Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Perfect Autumn Sunday

A good mid-Atlantic autumn is nothing short of spectacular, and this one has been nothing short of that.

It was in the 80s this past Sunday, so we decided on a late-season paddle on the upper Chesapeake. We put in on Broad Creek, a hidden little boat ramp tucked in among weekend cottages and overgrown oaks and water maple. Two other cars were parked to the side, trailers behind. Clearly, this area was for those in the know.

I pushed my kayak into the water and stepped in up to my ankles. Damn! The Bay water is cold in November, no matter the weather. I stepped into the hull, slid my Tevas forward, balanced my elbows alongside the bulkhead, and lowered myself into the seat. I used my paddle to push off some rocks and moved slowly out into the creek.

We decided to take a look up the creek first before heading to open water. We were in the bottom of a ravine. The hillsides around us were a blanket of changing leaves, all red and yellow and orange and exploding like sun fire. Small cottages, weekenders, some not much more than shacks, littered the hills. Pontoon boats were either moored on floating piers or dry docked on hoists. Canoes and kayaks, abandoned for the season, lay littered about. The echoes of shotguns clambered along the valley walls; deer season had begun.

The slap and draw of our paddles in the water gave the air a meditative rhythm.

Finally, we turned and headed out to the open Chesapeake. We were near a great little historic town named Havre de Grace. Yes, it’s French, but the folks around here call it, “Haver day Grace”, pronounced phonetically. It’s the way they’ve always done it, and I guess it’s endearing.

Legend holds that General Washington passed through here on his travels from Virginia to New York, and he remarked that it was an impressive burg, situated as it was between the Chesapeake and the mouth of the mighty Susquehanna. I like it for its small, seaside town charm, its antique shops and restaurants and cozy places to enjoy a drink. Imagine a smaller, less-moneyed Annapolis. That is Havre de Grace.

The Bay opened up before us like an easy girl on prom night. (Sorry – I’m a sucker for gratuitous similes.) The heavy bay grasses of the summer were still there, though dying down. We paddled hard to fight through them and get to the open water. We had timed our trip to hit the high tide, so we were paddling into an oncoming rush of water. With each stroke of the paddle, a wave would crest over the bow of the kayak, break, and wash down along the sides. The bigger ones would break over and into the opening of the hull.

It was November, and I should have had on my spray skirt. I should have been wearing more than swim trunks and a dri-shirt and Tevas. Because that water felt damn, damn cold. But it was 83, and the sun was warm and bright.

We paddled along, and gorgeous old antebellum farms rose up on either side of us, out of the Chesapeake, on this rich loamy land. We could see horses gallop and dance, fisherman cast and tug, sailors trim and jibe and shout. The length of the Chesapeake lay out before us, bathed in the struggling light of an Indian summer, and we sat silently and watched the ripples and waves wash toward us.

Finally, as the light turned from yellow to orange to red, it was time to head back. We made a lazy turn, spun back toward the creek’s mouth, and paddled. We were quicker now in our strokes, with the light fading, the temperature clearly dropping, almost minute by minute.

As we left the Bay, and entered the creek, I turned back to see the last shimmering of the sun on the water. It was all reds and oranges now, warm, but a cool warmth. The sheer rock walls next to me were bathed in this otherworldliness, this outburst of color. I took a deep breath.

Then I turned, toward the darkening shadows of the creek. I dug my paddle into the chill waters, pulled hard, and we headed home.


Blogger Mason said...

Amazing....makes me miss the East Coast even more. Nice writing Jack.

1:57 PM  

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