Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Making believe it's June

Starting back into the regular Monday-Friday routine concentrates the mind. Forecast of 10-15 westerly knots (again) notwithstanding, it was paddle Sunday or not at all, and the day that I got made me regret all the similar days I passed up.

(But I am not gloating, really, only on this particular day, the east won.)

It was Parc de la Rivière again: Bixi to the Metro, Metro to Cartier station, STM 73 bus in the direction of Fabreville - Laval, bless them, puts the direction of travel on the buses, unlike Montreal. Arrive just after 9 am in noticeably slanted morning light at the Embarcations, and stake my claim on a Kayak de Mer, the doughty orange Kasko.

I'm ashamed to say that I've only paddled the Parc once this summer, back in mid June, the continually taunting weather reports having fed into my third-book-and-trilogy completion neurosis; I kept procrastinating, waiting for a day with no wind forecast. When I was out in June I was impressed by how low the water already was. It made me appreciate that last winter had been dry. Last year in the early summer I was able to paddle through trees (and get munched on by flies), and venture into the marsh; this year, even the turtle pull-outs were well up the bank, the marsh was impassible beyond a short, narrow channel, a number of shortcuts, like the one out of the lagoon in front of the launch site, were above the water level. I'm simply not used to the water going away and not coming back 6 hours or so later. I found myself thinking that the originator of the expression 'letting the grass grow under one's feet' as a measure of indolence had not observed river grass invading an exposed bank. There was no way of telling from the grasses alongside the river that that part was underwater a year ago. Today it was even more of the same. In a lot of places, if I'd tipped, I'd have been sucking mud, and if I'd banged my head on a rock, I might have been rediscovered like Lyuba, the baby mammoth in a million years or so. Although when I did wobble interestingly, it was because I was probing for the bottom with my paddle in what turned out to be a deep spot.

I took what has become my usual route, out the east end of the lagoon, and past Île Gagnon, where the water was extremely shallow, the bottom muddy and rocky, and I was conscious of tucking my tailbone up in anticipation of the grinding beneath. Up the south side of the river, under the Autoroute des Laurentides and the footbridge to Île Locas, checking out the completed swallows nests on the underside as I went - I'd watched the foundations being laid when I was out in June, beakful by beakful of dark river mud, trying to figure out whether one plan ruled construction or not. And then on to the marsh. This post was nearly entitled "500 geese, a dozen herons, and me." This panorama, taken from beside the lookout on the edge of the marsh, should give the idea (note, those speckles are geese).

Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles

I let myself drift very slowly through a gap between goose-gangs, and discovered a dredged channel leading into the marsh, which terminated abruptly in a wall of black mud and sticks. I don't think beavers were involved. If they were, no waterway is safe.

As last year, the great blue herons were out of their usual exclusive neighbourhood in the marsh, and scattered up and down the water's edge west of des Laurentides, each one apparently aspiring to solitude. They seemed touchier than usual, and though I wasn't trying to spook them, even when I swung over to the other side of the channel it didn't seem far enough. Though there was the one I came on as I rounded a bend; it froze, I froze, and we played statues as the wind pushed me gently past and away. I also spotted a number of kingfishers dashing between islands, and some small white-bellied shorebirds I could not identify. No swallows, scattered dragonflies, and whatever moved beneath the water's surface was safely hidden in mud. The water-lilies were looking tattered and tired, and there were scattered mats of purple river-plants.

Wind, yes, there was wind, intermittently. But there were spells of calm, allowing full appreciation of the flotillas of round cumuli proceeding overhead with perhaps just a little too much despatch to be stately. This panorama was taken at the furthest west extent of the Parc, at the tip of Île de Mai looking west. One day I shall go beyond ...

Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles

I rounded the tip and came down channel between Île de Mai and Laval, brazenly floating down the middle of the channel while munching on a roasted mushroom and chevre panini, something I'd never have dared do in the middle of summer. I paused to admire and take pictures of a weeping willow planted above a wall and draping down almost to the water. While I was doing that, the first power boat of the day passed by, sending the water sloshing and my kayak rocking. Then I swung back over to make a pit-stop on Île Chabon, muttering 'I must do more of this' as I floundered to dismount onto a steeply sloping beach. Two or three canoes had reached the lookout and the geese had scattered. Then I paddled back the way I had come through the channel towards the des Laurentides bridge. I was well into my fourth hour and a day rental, so I paddled around the north side of Île de Jiufs, but had decided to cut myself off at 5 hours and get the 2:30-something bus, so back into the lagoon, which was crowded with single and double kayaks and two person canoes, heading out to enjoy a gorgeous warm afternoon. Would that it had been June!

My fake GPS plot - just Alison 'taking a line for a walk' as we used to call it in kindergarten. Unfortunately, I can't recall where I got this image from, or I would have updated it to show the difference between then and now.

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