Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Home Sweet Hudson

 Not only was it sunny today, it was actually warm!  When I stepped out the door this morning and felt that sweet soft air on my face, I heard my canoe calling to me from under the porch where I'd stored it over the winter:  Hey, girl, get me out of here and let's get back to the river.

How could I resist?

There's nothing quite like it, that very first paddle on the Hudson each spring.  Wearing rubber boots, I wade out into the cold, cold water and feel the current tug at my ankles, imagining the river is greeting me like a happy puppy playing around my feet.  Then I plop my bottom down in my boat, hang my feet on the gunwales to let the water drain from my boots, fold my legs and dip my paddle, and with just one stroke that sends me gliding across the silken surface, I'm back on the river once more, back to my Home Sweet Hudson.

Although I've been paddling this stretch between the Spier Falls and Sherman Island dams for at least 20 years, a changed riverbank greets me each spring.  Some years, raging floods have scoured the banks, hanging flotsam high in the riverside trees, and in recent years, beavers have taken up residence, toppling trees and chopping the shrubbery down to mere stubs.  I had hoped to find Sweet Gale in bloom today, its female flowers lit up like flaming torches when backlit by the sun.  But no Sweet Gale could I find.  Nor any overhanging shrub.

Just off the boat launch site lie three little islands that make for perfect picnic sites in summer, and I pulled my boat up on the middle one, just to walk around and say hello again.   I sat on the rocks and basked in the sun and marveled at that sapphire sky made even more deeply blue by the river's reflection.

These little islands used to be covered with Early Azalea, a beautiful native wild azalea as lovely as any garden variety and far more fragrant as well.  Last spring, the beavers had harvested nearly every one of the shrubs, but I saw today that some had managed to survive to bloom, judging by the bracts that still clung to the twigs.

A similar fate had befallen the Silky Dogwood that covered a neighboring island, but these vivid red shoots reveal that the shrubs are definitely making a comeback.

I spied some trash washed up on the shore of this island, so I beached my boat and thrashed around in the thickets, picking up whatever pieces of paper, bait boxes, cans, or bottles I could find.  My reward -- aside from enjoying the sight of "my" pretty island made pristine -- was stumbling across a patch of dainty Bluets hiding among the shrubs.

  These lovely little flowers will stay with us now all spring and summer and even into late fall, although they'll put forth their largest rush of bloom in May and June.  But I have seen individual Bluets blooming away as late as December.  (I find they are really hard to photograph.  My camera absolutely refuses to focus on those blue petals, no matter what tricks I try. It's as if I were trying to make it focus on air.  I also have to reduce the exposure dramatically, in order to capture any trace of blue in the petals.)

The island's trees were all aflutter and atwitter with flocks of Tree Swallows, swooping out over the water to feast on insects, then flying back to land on the branches.  One sat still long enough for me to snap its photo.  Just look at that glossy blue head against that blue, blue sky!

I paddled downstream to where a tiny bay carves a pocket out of the riverbank and one can idle out of the current for a while.  I was quite surprised to find a cluster of Leatherwood shrubs along the bank here.  In all my years of paddling this stretch, how had I managed to miss them?

Wherever one finds Leatherwood, the chances are good that other woodland flowers will be blooming nearby.  So I pulled my boat up on the bank and set out on foot to see what I could find.  Not far away was a mossy rock ledge that was crowned with masses of Red Trillium, just about to break bud.

Nearby were a few Hepatica plants, including one with flowers of a rich deep purple.

How can it be, with all the beauty surrounding us here on this river, that people could even THINK to despoil it by throwing their trash around?   This is a typical haul in my boat for every first paddle each spring.  The plastic bag is full of the trash I picked up in the parking lot.  Let's hope that once the banks and the launch site are tidied up, fewer people will feel inclined to litter.   We can always dream!


Raining Iguanas said...

Your first paragraph had me salivating to get outside. That stretch of water was one of my parents favorites spots to fish. Your descriptions of it make it clear that it wasn't all about the catch it also had much to do with the view.

asita said...

Your pictures are wonderful as always. I'm aching to go out but have no time for any exploration far from the city. Thanks for sharing.

June said...

I have been silent, lo, these many weeks . . . but these photos move me to comment once again: Beautiful! Breathtaking!