Entries in Hudson River (12)


Squirrel Madness

Paddling the Hudson through the city of Albany is a daunting experience. It is not that river traffic is so dense.  It’s that the noise overwhelms: the incessant hum of traffic along the highways near shore, the construction under the many bridges—a clang that hurt my teeth. There were interesting sights on shore, like gas tanks and scrap yards, but little wildlife, save two Peregrine Falcons that had made their home under the Troy-Menand’s bridge.

But there, near the bow of my boat, I spied something moving in the water. I usually see beaver or musk rat, sometimes I see snapping turtles, the V of their heads cutting the surface in the Tivoli Bay. This was not any of those familiar creatures. The animal had a fluffy gray tail that floated on the surface of the water, then a tiny head that was barely cutting the surface. A squirrel!

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This is the week of goodbyes. Over the course of the next three days I will be saying goodbye to the seniors graduating from Bard College. Tomorrow marks the first goodbye, with the baccalaureat ceremony, followed by the always-rowdy senior dinner. Friday night at the President's dinner we say farewell in a more sedate manner. What follows the dinner is my favorite part of graduation, the senior concert. The American Symphony Orchestra performs pieces composed by graduating seniors. The music is always inspiring. To hear a work of a young composer performed by such a talented orchestra is thrilling. And then Saturday, those students march across a stage and are gone. So fast. I've watched some grow up, intellectually, emotionally, physically. The young men change more than the women, it seems, growing taller and broader in four years.

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Beautiful, Until it is Not

looking north; the barge is on the horizon!When I talk about kayaking on the Hudson I am always sure to add a cautionary note: look out for the big boats. Tankers, barges pushed by tugs, and container ships all ply the waters of the Hudson. The river is theirs, and it’s important to stay out of the way: boats can’t brake or swerve. They need to stick in the limited shipping channel. I have heard that the captains of these big boats refer to kayakers as speed bumps; most of the time they don’t see us at all.

It would seem that staying out of the way of a big boat would be easy. They take up a lot of room; they are visible. But it is not that simple. This morning as I slipped my boat into the water at the Tivoli landing, the water was lightly feathered.  At 41 degrees, I urged the sun and its promised warmth as it peaked over the eastern shoreline. A faint rumble emerged from the north. I scanned the river and saw nothing. But the noise wasn’t going away. It had to be a boat. I looked more closely. There, on the horizon, was a double barge, pushed by a tug. It was enormous. And it was almost invisible, thanks to my angle, the angle of the sun, the height of the barge. It all worked against me. I hugged the shore until it chugged past, then I made a dash for the western shore.

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Flow On

Water-side trail at Falling WatersIn the final chapter of The Hudson, Carl Carmer writes of how he imagines the Hudson developing, changing, flowing on. The book, published in 1939 as part of the Rivers of America Series, remains a wonderful resource about the history and quirky stories of the river and Carmer is a lively story teller. That Carmer chose to imagine the future is a wonderful task: what might I see if I squinted past tomorrow? It’s not something I have been good at in my own life. Never could I have seen myself living in the Hudson Valley and teaching writing. And yet that I am here feels most natural.




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“The river is calm,” the man said, walking past me and my boat. I nodded in agreement. But he wasn’t a boater, just a man at the launch at 7 in the morning with a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

The water grabs my ankles, seeps through my aqua socks. Too cold already.  I slip into my boat and settle in. A few strokes out I pause to take stock of a large freight boat shoving north. The water is calm, for now. Ten minutes later the bow of my boat slaps into the water.

The far shore is speckled with the early morning light, while the eastern shore remains cloaked in shade. I have on two jackets to keep warm. But the rotation of my shoulders and torso warms me quickly. I spy a few yellow-rumped warblers in the scraggly bushes that grow in the rocky shoreline.

The north Tivoli Bay lures me in. As I glide under the train overpass, the stillness of the bay immediately wraps me like a comfortable blanket. I stop paddling and coast.  In front of me is a dock that cut loose during Hurricane Irene. It washed into the Bay a few weeks ago and stands there, an odd adornment in a wide bay.

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