Posted by: ecckayak | March 1, 2014

March 1, 2014

March 1, 2014

Rounding the “Hole in the Wall”, southeast channel looking east at Nauset Beach. Launch from either the very end of Tonset Road, or Snow Shore Landing off Champlain Road, both landing’s in East Orleans.

Nauset Marsh is bright and clear, brisk and beautiful today. It’s been almost two months since we paddled last. Eighteen years we’ve been paddling this marsh, and this might be the longest stretch of time between paddles for us.

We haven’t been sitting around eating bon-bons though. The holidays were great. I even made a New Years Resolution! For me to make a resolution shocked Linda, who after thirty-three years together has never heard me make a resolution or even consider one. My New Years Resolution is not to volunteer for anything new in 2014! I have already started to act upon the resolution, which has brought me to the marsh on this lovely morning.

Slowly I rise and lower myself between the tight combing. Layers of clothing swell, my Chota mukluks seem to large for the Wilderness Systems Tempest cockpit. After all it is winter kayaking; dress for warmth. There is no rush. Instead, the senses open to the lapping of water and awaken to the cool 25 F degree air. The tide is flowing cold Atlantic water, still below 40 degrees F, into the marsh, to battle for our attention against the radiating heat from the sun.

For me, the first paddle of the new year brings out even more passion from within this already energized body. A rush of surrender spreads wide over the wet shore. The taste of salt air remains upon my uppermost lip. Warm air from my breathe fogs my sunglasses, reaching over my deck, stretching the bungee, releasing the shami cloth, I am momentarily in solitude. A naughty gleam tempers my eyes.

The call. Follow the horizon. To the soft, smooth lines of dune slope. To mounds washed over, mounds washed through – their sand deposited here, their sand traveling there.

Movement. On the water again. Launching, gliding, my body immediately gyrates before settling into a cadence, around me the animated world of crystaline sparkles spank the ocean surface, my blade carving a path into the heavy water. I am wrapped, insulated, pushing with my legs, pushing and pulling, my torso pulses, as my bow rises. Forward toward the contours that stretch out upon the beach, in patterns of gold-spun dreams.


Posted by: ecckayak | February 19, 2012

February Morning Fog Paddle

It’s easy to understand how sailors imagined ghost ships in the fog.  We, too, were recently out on the water in a thick early morning February  fog.  Having thankfully dressed appropriately for the occasion, it didn’t take but two strokes to be quickly cloaked in a refreshing winters mist. The tide was ebbing as we layed in at theGoose Hummock Landing at the Orleans Inn.  It swept us down Town Cove, through Nauset Marsh and towards the Atlantic Ocean.

The rising sun quickly lost the battle of supremacy to the fog and within minutes, the shoreline disappeared and we were shrouded in a fine mist. There were no landmarks to pick out. Matter of fact, it was if we were in our own new world – it was as if our kayak, with us aboard,  stood still in time, inside a small circle of water, us square in the middle. The water and the fog  blend together in this mystical experience.  Of course, most of those stories about Ghost ships appearing out of the fog on stormy nights are just legend.  But, with so little discernible landscape, I could see how the eyes start to make things up.

Grey forms  appeared in the distance.  Docks, Hopkins Island, retaining walls.  In a fog, the once familiar coastline looks so different.  In a dense winter fog everything looks different.  We needed to get our bearing. I glanced to the deck compass. You can certainly navigate confidently in fog along Town Cove and on Pleasant Bay if you stay close to shore, with or without a compass. Land along the shoreline lends a feeling of security as it emits sounds of all kinds.  It may be the waves of the Atlantic against the sandy shore that designates east, the splashing of tidal current against exposed rocks warning of obstacles, or the reassuring melody of robins and cardinals,  in February?  Even the swing of my paddle stroke was magnified, with the heavy 40 degree water temperature, so I paddled as quietly as possible.

While there is no way to teach someone how to kayak in the fog in a few paragraphs, a quick review may allow you to understand what to expect.  Rule number one: when paddling in an area where total fog coverage converges upon you, search for any signs of anything, and then rely upon your ears. That’s one of those statements that seems to capture the very essence of coastal paddling.  But it is true.  Fog, more precisely, advection fog, can occur at any time of the year.  This type of heavy fog is produced when winds carrying warm, moist air passes over cool waters which chills the air down to its dew point.   When you are caught in it, move yourself close to the shoreline, open your senses, and don’t panic.

As we hugged the East Orleans shoreline, the silent running of our gliding kayaks created a mantra-like rhythm of left-right-left-right paddle strokes.  We knew we still had to cross to the west side and the Goose Hummock Landing in the dense fog.  Maybe it’s not just an attraction to the challenge that excited us, but the process of arriving to our destination safely that motivated us to choose the exact spot to make our crossing.  As we began our crossing, I’ll tell you, nothing quite makes you feel as small as being in a kayak when you can’t see in any direction, that is of course, unless a Ghost ship appears in the dew drops.  We made it though.  After all, any kayaker knows that the place you find yourself when you get into your boat – that connection to yourself, your paddling partners, and your surroundings is as attractive a destination as anywhere you can arrive when water turns to shore in a dense fog.

Posted by: ecckayak | January 30, 2012

Nauset Marsh ~ the last weekend in January

The perserver of Nauset Marsh, Coast Guard Beach, the Great Beach, so named by Henry David Thorueau, is a geological barrier beach surrounded by the pounding Atlantic Ocean to the East and by Nauset Marsh to the West – an area whose history is intimately tied to its ‘water people’ and the changing coastline.

Cedar Bank Trail

The Nauset Marsh system and its associated Town Cove, Nauset Harbor, and Mill Pond waterways and habitats ~  reflect the Cape’s glacial origin, natural beauty, and at least 9,000 years of human activity. The observable shoreline change, the tidal fluctuations, and tidal dynamics including, in my humble opinion, evidence of  a rising sea level, shape the marsh’s paddling experience. The seals and 4-seasons of migratory wildlife, beaches, sand spit, inlet, tidal flats, salt marshes, and the meandering channels combine to spark a passion in me, in a way that can only be described as the continuation of an evolutionary process thousands of years old.

This morning, there is a simple cadence of sound that fills the air. Soft wavelets of ocean surf silently overlapped flats and newly formed sandbars. Not even the winter water fowl, tucked into a sheltered creek, want to disturb the cloak of peacefulness draped upon the landscape. Looking south from the bluff at the former Coast Guard Station, scanning miles of stretched beach spit, over the distant inlet, and past clumps of salt marsh hummocks, to the heights in East Orleans, the most beautiful horizontal dunes system stands before you.

I was summoned to the seashore today by the alluring orange sunrise. It just looked beautiful. Each of us has ‘it’ inside 0urselves. ‘It’s’ a passion for something that makes us happy. Blue sky, brown sand, dark cold water, the dormant cordgrass ~ simple features that provoke a profound respect for what ‘it’ creates.   Some of us have more of ‘it’ than others. And, sometimes, ‘it’, those passions, change. However, the passion to follow ‘it’ ~ the morning glow, the urge to paddle on the marsh, will never change for me.

To step into my kayak on the last Sunday in January, into the waters of the North Atlantic, is to step into a 5,000 year old tradition. Native people hunted the marsh for the same species now revered; early settlers fished for the same striped bass; it’s a bird watchers paradise for four seasons, the migration of all living things magical; rumrunners have turned into clammers and kayak guides. It’s a community in constant transition.

Moving about, we may all carry with us a sense of history, or the courage to embark in a journey in a kayak in 39° water, But, we will never forget, that every time we head out onto the waterway, we become one with our passion; one with the coastal environment. It is what binds all ‘water people’ together, a survival strategy, based upon the elements, that will ensure safe return.

The wind was light, no more than 6 mph, out of the WNW, at the landing. Studying the leafless locust and pine trees swaying east of the landing, though there is no wind to experience at the landing, I can tell the breeze is blowing 12-15 mph in the open water of the marsh. That is why I chose to launch from the leeward landing at Salt Pond, Eastham, on Nauset Marsh.

Calculating a plan, I only want to paddle for two hours. The tide is hours along into lowering water, so I am paddling on an ebbing tide, with the breeze behind me going out and the wind will be in my face for the return.

Salt Pond Landing, Eastham, directly off Rte 6, is a quarter mile north of the traffic light which  hangs at the intersection of the Eastham Town Offices/Eastham Superette/Eastham historic windmill. The landing is shelter and located at 41° 50’05.93″ N / 69° 58 24.16 W, within the Nauset Marsh system.

Salt Pond Landing has a paved parking area, but is limited to 10 cars. The ramp is gravel, sloped, and not practical for power boats, of any size, that need to be trailered and launched. The regulations for parking at Salt Pond change, so it is recommended to call ahead to the Town of Eastham or look around the parking lot for a small sign that explains the parking regulations au joir.

If there are no parking places available, pull to the right in the lot, along the Rte 6 hillside and wait ten minutes for a returning dog walker who will  open a spot for you to park once their walk is completed.

Start your paddle by leaving Salt Pond leading into Salt Pond Creek, which flows into Salt Pond Bay, with the marsh islands (hummocks) outlining the horizon.

Whether a winters-January day or a dog-day of August, when exiting Salt Pond Creek, you have two trail options: paddle to the right or to the left. Heading straight out into Salt Pond Bay will usually get you into shallow water and you don’t want to muck in the silt.

Observing the wind out of the WNW and tide, ebbing quickly, the surface water pushed by the wind, I decide to head out of Salt Pond Creek and swing northeast, or to the left, before entering open water. At a moderate pace, in a Tempest 17ft touring kayak, hugging the shoreline as I paddle, you can paddle for an hour, east, into Station Bay, at the base of the Coast Guard Station parking lot, and in view of the bike trail bridge that spans the northeast corner of Nauset Marsh. Along the way, the sun’s low rays heats up the north side Cedar Bank Trail and radiates warming air into the cool breeze. Great Blue Herons perch themselves within the Cedar trees. Red-tail hawks and ospreys, share pines and oaks with kingfishers, who have arrived back early this winter.

Immediately upon turning around to head back, following the same route for the return, you will undoubtedly feel the wind pushing wavelets into white-caps and the downwind surface water will have a certain friction against the hull of your kayak.

Boat House

The slow progress is refreshing as you become more comfortable with each foamy paddle stroke. Once you pass the boathouse, you are half way home. At this point, the winds will pick up as you enter Salt Pond Bay, and increase as they funnel down the creek.

Back at the landing at the water’s edge, I am no longer alone to be within my thoughts. But that is okay. The Natural Resource deputy officer wants to know how the water is, and new arrivals question whether they want to paddle in the chill and wind. I try to describe my happy thoughts of two hours well spent.

Posted by: ecckayak | January 5, 2012

Nauset Marsh – Inner Marsh Trail

Starting point: Hemenway Road Landing, Eastham on Nauset Marsh

Landing Coordinates:    41 / 49′ 22.78″ N   69 / 57′ 53.35″ W

This paddle into Nauset Marsh towards Nauset Beach at the Atlantic Ocean is a distance of approximately 4 miles. The paddling conditions are flatwater, with quick moving currents, and in July and August a steady flow of small 12-14ft powerboats with 20 hp outboard engines. At launch, getting swept out (East) by an ebbing tide and returning (West) with the incoming tide  is ideal, but can be difficult to plan. Even the most experienced Nauset Marsh paddler /boater gets fooled by the tidal water levels. Without advance notice, a ‘drainer’ may pull all the water of the marsh, and not return it at the time tide charts forecast.

To start the tour, launch from Hemenway Road Landing and move right (SE) for 150 yards.  A mudflat extends from your right to the left gently directing the paddler into deeper water that must be shared with powerboaters. Cable Creek appears to your left (NE) and Skiff Hill Creek continues straight (S).

Coordinates locate: Confluence of Cable Creek (West entrance) and Skiff Hill Creek:

41 /49′ 21.99″ N     69 / 57′ 35.38″ W    Elevation: -1 ft

This 1/4 mile stretch which leads to the ‘Starburst’ (aka: the middle of the marsh) powerful hydraulics during incoming tides push the paddler to the right (West) into shallow water and flats. Best to eddy across the strong flow, proceed up Cable Creek 50 ft before crossing to the left (W), into a line of lobster traps and the deep channel. Powerboats often use Cable Creek to come and go because of everlasting deep water. Powerboats have right-of-way, paddlers give way. The creek is bordered by cliffs of decayed organic material (detritus) (at low tide) and the dominant plant species is marsh cordgrass (Spartina).  Detritus supports Ribbed Mussels, often covered by Barnacles, and secrete strong threads that bind individual mussels together in clusters. Many types of invertebrates and crabs burrow into the detritus bank create holes, small depressions.

At coordinates 41 / 49′ 31.72″ N     69 / 57’25.04″W

Cable Creek (East entrance) Elevation -3 ft

The marsh is a study in contrasts. At the east entrance/exit of Cable Creek, wide expanses of exposed sandbars appear to stop your progress. Remember, water is always moving within the marsh. Most deep water is located along the border fringes of abutting marsh detritus and grasses. Water level is critical in the Starburst, averages minus 1-2 ft below sea level. Paddlers can sweep left (N) towards Boat House channel and the Cedar Bank north sector of Nauset Marsh, or progress right (E) navigating the deep water alongside sloping sides of accreted sand bars and mud flats. The marsh fringe of detritus and deep(er) water channels offer a nutritious habitat for lobsters. Lobster traps marked by colorful buoys usually are placed in the deep, cooler water, look for buoys if you run into the shallows. It will be obvious that powerboats have right of way in the shallow, narrow, and rapidly moving ebb or flow of flatwater.

Paddling Cable Creek (heading E into the Starburst), moving right at the sandbars (at low tide), meander to coordinates:

41 / 49′ 37.45″ N    69 / 57′ 00.36″W  Elevation 0 ft

At sea level, the water moves quickly (ebb or flow) from the center of the Starburst towards the inlet to the Atlantic Ocean (E). Big Bar, a series of long flat sandbars, lies to the right (S) if you are running East towards the barrier beach. Within 200 yards, the confluence of standing waves and rapids-like, restless water marks an impassable channel to your left (N) if you are a novice or even intermediate paddler. Access your abilities at this time. Larger commercial and recreational boats navigate this waterway constantly. Again, they have right of way when in the boat channel, which is most instances, is where the deep, passable water settles. The other option is to move left (S) and into the Beach Channel that parallels the local-only (taxpayer) side of Nauset Beach. Crossing the channel from Nauset Marsh to the barrier beach should be done with care, observing approaching boats and at what speed they are moving, and crossing together in a side-by-side line and not a line one-after-the-other. Access by paddlecraft to Nauset Beach is open to the public. Land and pull your craft high up the beach. Commercial boats throw off a wake that will grab your kayak or SUP and wash it off the beach.

Posted by: ecckayak | December 27, 2011

Dec 27 – Not alone afterall

The quiet of the burning red sunrise speaks volumes to the turmoil approaching from the West.  Gale force winds have already been forecast last night for today. The 35 degree air, heavy and motionless, envelopes the National Seashore.  There isn’t a ripple to be seen on the water, not in Salt Pond Bay, not within the channels of Nauset Marsh. Coils of sand, as if frozen to the flats, aren’t moving. The abundance of life within the marsh seems non-existent. Am I the only one here?

That would be foolish to even consider. Within the wide channels of the marsh, hidden casts of horseshoe crabs and spider crabs escort me to the ocean. Molted carapaces float past my way. Signs of life, retired for the time being, are surely found in the warmer environment under the water. Winter ducks, eiders and mures, appear where the food is, closer to the ocean swells heard building in the distance. A sure sign the calm of the morning is disappearing with the threatening warm front to the South.

The cooing of the common eider, kind of a gutteral woof-cooing, gargling sound, echoes in a hauntingly beautiful tone across the prairie-like marine hummocks. It is my observation that eiders don’t stay in one place for to long when foraging the outer Cape shores of Nauset and Coast Guard beaches. It is hypnotic to watch these large sea ducks dive bomb for food. Darting along the shore with grace and such speed, the splash the eider produces when diving for food might look like the blow of a whale to the visiting eye. For that very reason I am out today, to catch a glimpse of the Right Whale in the horizon, it’s v-shaped blow distinctive. Focused, eyes moving in their sockets, following a splash to the south, a splash to the north, and my sight catches nothing but eiders, their entry into the ocean blasting salt spray three to four feet above the waters surface. No longer am I in stillness, the magic of the ocean community rises above the vacuum of sound and movement into beauty and energy beyond expression.

At the fringe of the marsh, beyond the sheltered flat waters, in the opening of the inlet, the sounds are magnified in a lapping cadence of bending waves, rolling over smoothed pebbles and rocks, into retreating wash that gets consumed by the never ending process of ebb and flow. It rocks my world.

The surrounding vista, no longer still and quiet. The rhythms of a pulse are lost to the echo of confluences. The mind starts to question the significance of pushing through the surf zone. Aware that the elements of weather are beginning to materialize, the clouds building with the rising air, the wind, puffing and churning like the little engine that could, and yet, the soft sands of the barrier beach beckon safe viewing, if I want.

It is time to assess the risk, something I have learned to do, whether paddling in the warmth of the summer, or the cold during winter, I have learned to not only be aware of wild life, of weather patterns, but also each balanced stroke forward as the paddle catches moving. Am I ready for the slightest unforeseen variable that might wither my comfort level, and force me to combat a situation. More importantly, are the eiders and seals capable of assisting in my exit from the North Atlantic waters should I need help.

Inner voices scream to me above the surf, tempting me to proceed, to paddled on, in this same area, under these same conditions, for which I have paddled countless times. And yet, today, the adrenaline races through my veins, and I succumb to the humbling tone of voices reminding me of my mortality.

Dropping a sweeping low brace turn, water cascading off my spray skirt, the boat edges atop the incoming tide, and draws me home to Hemenway Landing, past black ducks, buffleheads, and stark brown grasses of genus Spartina.

Arriving back to the house, the vacuum of stillness once again enters my world.  My twenty-something girls are still in bed, the ring-neck turtle dove rests upon her perch, and the spirits of our 1830’s farmhouse fill the air.

Posted by: ecckayak | December 22, 2011

December Outing Club on Waquoit Bay

Unseasonably warm weather settled on Cape Cod this past November. The (weather) doppler images showed a cold air mass to the North and warm air to the South. And, in between, Cape Cod is sitting within a strong high-pressure system, mixing a perfect temperature for us put on the fleece and paddle all day.

It might be December 8, 2011, but the water temperature is still 48 degrees and the air temperature is forecast to be in the low 50’s, and Erin and I had just gotten off the water after a day on Little Pleasant Bay. So you can only imagine, when a group of college students, members of an outing club, called to say they were on the Cape and asked if we were still offering tours. My answer was a resounding yes and plans were set to meet the next morning at the public parking lot at Edwards Boat Yard in East Falmouth on Rte 28.

The morning chill feels good, as paddlers take their last sip of morning coffee. Pitch pine shadows cast by the dune hillside at the landing reflect in the glassy flat water at the entrance to Child’s River and put me a little more at ease when considering the elements. It may feel like October, but it is December! 9 tandem kayaks fanned out from the shoreline. 18 kids, bundled up, loading each boat with dry bags full of snacks, extra clothing, binoculars to study the water fowl, and extra gloves. You always take too much, no matter how I stress to be a minimalist. I am not going to bust their chops today, more is good. Passing around the paddles, cinching lifejackets, giggles and camaraderie, team building fills our space as we all ready to launch.

One more bit of information before we leave. Though the wind was non existent, the weather service is reporting 15-20 knot winds, a practical forecast considering the morning air was 41 degrees and the sun’s radiational heating was being trapped in the atmosphere by low hanging stratus clouds. I explained that by 11 am, winds would be pushing hard over the water from the West. Everyone should know in anticipation for our way home into the wind.

Waquoit Bay is a perfect waterway to paddle in the winter. It has about 850 acres of ‘paddleable’ area, but fingers of sheltered rivers and treed uplands provides safe exploration. It is also an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), protected by federal law to be “preserve, restore, and enhance the natural and cultural resources of the area”. The Reserve, itself, encompasses 1,286 acres of upland, including pine barrens and sand plain grasslands – and that is where we are paddling towards. It is a shallow bay, with a maximum depth of about 9 feet. Once you get out by the barrier beach spit you never loose sight of the bottom. I believe the mean depth is something like 3 feet. That is why it gets so warm in the summer, causing eutrophication, and in the winter, the water is colder than the neighboring Sound, hence why I am concerned about hands and extremities this time of year.

An hour or more, we arrive to the sand plain grasslands of the barrier beach, now, totally, out of the protection of the leeward shoreline. Open fields of prairie and beach grass dominate the sandy soils. After a moment of talking about Cape Cod’s glacial formation, it was too nippy to stand around. The mood turned playful, two freebies caught by the building breeze, floated past unaware gulls, and landed twenty feet off shore, next to a flock of surprised sea ducks.

Long past warmth, spongy codium fragile dominate the wrack line along Vineyard Sound beach. Discussions begin, led by students studying botany, future botanists I hope, correctly identifying the major groups of seaweeds (macroalgae), divided into classifications  called phyla – greens, browns, reds. Working in this environment each day, I had to give them all credit, they knew their stuff. At this time of year, especially,  it is tough to distinguish one Protista from another. It was fun, nevertheless, to try to identify the different seaweeds.

Too soon, our day ended. The wind did pick up. It took us longer to push through the chilling wind. Noses started to run, eyes occasionally watered. But, no one complained, no whining was allowed. As I often say, when asked what my favorite water trail is to paddle, it is not the water trail that makes for a wonderful day, it is actually the people I paddle with that makes a day memorable. Today, December 9, 2011, I had a group to paddle with that will long stay with me in spirit. Everyone took the elements seriously, we adapted our plans to the conditions, and together, we built an attitude of learning and loving on Waquoit Bay.

Posted by: ecckayak | December 18, 2011

Kayaking fashion is not a top priority

The Lower Cape has what is perhaps the lowest dress standard in the known kayaking world. Go to Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island – kayakers are in spray tops/jackets, protective/expensive dry suits, with fancy footwear – this type of water attire is daily dress. Their cute lifejackets, with 101 pockets, filled with every form of safety tid-bit, are hot kayaking garb in those parts. Around here, just trying to ask someone to wear their life jacket is considered a restriction on personal freedom. “Provincial” is the word that best captures our style. Some might say we dress ‘raunchy’. If, in fact, the lifejacket with the 101 pockets is even worn, it had better have stains of dried salt from last season’s paddling, the smell of marsh peat, leftovers dripped down the front from slurped little necks, and at least one torn pocket. Paddling gear of this type establishes some thread of connection between his or her ancestry and a grave stone in the Cove Burying cemetery by Fort Hill. The assumption that the present outing on the marsh, which has been done so many times, is so important, and the clamming or fishing, or birding, so good, and judging the tide so critical, that there is no time to worry about how you look. I should know, though I cannot trace any ancestry to Eastham, nor the Lower Cape for that matter, after fourteen years of showing up, at every landing in these parts, along our shorelines, I am a perfect candidate to loose at strip poker, for most of the time, I am seen only wearing board shorts, a t-shirt, my stray hat, and no shoes. That’s the way it is. Well, that’s the way it is here in the summer. And, if we look like a bunch of vagabond paddlers, looking more like retro hippies than modern day kayakers, don’t let our appearance fool you. It’s not how we look at the launch, it’s all about how we look when we return. We take nothing for granted. We understand the risk each day, as we paddle in one of the most treacherous inlets along the East Coast, against strong incoming or ebbing tides, dodging herds of seals and power boats with twin 250 hp, and studying the tricky local weather patterns. What the hell, who cares how we look, after all it’s not about us, it’s about where we paddle, on some of the best waterways in the world.

Posted by: ecckayak | December 6, 2011

December on the Marsh

The days have shortened and the sun looms lower in the sky. No one is on the water on this December 5th day, except a few flocks of buffleheads close to the shore, winter fowl bobbing in the surf off in the distance, and lucky commercial clammers, including my dear friend Paul Dunne, still able to work the flats during this unseasonably warm weather. Pushing off from the landing at Hemenway Road, Eastham, the first paddle stroke is always the finest of the day, a stroke of balance and release, nature purging the pressures of work.

Rounding the bend into Cable Creek the incoming tide pushes progress backwards. One thing about Nauset Marsh, the landings are on the west side and the deep water is east. After fifteen minutes of “treadmill” like paddling, the inlet to the ocean is in sight, the hard part of the paddle will cease to exhaust arms and limps, as the bow catches the incoming tide for the remainder of the paddle. I am out here to count the seals. A couple of weeks ago I was the only one out here, and shocked to see the great numbers of grey seals migrating into the marsh. In fourteen years on this marsh, I had never encountered such a large population of these carnivorous marine mammals. Labeling the grey and harbor seal carnivorous is extreme, I don’t ever feel like I am in jeoporady of being eating alive, and I paddle amongst them almost everyday.  They have had plenty of opportunity, if they so chose, to devour me for lunch. They belong to the suborder of pinniped, “fin-footed” or “wing-footed” mammals. As I have studied their behavior, up close, on the water, and hauled out, over the years, I can definitely see the link in evolution, to bears.

Swinging the kayak south, from the inlet, being swept down a channel that parallels the ‘locals only’ side of Nauset Beach, bobbing heads of seals start to appear in the distance. Usually the seals are by the inlet, catching flounder and striped bass as the fish move in and out of the marsh with the ebb and flow of moving water. Often groups of grey seals position themselves at the entrance of the narrowing channel in the inlet, and devour whatever tries to get past their open mouths. The fish have left the marsh, no boat traffic nor disturbance, this time of year the seals migrate south to the bars usually occupied by a half dozen clammers raking out steamers and quahog clams.

It’s interesting, though, that we call a large group of seals by any one of a number of names. Whales are simple grouped in a bod. However, groups of seals may be in a pod too, but may also be called a herd or colony. So take your pick. I like the term herd, it reminds me of buffalos in the wild west.

Signs of climate change are everywhere. There is more water in the marsh. Less flounder, as habitats of eel grass have been threatened. Yet, as I started to count the males first, since they are bigger, the seals certainly look well fed, not like they have missed a meal.  Grey seals are easily distinguished from harbor seals, not only are they much bigger in size, the grey seal has a horselike head. The male 8 feet in length may weight up to 800 pounds. Today, paddling by, it seems there are more males than females in this herd. That is not always the norm, the males often hold court over a harem of females, constantly circling the family for protection. And though the breeding season for grey seals runs from late September through early Marsh , there are 17 young pups huddled today within the large herd, protected by both male and female.

Sand bar extends, long and flat, undulating mounds pushed by winds into the narrow channel, an edge carved into a cliff-like plateau. The swift current draws the kayak towards the hauled out herd, the smell and characteristic breathing of grey seals is repulsive and the sound haunting. The innate curiosity, their big brown eyes, stare me down. Most times, they would  take refuge in the water, popping back up, some fifty yards away, like black dots, surfacing, at a safe distance. Not today though. A surveillance party of only seven very large males approached me from the shore, the remaining 123 seals simply held their ground on the bar. Which made it much easier to count them all. Have you ever tried to count a bunch of black dots swimming, diving, resurfacing, splashing? It’s a not easy.

Eventually they all calm down, with the wind shift, and I continued on my way, with the tide, into the channel, through the hole-in-the-wall, past Snow Shore and Fort Hill, to Hemenway Road Landing where now, the clammers had left, and my truck remained solo awaiting my return. 12/6/2011

Posted by: ecckayak | April 6, 2011

Seasonal Change

Another winter is stubbornly moving out the inlet towards the Atlantic, along the shores of Pleasant Bay. This bright morning, I paddle towards the sheltered dune islands, following the windswept flowing surface waters and ebbing tide. Once again, I hang on the balance of the seasonal rhythms, turning with the sun. The warmth trying to penetrate the cooler air, things are seemingly starting to move faster. I am able to see, from Sipson’s Island, the shore road and creek bridge, a world of travelers passing by in the distance, where yesterday becomes tomorrow, and the next day comes too soon. Unaware, perhaps, all of us, that we are dependent on a daily routine, with marked intervals. Yet, today, the morning glow marks simple observations that allows time safe passage freely from winter to summer.

Posted by: ecckayak | March 26, 2011

A waterfowls Serengeti

It’s the end of March, a Friday, and the breeze is blowing from the north/northwest. The sun is shining, warming the land and sea surface. Linda and I have the afternoon off so we decide to go for a paddle. On the lower cape, with an Arctic air mass, a high, sitting on top of us, the Quanset Road Landing on Quanset Harbor in Big Pleasant Bay, South Orleans is an ideal paddle. Particularly because the  sun’s spring rays bounce off the bluffs, angled by the carved north shores of the bay, right at you. The shallows show us new seasonal growth. A pair or two of Horseshoe crabs mating, in March, give me hope for their survival yet this season, a constant fight between those making a living and living, period. Perhaps they weren’t mating, rather keeping each other comforted. The buffleheads are so cute, and the guttural sounds of the Brant combine to transport you to their world. Like the summer yellowlegs, I could watch the winter buffleheads continually. But, on this day, hundreds of water fowl filled Little Pleasant Bay. Brant’s and scoters, but the largest group were female and adolescent Red- breasted Mergansers. As we round the point at the Cochran estate and paddled against the outgoing tide in the Narrows, we happened upon 100’s of Red-breasted mergansers. Down wind, paddling against the tide, we were able to move silently to within 40 yards of this floating merganiser community. There we sat, Linda and I, 50 yards off shore, sharing space on the leeward side of the Horseshoe, bobbing together, with 100’s of cooing, croaking, squawking, waterfowl. Their orchestrated sounds are like a melodic, new age recording by Paul Winter. It is  a calming mantra to the soul, enlightening to the senses. Even that is by chance, for, in a flash of amazing co-dependency, every one of the water fowl in front of us took flight. First, we sensed the energy of the downward synchronized strike of their wing’s that swung them up to take flight. Simultaneously, the wings hit the waters surface and the rush of splash produced a sound of bouncing water particles. With their necks extended, and their webbed feet, hurriedly kicking backwards, run, run, Linda and I thought. The faster there wings flapped, the faster there little webbed feet scurried along the surface, running on water, trying their best to run fast enough to catch up to the force of their flapping wings. My vision instantly flashed to the Serengeti Plain migration. How incredible that migration in Tanzania must really be? What I was sensing was incredible enough for the moment. The horizon, just a hundred yards from us, was covered with flying, running, squawking red- breasted mergansers, Brants, and an assortment of whatever we could identify in the hundreds. We also think that we saw a group of pin-tailed oldsquaw, but I find it sometimes difficult to make a positive identification from such a distance amongst such beauty. In that moment I was fully aware that before me was a little league version of the Serengeti. It didn’t matter. Again, Pleasant Bay brought me to an awe moment. Turning around, the tide swept us back to Quanset, the sun in our face, the leeward bluffs radiating warmth. Looking high above, buzzards glided in the air currents, in front, Great Blue heron hugged the shores, the trees and brush along the shoreline  showing buds, some green, some red, sprout’s on branches that will give us more opportunity to observe the season as it comes alive before our eyes.

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