Saturday, October 24, 2020

Farewell to Our Paddling Pal for Now

Friday was a perfect day for a paddle. It was pleasantly warm with quiet winds and a morning fog through which the autumn foliage seemed to glow even more intensely than it would have with bright sunlight and shadow. I hope that it won't be the last paddling day of the season for me, but it was our last day to paddle, Sue Pierce and I, with our dear friend Ruth Brooks, who leaves for her winter home in Florida in just a few days.  I suggested we enjoy our last paddle together on the Hudson River above the Sherman Island Dam, where the river runs back behind a large island and flows around rocky promontories and into quiet coves, with forested mountains rising from both banks.

We carried our lightweight Hornbeck canoes down through the woods to launch onto this quiet bay. On the far shore across the open river, we could glimpse mountainsides patch-worked with richly glowing colors of gold and red and bronze, their summits shrouded in mist on this foggy morning.

As soon as we set our paddles into the water, we steered close to shore, where blossom-laden boughs of Witch Hazel hung low over the bank. We could press our noses into the thick clusters of bloom and breathe in their distinctive faint fragrance, a scent I have described as similar to that of clean laundry dried outside in the sunshine and fresh air.

We then set off downstream, rounding this first promontory I call Picnic Point, because of its flat-topped rocks that offer relatively comfortable seating for riverside dining. Highbush Blueberry bushes and Gray Birch and Red Maple saplings provided a colorful setting.

Just around Picnic Point, we entered the first of a series of quiet coves.  Sheltered behind the large island that shields them from buffeting winds, these coves usually offer peaceful paddling, no matter how fiercely a brisk wind might be riffling the open river.

Here, we are entering a second cove, which I have named Flowering Dogwood cove, for the solitary specimen of this beautiful spring-flowering tree that flourishes here, despite taking root beyond its usually more southerly range.  The humidity here tempers our cold climate enough for this species of dogwood -- as well as other southern species like Sassafras and Black Tupelo -- to not just survive, but even thrive.

That's Ruth in her nearly brand-new Hornbeck canoe, searching through binoculars for bright-red  dogwood berries among the Flowering Dogwood's lipstick-red leaves.  

Blueberry shrubs line the shore of this cove, rivaling the much-taller dogwood for brilliant color.

As we make our way downstream toward the Sherman Island Dam, we are delighted again and again by the colorful foliage in the riverside woods.

The leaves of American Beech seemed to shine like tongues of flame.

And the radiant leaves of Red Maple glowed like burning embers.


It was marvelous to see all this foliage color mirrored in rippling reflections,

and to relish the lovely colors of autumn in a single floating leaf!

Here, we beach our canoes in the last cove above the Sherman Island Dam, behind another rocky promontory I call Juniper Point, for the low-growing junipers sprawling across its bouldered banks.

We leave our boats for a while, in order to explore this forested riverbank.  Many different mosses glow with various shades of green, carpeting both wood and rock with their diverse colors and textures.  Ruth has a passionate interest in mosses, so I was glad we found so many different moss species to engage her on her last outdoor adventure before she heads south. I also was glad that she was with us to confirm my guess that this rock was covered with two different interwoven mosses, Leucobryum glaucum and Thuidium delicatulum (Pincushion Moss and Delicate Fern Moss). Ruth has much to teach me about mosses.

I didn't confirm my guesses with Ruth, but I believe this tree root was covered with more of that Pincushion Moss, punctuated with a perky patch of Haircap Moss (Polytrichum sp.).

Just about noon, the fog lifted and sunshine flooded the multi-colored mountains on the far bank of the Hudson.  What a spectacular view, as we comfortably reclined on a moss-covered slope to enjoy our picnic lunches, while gazing across the water! 

Lunch over, we launched our canoes once more to return upstream and visit more sites up there.  This is Sue in her carbon fiber canoe, very similar to my own boat.  Ruth's canoe is made of Kevlar, and all our boats are light enough that we can carry them easily, allowing us access to bodies of water as beautiful and quiet as this, even if we have to hike some distance with them to reach the water.

Sue leads the way as we paddle a narrow passage back to the open river and head upstream.

This passage is lined with a steep rocky bank that is carpeted with many interesting mosses (thick mats of pale-pink sphagnum among them).  This fluffy lime-green moss is called Pleurozium schreberi, and here it is decorated with the shiny red berries and glossy green leaves of American Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).

All along the way, we are warmed by the sun and charmed by the changing colors on the riverbank mountainsides as the clouds cast moving shadows across their heights.

We enter another cove and approach an island we used to call Three-Pine Island, when its rocky substrate was crowned by three towering White Pines.  Sadly, only one tall pine remains, since a fierce straight-line wind this past summer toppled many trees along this stretch of the Hudson. As this photo reveals, the pines' roots could not anchor the tall trees into the earth, so the entire root masses peeled back from the rock as the giant trees plummeted.

Shrubs and saplings, like these scarlet Highbush Blueberries and bright-yellow Gray Birches, still hold firm in the boulders' cracks on this tiny island.

Before we return to our launch site, we ease our canoes into one last cove, one that I call Shelter Cove for its almost always peaceful water, no matter how blustery the wind might be blowing elsewhere.  True to my name for it, the water lies still and gleaming, with only enough movement to its surface to cause the reflected golds and greens and scarlets to shimmer in reflection.

A variety of mosses carpet the cove-side boulders here, but one in particular catches my eye, this fluffy mound of emerald-green stars, peppered with tiny brown orbs.

A close look reveals the ridged spherical capsules that could only belong to Bartramia pomiformus, appropriately called (in English) Apple Moss.  I'm so glad we found this less-common moss for our budding-bryologist pal Ruth Brooks, before she leaves us to explore more tropical habitats along Florida's Gulf Coast.

The stunning beauty of our take-out site made us long to linger, just drifting a few moments more in silence, breathing the fragrant cool air, grateful to have a place of such incredible loveliness so easily accessible, and to have such amiable friends to enjoy it with.  Safe travels, dear Ruth, and a happy, warmer winter.  We will be so glad to paddle with you again come spring.


Nancy said...

wonderful, thank you

Uta said...

Such an enjoyable trip and so colorful.

Rosalea said...

Beautiful. Thank you.

Bonnie Vicki said...

These places are familiar to me now that I have paddled there. It is so nice to see how the colors have changed in just a couple of weeks, and it was quite colorful then. Very, very nice.

The Furry Gnome said...

Reminds me of paddling small coves up on the French River here in Ontario.

Woody Meristem said...

Beautiful fall colors and excellent photos. Many mosses are beyond my ability to identify, congratulations to those of you who have that ability.