Thursday, May 22, 2014

First (Montreal) paddle of 2014: Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, May 19, 2014

(Note: I am linking rather than embedding photographs until I have time to come to terms with Flickr's new embed structure. Cross post to Incidental Findings.)

All through this long winter, I have consoled myself with the idea that there would be plenty of water in the river when the thaw finally came. There was indeed: I have never seen the river so high.

The cherry blossom at the location d'embarcation has not passed its peak; indeed, it was still in the form of tight little pink buds, not even as advanced as during the late spring of 2011, although the trees themselves were in full leaf. Give them a few days. (Why do so many flowers, including cherry blossom, have 5-fold symmetry, and how does that work developmentally?)

The usual launch was well underwater, the mooring for the floating pier submerged, such that the Parc attendants had had to lay a narrow bridge between the land and the rising hinged section of the pier. The river had spilled over the lip of the beach onto the grass, the trees were river-bound, the boat storage racks themselves were parked in mud and puddles, and the lower part of the grass had been taped off. There's usually a middle ridge in the lagoon at the launch site, but it was inundated except for the trees and bare spiky shrubs of the branches. The lookout float was still at its winter mooring in the lagoon and had not been moved out to its location on the marsh. The river was the colour of milky tea, perhaps a hint more yellow than red.

The Kaskos I had used for the past 5 years have been retired: they are up for sale, piled on the grass before the location d'embarcation. With Boreal Kayaks having gone bankrupt, the Parc can no longer get parts to repair them. I was paddling a blue Pelican Elite, a nice, tough composite boat. But, hip stretches need to be a thing in my life.

From the location d'embarcations, I paddled upstream in the lagoon to the tunnel under the bridge to Île Gagnon. The water under the bridge was high and the current looked brisk, and I decided I did not have the clearance I would need for vigorous paddling, so I drifted downstream in the direction of the Pont Marius-Dufresne and out the east entrance of the lagoon, where I shot my first panorama of the season, looking west. Several powered fishing boats were already standing off the north of Île Gagnon. More than I have seen on previous occasions.

The leaves were half out, not fully masking the dark straight lines of trunk and branches, creating a beautiful effect of pen-and-ink drawing or fine nineteenth century engraving (photo does not do it justice at all). In a week, the foliage will be confluent. There was a peculiarly autumnal warmth to the foliage, created by the early leaves of the maples with their bronze blush. The pigment is acanthocyanin, responsible for the autumn reds, and there are various hypotheses as to its usefulness to young leaves, ranging from protection of the growing leaf from UV damage to camouflaging it or rendering it unappealing to pests and herbivores.

I paddled up to the left of Île Kennedy, keeping out of any of the narrower channels. The downstream current was noticeable and noticeably uneven, with eddies and eddy-lines and irregular rips that kept checking my progress, or nudging me off in unintended directions (hence, no mid-channel photos). Before the tunnel under the south end of the de Laurentides highway bridge, I took a detour up the culvert on the east side of the bridge, probably a hundred yards further than I'd ever made it before, until stopped by a snag of branches. Constant thrum of traffic to the left, while I could see the roofs of square-topped buildings - stores and warehouses - on the right. A pair of red-winged blackbirds perched in the bare twigs. Wrestled briefly with my camera, which was giving me long silent pauses, before figuring out it was on the rapid-frame sports setting. Resolved once again to read that manual.

Paddled through the tunnel against the current, which was work but doable; there was plenty of room to swing a paddle. Noted that a new kayak rental operation has set up on the water's edge just west of the bridge, at the end of Rue Joinville.

Multiple fisherpersons off the embankments to either side of the bridge between the bank and Île Locas were treated to the sight of me powering into the jet of current from under the bridge and then going swiftly sideways. Fortunately no-one seemed to be fishing off the centre of the bridge itself, so I could sort myself out and line up between the two eddy-lines and slog through underneath. That was work.

The eastern end of Île Lacroix is largely underwater, with confluent inundation of the north and south edges, and only a dome of bright green ferns preserved in the middle. The trees were mature and widely enough spaced for easy paddling. Broken light and shadow from passing clouds. Bright green foliage and reflections. Very still. I must have spent half an hour just mooching amongst the trees.

The low-lying portion of the opposite bank is also extensively flooded. I worked my way deep into the forest and along parallel to the river - no current to fight here - for at least a couple of hundred yards, hoping to connect with the marsh area, before I ran out of flood. The trees here were younger and closer together, so after a few paddle-snags, I settled on handing myself from trunk to trunk, particularly since the wildlife ruled the main channel: first turtles sunning themselves on fallen logs, and then a great blue heron, perched supreme on a branch. Even saplings appeared to be able to sprout leaves with no apparent inhibition, despite their waterlogged roots. I did run out of flood before I reached the marsh and had to work my way back, again without disturbing the wildlife. The light in the photographs I took was much duller: a bank of cloud - cirrostratus, at a guess - had been gradually moving and was now covering much of the sky. There was no forecast of a change in the weather, so I hoped it was transient and pressed on.

There were no biting flies. Something nipped my foot at a midpoint on a crossing, and it is itching a little, but not the mad consuming can-think-of-nothing-else, gnaw-my-foot-off-to-escape itch I remember so well. This will not last; I need to get bug screen.

The marsh area was again disconcertingly wide open, so that I had difficulty getting my bearings for my traditional panorama shot. The bird-life was much more subdued than at the equivalent time in May 2011; either I had just missed the full explosion, or I was still too early for it. I could hear the distinctive calls of red-winged blackbirds.

I decided to have lunch while waiting for the sun to come out, and paddled over the steps at Île Chabon. Or step, since the water was level with the topmost platform. What a contrast to Thanksgiving 2011! I considered mooring and scrambling out onto the steps, but the banisters made that look a little hazardous, and then had the bright idea of paddling around to the lookout on the west side of the island and pulling out onto the beach there. Beach? What beach? The water was almost up to the level of the platform itself. The bench, formerly across the path, was surrounded by water. The footpath was a channel. I paddled into the channel and worked my way back along the course of the path until I met dry land, dismounted ankle deep in wood chips that had once cushioned the path, and pulled the kayak up onto the path. There was a convenient rock, where I sat and ate my samosas. I had brought a small carton of yoghurt and no spoon; since no-one was around, I had a rare chance to eat like a kid.

I tried to make my way in the opposite direction to the toilet on the far side of the island, thinking that the opposite direction might be less flooded. Every dozen yards or so, there's a sign saying herbe a puce, with a distinctive three-leafed profile, so ploughing through the new ground-cover in sandals did not seem a particularly good idea. By the time I was mid-shin deep in cold water and wood-chips, I decided that 'less flooded' was relative, not absolute. I waded back to the kayak, turned it around, climbed in, and paddled back along the course of the path. Past the lookout, I met shallows again and ran aground in reddish-tan dirt and sand. I clambered out and towed the less burdened kayak up the path, scattering schools of tiddlers, and parked it on a patch of violets while I walked the handful of additional yards to the sign that said 'toilet'. The water was within a few inches of the level of the path at that point, and I probably could have dismounted there. It was only on the bus home that it occurred to me to wonder how dead herbe a puce had to be before it was non-toxic, since I had almost certainly been wading shin-deep in its litter. Google search induced an immediate psychosomatic itch: it seems herbe a puce can never be dead enough. And you shouldn't burn it, either. But so far so good.

By the time I finished lunch, the cloudbank had cleared. I consulted my shoulders and we decided that trying to circumvent Île de Mai in either direction in this current would be no pleasure, so I would paddle around the marsh and then go back into the flooded forest. The marsh was wide open except for an isolated stand of trees in the middle, and islands of bare sticks and shrubs. I caught sight of two more herons, one already aloft, startled by a canoe, and another one that was fishing but took wing as I tried to work the camera with the zoom lens out of its waterproof bag. Around the edges, the remains of last year's reeds formed broad floating mats.

I headed back the way I came, detouring into Île Lacroix again for a look (and some photographs) of the flooded forest with sunlight on it, back under the bridge to Île Locas, which again had fisherpersons on either side, but fortunately not in the middle, because with that current behind me, I was going. My final port of call had to be the channel between Île des Jiufs and Île aux Fraises, which is usually blocked by a branch and rock bar. Not so this outing.

Then I ferried the channel in my best Gulf Islands style, constantly looking around for power skis - because it was mid afternoon and those were out - to the upper end of Île Gagnon, past my favourite house with the red roof (photo from a previous visit), and prepared myself to go under the bridge, which involved making sure the cameras were in their waterproofing, carabiners were attached, and my legs were clear. Just in case, you know. But I scooted under the bridge like a pea rolling under a table, with easily enough clearance to steer, and that landed me back at the location d'embarcations in time for the 1541 73 de Laurentides bus. First paddle of the year, accomplished.

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