TWILIGHT KAYAK IDYLL – MID-AUGUST

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

My new favorite kayaking hour has become 5:30 p.m.  Although a life-long morning person, the twilight hours have lately come to enchant me on these sacred preserved waters.

Stillness surrounded us, as yet another ‘virgin kayaker’ and I glided out of the Turning Basin at Alexander, heading south on the shimmering D&R Canal.

On both sides, and reflected in curiously profound waters, the banks were still garbed in high summer’s uninterrupted green.  Lush and bountiful ‘wine-dark’ greens negated hard trunks, melded single leaves.  It was as though some mad decorator had strewn enormous sofa cushions all along our route.

At outset, there were few clouds — but that billowy forest did a superb and startling role as stand-ins.  Here and there, the long red throats of trumpet flowers (hummingbirds’ favorites) punctuated the text of the forest.  As clouds arrived, their reflections and those of canalside trees, reminded us first of Monet, then Constable.

The old maritime word, ‘williwaws’, came to mind, as gentlest breezes wrinkled first one side of the water, then the other.

Its color fascinated — various rich tones of grey, beyond pewter to black pearl.  One or two curled gold leaves had somehow materialized, bobbing along like miniature watercraft, turning this way and that against the darkness.

Silence was everywhere.   Time stopped.

Ever since Sandy scoured these historic banks, we have been deprived of many wildflowers and most turtles.  Reparations brought in new stoniness, so far inhospitable to most blooms.  Furious torrents swept all the slanted turtle logs downstream, (up-canal).  Downed trunks have yet to reappear, making it hard for turtles to emerge from the depths, bask in the light.

Marsh mallow was our first floral gift.  Because it was twilight, pink blooms, then later white ones, were “folding their tents like the Arabs.”  Twined, from a distance, these towering hibiscus-like plants seemed more lily than mallow.  I told my (enormously skillful already) kayaking companion, “The Lenni Lenape made a sweet out of their roots, which was white and sticky.  We named marshmallows after those roots.”

Goldenthread vines wove in and out and over and under on the banks to our right.  It seems to smother the plants that it covers.  But late light on gold webs was stunning.  Long ago, a woman from Jamaica told me, “We use this plant to treat prostate problems in my country.”

A few double kayaks of new paddlers gave us pause along this usually empty route.  Their skills led them repeatedly toward the tangled banks, rather than up-canal or down-canal.

I was deeply aware, listening to their laughter, of the sounds we were not hearing — no wood thrushes, though evening.  No kingfisher, rattling in his fishing dives.  Not a goose yet — proving again that we are still in summer’s hands.  Not even a mourning dove, although neither of us unfortunately ever needs to be reminded of mourning.

Only a few round tight golden spatterdock blooms remained among the lily pads.  About the size of ping pong balls, these waterlily blooms will never enlarge.  They seemed to be playing hide and seek in the shadows.

I had alerted my traveling companion to be on the lookout for shy cardinal flower.  Fondest of deep shade, often solitary, these slender stalks hold tiny trumpet-y flowers the color of the bird for whom they are named.  In sunlight, they can be visited by ravening hummingbirds.

She found the first stalk, and most thereafter, until my eyes adjusted to such minuscule splashes of crimson hidden in underbrush.  It reminded me of snorkeling – when you don’t even realize there are tiny fish at first; and then, they are everywhere.  We lost count of cardinal flower last night.

For all the high heat days we have had lately, the canal water was surprisingly cool.  I always dip eager hands into that secret-keeping surface, ritually baptize my legs with her waters.  A certain communion with the canal is essential.

This night was the most contemplative of all my shared ‘rides’.  There is such a thing as ‘walking meditation.’  I think we were given ‘paddling meditation’.  Occasional companionable talk, –of art and of camping, of books — drifted from her chartreuse craft to my cardinal-flower-hued one.

Two deer, mirrored in the canal, strolled down to sip.  Being in their calm presence was either mirage or tapestry.

I had told her, “If we’re lucky, we might see the green heron at this hour.”  Riding tall and proud as a skilled Lenni Lenape, her bright eyes missed nothing.  My friend discovered this wild herald, high overhead, exactly matching leaves in late light.  Silently, it coasted more than flew, from its observatory branch, angling down along the bank to our left.  The lowering sun was taking on subtle flame hues itself, highlighting its coppery feathers.

We had been wondering what would be our turning point.  The green heron was the deity we had awaited.

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

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FIRST KAYAK IMAGES D AND R CANAL SOUTH OF ALEXANDER

I’ll soon be writing an article on this for the Packet, for Anthony Stoeckert, a delight of an editor, on the first kayaking of Spring.

But I must let NJWILDBEAUTY readers know, I made it out there on our canal last evening, (Sunday, May 3) from five to 6:30.  There may be no lovelier way to end a day!

‘There’ is the Alexander Road station of Princeton Canoe and Kayak, canoenu.com, (also up at Griggstown, where I learned.)  I’ll give you more info later.

Meanwhile, welcome to Tranquility Base!

Kayak Still Life, Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road, Princeton

Kayak Still Life, Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road, Princeton

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Entry from the Turning Basin into the D&R Canal

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

Heading South from Alexander, 5 to 6:30 on a golden Sunday evening

First Great Blue Heron, who did not make his squawk nor fly away - I left before he did

First Great Blue Heron, who did not make his squawk nor fly away – I left before he did

Homeward Bound, heading back toward the Alexander Road Bridge

Homeward Bound, heading back toward the Alexander Road Bridge

It’s kayak time — what are you waiting for?  (609-452-2403)  Ask for Steve and tell him Carolyn sent you!

KAYAKING AUTUMN’S FINALE

October now.

latest ever kayaked November 23 — Will we get out on the water in the month about to be born?

Meanwhile, for NJWILDBEAUTY readers, here are sketch notes of Saturday’s kayaking, thanks to splendid Steve of Princeton Canoe and Kayak at Alexander Road.

Ilene Dube, who launched me as a blogger with NJWILD at the Packet, had suggested we try for it, weather permitting.  It did and we did.

Kayaking – Autumn Finale

Muted tones

Superb fellowship

Magnificent contrast of dark and light, gliding under the towpath and out into canal.

towpath ‘tunnel’ accentuated almost blinding effect of thousands of gold maple leaves, crisped and curled, newly afloat on bruise-dark water.  In all those perfectly designed points of all those leaves, bubbles of water seemed captured, set like jewels.  Crisp, gold, points     Soft round bubbles   Each bubble held its own rainbow     all accentuated under Alexander Road Bridge

Canal water serene, yet almost scowlingly dark

Brooding sky

1 fishermen, no fish    “What did you catch?”  “Nothing today.”

Not one turtle

Not a fish ring nor leap

No flowers anywhere

The frail mauve of sedum everywhere last time has been diluted by time and the season — somewhere between lavender fields past their prime and ashes of old fire on New England hearth

Bittersweet’s red/gold ornaments dangle from canalside trees, so that we can kayak through their tendrils

Tiny wind-driven wavelets hither and yon, what New Englanders call “williwaws”

Suddenly, the ‘bright-eyed’ Ilene spots a deer, lying down, peacefully, in canalside grasses, big dark eyes like chestnuts for the roasting.  It makes a strange sound as she paddles nearer.  “Do deer sneeze?”

Odd ominous taxicab-yellow curved pipes on either side of the deer, right alongside the canal — on their sides are letters spelling PETROLEUM

GOOD silent (!) canoeists glide by, skilled as Indians

so many people out on towpath, on foot, on bikes    many wave and smile with such connection as we paddle by

pure silence

peace

occluded sky paints surface of the slate-colored water

now well south of Alexander — nothing human but our craft and paddles

so beautiful out here, my companion murmurs, I just want to stay forever, curl up, sleep on the water, wake to this

my kayak bumps over something hard and soft at once     I laugh and say, “I’m glad we don’t have alligators here…”    (which were everywhere during my Savannah year, and everyone warned me, “Don’t go near the water!”

maple leaves look cut by very sharp scissors from very substantial gold foils

beside my prow, a rosary of bubbles — fish?  turtle?

no birds

Ilene, former Princeton Packet Editor, is a specialist in art in her current writing.  This entire afternoon, we’ve been gliding through Impressionism

hope not final kayak of 2014…