Entries in kayaking (11)


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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First Paddle of the Season

When I arrived at the Tivoli landing at 5 in the evening a group of people were hanging out at the dock, playing bad music and chatting. I didn’t know anyone and for a moment I had this horrible feeling that my landing, my reach, had been taken over and was no longer mine.

This feeling vanished once I was on the water. The air shifted between spookily warmed and cooler patches that rose from the water itself. The smell was of an enclosed room that needed to be aired out after a winter. I pushed South against the current and a level wind. Moving slowly, I was able to take in my river for the first time this season. And this is what I thought: there’s a lot of garbage out here.

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Last of the Season?

First of the season is easy to mark. The first warbler, the first crocus up, the first paddle. We know we have been deprived and the first arrival or event is a joy, the mark of more to come. But last of the season is tricky. Sometimes it passes without realizing that was the last climb, the last rose in bloom, the final hummingbird at the feeder (or, the last kiss…). I was afraid I had already paddled my kayak for the last time this year. The trouble is, I didn’t remember that paddle, had not cherished each minute as it needed to sustain me for several months. So when a string of warm, sunny November days arrived, I decided that this was my chance. My final paddle of 2011.

I drove to the Tivoli landing at 3:30, late for a November paddle. The dock was underwater at high tide. “Four and a half feet of tide,” a motorcyclist loitering by the water’s edge said. He then asked if I had any matches.  I shoved onto the water as I smelled the distinct sweet smell of pot float out onto the water with me.

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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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