies close-up.

The southerly wind made it a much harder paddle on the return trip around the east side of the island. We took a detour into a marsh channel with 10-foot high green reeds with brown lower stalks. On the banks of the labyrinthine channel were thousands of tiny sand crabs which fluttered into their little holes in the mud as they sensed our presence as we paddled by.  The channel snaked through the high reeds and thoughts of Moses in the basket as a baby from the book of Genesis came to mind.  I mentioned this to Alan and he smiled in recognition of the ancient biblical myth.  At one point Alan spotted a small racoon staring at us from inside the thick jungle of reeds.  I was surprised that a racoon would make its home on a watery island but there it was with the distinctive white circles round its eyes.

It was hard to turn the kayaks around when we finally decided it was time to go home because the channel was so narrow at that point.  Once back on the river we continued to make steady progress against the wind and now-incoming tidal current.  Having flexed our paddling muscles for the past two hours we had increased our speed.  As we got closer to the launch there were more and more homes on the banks of the river.  Most of these, with some exceptions, are well-suited to the terrain.  There are fewer McMansions which stick out unpleasantly in this area of the lower Connecticut.  On the west side, up in Essex, there are a few areas of extremely large homes, built within the past 10 or 20 years, which scream out "Nouveau riche."  The Old Lyme river homes are older money, more tastefully designed, for the most part, to fit in to the natural landscape in a more graceful way.

We've now entered hurricane season on the east coast.  While I loved yesterday's paddle on relatively flat and calm water, I am more viscerally drawn to the siren song of big-time surfing in Rhode Island.  But this was an opportunity to get back in a kayak after the long winter paddling hiatus.  More Big Water adventures await the coming months.  I'm psyched.  Time to begin practicing and refining the combat roll for surfing.

8 comments:

  1. This and your immediately preceding Post (along with several past Posts) demonstrate your gifted writing style as well as your unique ability to bring life to any topic you choose. Your chosen life-style is yours to do with whatever you wish as long as you cause no harm to yourself or to other people.
    My suggestion to you is stop replying to the juvenile imbeciles who try to belittle or abuse you. Remove their replies so that no one else can read them.
    By replying to them, no matter how eloquent you may try to be, you descend to their level and belittle yourself. The resulting dialogues or diatribes between you and the “lunatic fringe” detract from your artistic abilities, and they make you look like the fool rather than the talented writer that you are. Also I wish that you would drop the Charlie Sheen imitation with blogs about the so-called Goddesses; you’re above that type of behavior - but more than that, those blogs do nothing to demonstrate your true talents and abilities. That you do the things you report in those blogs is your own business, albeit somewhat of a dangerous business, but the beauty in your blogs is in your creative writing ability and not in the so-called Goddesses.
    Your Blog would have much more meaning and would put you in the spotlight you acknowledge that you constantly seek, without including the drivel in many of the comments and in your responses to that rubbish, and without dragging your readers through your after-hours dance with your search for whatever it is in life that you are seeking.
    In short, accentuate the positive in your Blogs and in your life, and be gone with the useless side bars with the morons and with the juvenile blogs about dancing and dance clubs. Even the worst of clowns want and deserve respect for their talent. And you certainly can be respected for the quality of your writing when you put your mind to it. You have the ability to have a positive influence on others through your writing. I, for one, hope that you eventually channel your efforts into creative writing and make writing either novels or short stories your “second career”.

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    Replies
    1. Dear sir or madam Anonymous (June 3, 2012 at 12:15 p.m.),

      Yours (and a few others) is a welcome Comment after so much drivel posted here and of course you make an excellent suggestion. My own brother, Bill, has also recommended I neither post nor respond to the non-serious or inane Comments. You also rightly imply, perhaps without intending to do so, that I invite the silly Comments by making reports about what is, in fact, silly behavior of my own which I also report in this blog. You also remind me that I am "dragging" my readers through stories about behavior which many of them would care not to read about. My wife, from whom I am separated, in part because of such behavior, she being a dignified and serious person, is one such reader.

      Given how well you write, I take your thoughts quite seriously, both your supportive remarks about my writing and your sober and mature reflections about certain aspects of my present lifestyle and my decision, to this point, of reporting about all of it, both the silly and the serious.

      At this point in my personal journey, I am moderating my mood and my behavior in ways which people who knew me "then" and now have had a positive reaction to. Making the radical change I did in my career direction has been an interesting, but bumpy, road. My evolution continues. It is useful to hear such positive encouragement from you about the value of my writing, when I'm serious about it and put my mind to it.

      Thanks for writing in. I hope it's not the last time I hear from you.

      All best,

      Bob

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    2. I knew you "then" and I know you now, and while I have been disheartened, from time to time, with the senselessness of some of your blogs (the one's that remind me of Charlie Sheehan's dance with reality) and with your attempted repartee with mindless simpletons, I have seen throughout all of your writings an innate ability to see reason and to tell a good story. While your personal life, as it has devolved, disturbs me, I recognize and accept that it is your life to live and your choice to make, and I pass no judgment on you. I think that deep within your inner being you know the people that you disappoint, the one's who truly care for you, and the people who follow you the way some watch NASCAR races only to see the dramatic crashes.
      In my humble judgment, your talents and usefulness to others far outweigh any shortcomings you or others might claim to see in your "new" life-style.
      It was either Plato or Socrates (I think it may have been Plato- but I am sure you would recall better than I) who said that you can't write a play where in the end a good person becomes bad. I think that applies to you. You have many talents, and the ability to express thoughts in writing is one of your better ones. Use it but don't abuse it.
      A blog is not a place to attempt to be someone that you are not. You are not a sarcastic, foul-mouthed carousing, dancing fool. You were a first-class litigation attorney (and I would guess you could continue to be one, if it were your decision to do so), and you are a scholar and talented writer. I pray that you don't let your true friends and family down and that, above all else, you don't let yourself down. As I suggested in my prior response, I hope that you will eventually find your place as the talented writer you could be.

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    3. Dear Disheartened but Hopeful Anonymous (June 2, 2012 at 6:20 p.m.),

      I thank you, again, for writing, again. You give me wise counsel, and I'm listening. I've already taken your advice, and that of my brother, and deleted 7 other Comments involving scurrilous and imbecilic remarks about my baptist church brothers and sisters, my wife, and, of course, me. I realize my openness about some of the things I've done over the past year brings on this kind of response, but I agree it's not worth attempting to respond reasonably. These people are not rational and have nothing worthy of rational response.

      I don't expect my "new lifestyle" will be the one I choose to live at the end of this journey I'm on. But I have no regret about publicizing my activities. I think it's useful for people to understand what can happen when an apparently "civilized" person, as I was, or was perceived to be, before I left my law firm, to survive emotionally throws off the constraints which suffocated him and tries on for size a bunch of alternative personae. The writers of the Jewish bible (Old Testament) knew the value of reporting on human behavior, warts and all.

      The only issue I'd take with how you portray me is this. The best of me is not, or was not, "a sarcastic, foul-mouthed, carousing, dancing fool." But those attributes, certainly, are part of what Jungians would probably call my Shadow. Freud's construct was that they are contained in my Unconscious. Or were. Now I've acted many of them out in the harsh light of reality, and I've made the decision to reveal my unconscious to the world.

      You are on the mark when you say "that deep within your inner being you know the people that you disappoint, the one's who truly care for you, and the people who follow you the way some watch NASCAR races only to see the dramatic crashes."

      And I hope you are right in your judgment that "your talents and usefulness to others far outweigh any shortcomings you or others might claim to see in your 'new' life-style."

      I can imagine working more seriously on my writing. I've also begun to imagine the possibility of going back to work at some point in some legal venture. But if I go the legal route, my primary motivation would not be money-making. Perhaps I can eventually both write and practice law in some fashion.

      For now, I'm enjoying the first sabbatical I've ever taken in my adult life. It's a luxury I wish everyone could somehow find their way to experience.

      Your observations, comments, and counsel are extremely valuable to me. I again invite you to write more here, as you may be so moved. Thank you.

      All best,

      Bob

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    4. I don't think you need further advice or counsel from me. As with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz you have always had the ability within you to find your own way home. To carry the metaphor further, perhaps your dancing days were your attempt to locate your "ruby slippers", when, in fact, you never really needed them at all.
      If I have played even the smallest part in helping you find your real self, I am pleased. But I am not egotistical by nature, and so I believe that you will get to the place you seek, and would have reached it, without my Comments.
      I truly wish you well, and whether you return to your old life in some form, or whether you continue as a "free spirit", I am convinced you will not only survive but also you will succeed.
      What I think you have missed since you decided to start a "new" life, has been a non-professional who could be open with you and give you counsel without becoming didactic, but someone not so close to you that it infringed upon the relationship and advice.
      God's speed on your journey.

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    5. Dear Non-Didactic Wise Counselor Anonymous (June 4, 2012 at 5:41 a.m.),

      Thank you.

      All best,

      Bob

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    6. Bob, I came a cross this quote and thought of you. Hope all is well.

      “The mirror sees the man as beautiful, the mirror loves the man; another mirror sees the man as frightful and hates him; and it is always the same being who produces the impressions.” Justine – Marquis De Sade

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    7. Dear Justine-Quoting Anonymous (June 6, 2012 at 7:08 p.m.),

      That's an interesting quote. It captures what I think goes on in people who either like what I'm doing or hate me for it. They really are seeing aspects of themselves, things they like or things they don't. By being so public and open about my own journey, I become a mirror for others to think about their own lives. I suspect many are not aware of this process going on within them.

      Thanks for writing in.

      All best,

      Bob

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