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!

SNOWBOUND — REMEMBERING THE MARSH, — A Winter Walk

Not all winters tie one to the house!.  Some draw you outside, inexorably, delightedly.

Here are some rare but typical scenes of what used to be the Hamilton/Trenton/Bordentown Marsh, now the Abbott Marshlands.

Come wander with me, no matter the weather.  Come relish New Jersey’s wild beauty.

Marsh Weeds in Spring Lake

Marsh Weeds in Spring Lake

The Lake was purportedly named by Indians because formed by an ever-renewing spring.

Marsh Frozen Spring Lake Winter 2014

Spring Lake Mostly Frozen — But Life Exists Herein

Marsh First Willows 2013

The Wonder of Willows, Marsh

Marsh, Where Muskrats Ramble

Where Muskrats Ramble, Near Spring Lake

NJWILDBEAUTY Readers know I have an enormous need to see either New Jersey’s wild creatures, or evidence of their presence, or both.

Beaver Lodge, Marsh -- in winter, beaver keep waters open for rare ducks

Beaver Lodge, Marsh — in winter, beaver keep waters open for rare ducks

Beaver Fppd

Beaver Food

Goose Trails, Spring Lake

Goose Trails, Spring Lake

Marsh Sandy Damage 2013

Eponymous Beech Tree, Damaged by Hurricane Sandy

Fallen Trunk Decorated with Fungus, Marsh

Fallen Trunk Decorated with Fungus, Marsh

Turkey Tail Fungus on Felled Trunk, Marsh

Turkey Tail Fungus on Felled Trunk, Marsh

This winter walk was taken with Town Topics writer par excellence, Linda Arntzenius.  Sometimes the iced trail was so narrow that only one boot at a time could make its way.  Hardly ever could we walk side-by-side, but what beauty was ours!

And such silence!  Sacred soundlessness — how very rare in the modern world.

Beavers' Midnight Snack

Beavers’ Midnight Snack

Where Turtles Lurk and Thrive

Where Turtles Lurk and Thrive

In season, one learns to seek tiny dark triangles in spring lake, triangles that move right along, for they are the heads of the lake’s majestic turtles.  Sometimes, also, in the lake, snakes swim.

In winter, walkers can follow the straight trails of foxes, out for a stroll or a hunt, and discover the wing marks of rising birds in fresh snow on downed trunks.

To get to the Marsh, take Route 1 South into Trenton to the South Broad Street exit.  Drive as directed round the arena, and turn left/south onto Broad Street.  After Lalor, which angles only on your right, look for a church with two steeples, followed by a red light at Sewell Avenue.  Turn right onto Sewell and go about five blocks until the road Ts at the Marsh itself.  Drive through the gate and park near the lake. Usually, you will be welcomed by stately swans in all seasons.

To learn the Marsh, check out http://www.marsh-friends.org.  Get onto their e-mail mailing list for hikes with Ornithologist Charlie Leck, Botanist Mary Leck, and Mercer County Naturalist, Jenn Rogers.  In all seasons, these merry experts will introduce you to the creatures who thrive in New Jersey because individuals and groups such as D&R Greenway preserved this freshwater tidal wetlands.

D&R Canal by Kayak – Tranquillity Base

Even for a poet, there are times when words are not sufficient to convey the experience and the emotion.  This may be one of them.  I’ll start with the images from last Sunday morning’s kayaking on the canal below Alexander Road (Princeton) with a friend who’d trained out from Penn Station.  As I picked her up, we heard the dinky (tiny traditional commuter train from Princeton Junction to Princeton town) tootle its little horn as it left for town.  By the time it tootled for the return jaunt to the Junction, we were on the water.

Prow and D&R Canal Summer Solstice 2014 001

Prow and D&R Canal South of Alexander Road

We’d stepped into this magic, as usual, by going to Steve and his wonderful helpful crew of young kayak assistants at Alexander Road, near Metro North.  Princeton Canoe and Kayak opens at 10 on weekends.  In our experience, the earlier the better.  It is not costly, and timeless time on the water is sheer enchantment.

Janet Kayaking Summer Solstice 2014 006

Friend Janet Black, fresh from Penn Station, out on the water

Spatterdock blossom Kayaking Summer Solstice 2014 003

We were this close to wildflowers, such as the water lily called spatterdock

Greenery and Red kayak Summer Solstice 2014 002

Other wise souls were out there with us — most of us enchanted that turtles don’t jump off their logs when passed by kayakers!

Red Kayak and Alexander Rd. Bridge Kayaking Summer Solstice 2014 008

Alexander Road Bridge as kayaking excursion ends

Well, is it true?  Is a picture worth 10,000 words?

Comments welcome…

Realize that the D&R Canal and Towpath are a New Jersey State Park.  That they were preserved by a number of courageous, prescient organizations, including D&R Greenway Land Trust, where I work.  That New Jersey is FULL of WILD BEAUTY, and your support of your local land trusts will protect what’s saved and lead to new preserves.