Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dear God...

Don't let me ever again be the annoying f*** in an outfitter store.

I'm sure they are my penance for having BEEN the annoying f*** in an outfitter store back when I was thrilled with myself and my outdoor activities. Soon after I started going backpacking and climbing I found myself working in an outfitter store. This amplified my annoying newbie qualities by adding the little knowledge that is a dangerous thing. I still shopped other outfitters when I went on trips to places like the Adirondacks or North Conway, NH. It gave me ample opportunities to annoy.

I would hope I had paid my karmic debt by now, but as long as one stays in the outfitter business one sits in the cross-hairs of know-it-alls and half-informed customers who want to make sure you're doing everything absolutely right when they have no real idea what that is.

When -- if -- I ever manage to get out of the outfitting business, if I still like to go out and I need gear, let me please always remember to shop quietly and not embroil the sales people in my spirals of indecision or other psychodramas.

Friday, October 19, 2012

I hate hunting season

I have many friends who hunt. While I don't share their enthusiasm for it, the activity itself isn't what bothers me. I just hate having to make myself visible in the woods.

As a courtesy to hunters, one should wear high-visibility clothing. I hate high-visibility clothing. I may not be a master of concealment in the wilderness, but I hate to draw attention. I would prefer to go unnoticed.

My mountaineering garb is brightly colored, partly because it was the fashion at the time and partly to make my body easier to find in case I don't return from the realm of bare rock, ice and snow. However, as I've gotten older I have been more attracted to the idea of disappearing without a trace than with being found. I'm just too cheap to invest in more subtly-colored shell garments. But in the woods and forested lower mountains I can wear my preferred darker hues because I have clothing good for those environments in earth tones. Just not when people are tromping around out there looking for large mammals to kill.

When I rode a mountain bike a lot on the trails around my area I had a blaze orange helmet cover and other brightly-colored clothing options. Biking isn't conducive to concealment anyway. It was no hardship to put on the clown suit for the sake of safety. And now I don't ride the mountain bike that way, so it's not an issue. The places I ride don't traverse particularly good hunting areas.

Hiking is a different matter. My house sits in some prime deer and bear habitat. If I go for my customary bushwhack straight out the back door I could run into a hunter within a hundred yards. I don't post my property, respecting its ancestral uses. I have seen hunters entering and leaving the woods along the stone wall at the far end of my domain. One time I even surprised a bowhunter on one of my trails who turned out to be a cycling friend I hadn't seen in years. He brought a near-record buck out of the woods later that year. When he showed up at my door on a chilly November evening, sweaty, out of breath and smeared with blood it was very similar to opening the door to find my proud cat with a dead rodent, only much, much bigger. I helped him load it onto the roof rack of his Subaru wagon.

The hunters deserve their time. I just have to wait it out or go to places I know would not attract them, like the steep and windswept higher summits. Or, more likely, I stay too busy with delayed preparations for winter to go into the woods at all.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gettin' Salty

Scarborough River spreads out in a broad, shallow bay behind Pine Point. It makes a great launching site with access to sheltered waters and the open water of Saco Bay.
The prudent mariner prepares for any reasonable contingency. It makes you look like a geek beside the happy-go-lucky casual boaters in a bathing suit and perhaps a PFD. I try to pack quickly and dwindle to a speck on the horizon before my preparations invite comment.

The sky looked strange. The forecast told us to watch for possible thunderstorms. This paddling venue gives us a good view of the sky. Clouds built and dissipated without reaching a critical point. The breeze seemed stiff when we started, but faded. We skirted the shore toward the channel at the river mouth. The wind carried the smell of salt air, diesel fumes and faint whiffs of marijuana.

We crossed the channel as the last of the flood tide swirled over rocks on the far shore. Large fish we could not identify leaped clear of the water as they fed on smaller fish they had corralled in the channel current. Terns circled above the choppy water.

Laurie always doubts her skills and worries more than necessary. Then she performs any explained maneuver perfectly well. We planned our channel crossing to account for the current, wind and boat traffic. The channel is not a busy one, but the boats that use it are piloted by either commercial harvesters of fish and lobster or the typical oblivious doofus who has just spent hours churning his children on inner tubes in endless loops behind a powerful motor boat. The working watermen should not have to accommodate recreational paddlers, and the doofuses can't be relied on to notice us.

We paddled along the beach headed out toward Prout's Neck. Sails were going up on 420-class dinghies beside a float. A large powerboat trailing tubes loaded with children swept in from farther out in the bay and started to do laps around the area we were trying to cross. We aimed close to the beach, hoping the boat driver would avoid the land, even if we remained invisible.

Hugging the shore we also cut behind the junior program sailors in the 420s, and others in Optimist dinghies closer to the yacht club itself. The 420 float is actually many yards out into the anchorage, not connected to shore. The Opti float is also separate. It may ground at low tide on the pleasant sand of the bay floor.

The sailing instructors in their launches seemed no warmer toward kayakers than most other power boaters seem to be. Our course very briefly cut between them and their shore base, but that had seemed better to me than cutting between them and their charges in the dinghies. We pulled through quickly.

Just beyond the yacht club we crossed one more small indented cove before suddenly facing a more distinct swell. The warning sound of white water over rocks announced that we had reached more exposed coastline. Laurie said she did not want to go further out. She waited in the last cove while I took a look at what lay beyond.

The swell was barely more than a foot high, with a small wind-chop on top of it. I never dropped into a trough deep enough to block my view. Even so, the waves made a dangerous break over the barely submerged rocks at this particular corner. I went outside that before curving eastward to look down toward more dramatic rocks on the outer shore of the neck. After a few minutes holding position on the restless waves I turned back to rejoin Laurie.

Tubing Boat One had been joined by Tubing Boat Two. The junior program sailors had moved to their racing areas. We cut through the anchorage on a more direct course now that we would not interfere with them. That still left the tubing boats. They cycled on an irregular oval at varying intervals. We watched them for several minutes before making our dash toward the beach. They shifted closer to shore as we approached it, but that was probably coincidental. Their course was dumbbell-shaped, so it veered away from us as we moved further from its end.

Saco Bay shores are made of soft, white sand. We landed on the beach for a bite to eat and a bit of wading in the chilly water.

While we sat on shore, we watched a seagull walk up and investigate the untended belongings of some beachgoers who had walked away. We would have prevented any vandalism or larceny. The first gull, who was later joined by a second, peered into tote bags and pecked at shiny sunglasses, but found nothing to take and left nothing but webbed footprints.

We launched again at slack tide, to cross the channel for a cruise along the teeming shore of the extended environs of Old Orchard Beach. Human beings make an amazing amount of noise, playing at the sea side. From a hundred yards or more off shore it becomes a wordless chatter and screeching. A crowd of mammals lies on the sand. Some run up and down along the beach. Others leap and lumber into the breaking waves. One observes feeding, the preambles to mating, some play, some aggression, competition for territory and interaction with other species. Shore birds wheel above the noisy herd, hoping to swoop down on undefended food.

We paddled smoothly outside the zone of bobbing heads and reaching arms, beyond the sound of intelligible words and meaningful eye contact. It was a great way to cruise the beach.

Before the ebb could set in too strongly, we turned back toward the channel. We would not have to cross it, but people fishing from the jetty cast lines far out into the channel. We would not test their patience or risk their sense of humor by ripping along right under their noses. I eyeballed the lineup to spot the best arm and set a course just outside his longest cast.

Back inside, we aimed for our launching beach. We easily overcame the faint pressure of the early ebb tide.

I always have trouble ending a boat trip. Even if I'm tired, hungry and ready to rest, the difference between afloat and ashore lures me to stay afloat a little longer. We paddled a little beyond the beach and boat ramp to look at some grass flats.
It's fun to float
The day was full of classic shorescapes and water scenes. Artistic compositions invite the eye every minute in any direction.

After we took the boats out and put on some dry shorts we found a great little seafood shack on a side street. The fact that all the cars in the parking lot had local plates tipped us off that it was the good stuff. We had a couple of lobster rolls, fries and some iced tea. A very friendly black jumping spider kept climbing my leg until I gave it a lift on a plastic spoon to the table top. Jumping spiders always remind me of cats. This one was fairly large, with iridescent blue eyes and a red marking on the top of its abdomen (not a red hourglass underneath)

Our next objectives were corn and tomatoes, and soft-serve ice cream. The veggies were for supper and the ice cream was, well, ice cream. As it happened, we did not get tomatoes, but we got some excellent corn, which we roasted and ate along with Swiss chard and kale chopped and cooked with garlic and ginger for our supper when we got home.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Paddle and Swim at P-Lake

Aunt and nephew go over some basic strokes after launching from the narrow beach right next to Route 153. We're probably in Maine here.
Squilly in the Loon.
Forward stroke.
Where to now?
Squilly tries the big boat. It is better. Now what do we do?
Squilly under attack!
Squilly under water!

When the morning grayness finally broke, before the clouds could build for the afternoon thunderstorms, we went to Province Lake for a little paddling and splashing. Access is very easy, with the road right by the beach. The lake basin has a big sky view, so the weather would not be able to sneak up on us.

Severe storms have hit parts of the state, but not our neighborhood this time. Things looked like they were getting exciting a few minutes after we got home, but never developed further than a couple of sharp rumbles and some turbulent clouds. Little micro power outages keep disrupting the electronics momentarily. Strange weather.

Squilly leaves late tomorrow afternoon after a week here. We're lucky he likes just kicking back here. I can't imagine how it would be to occupy someone who needed constant entertainment.

A second week would probably drive him around the bend.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Conservation Commission Hosts "Fish Fry"

photos by Laurie Meeder


Volunteers from the Effingham Conservation Commission assisted biologists from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and environmental scientist Rick Van de Poll in electroshock fish sampling today on the Pine River and Wilkinson Brook. The sampling is part of the Wildlife Action Plan study in Effingham, which is the state's first.

The team entered the river downstream from a beaver dam on Long Point in the Lost Valley development and worked up against the current. Fish and Game personnel operated three battery-powered units and directed the netting.

The shock briefly stuns fish and other aquatic creatures which the netters can scoop up and place in buckets. It causes far fewer fatalities than other sampling methods and yields a vastly larger number of specimens according to Van de Poll. He and the other ECC volunteers were surprised, however, that the ones gathered today did not float as visibly as he had observed them to do in previous samplings. That and the silt made the netting challenging.

The river bottom contour changed radically in places. The bottom varied between sand and mud, with boulders and water-logged tree trunks. A knee-deep section could give way to a hole several feet deep. But the day was warm, and so was the river. The only danger was the electricity, but no one got shocked in any of their dunkings. The shockers responded instantly to any outcry or large splash.

Species included brook trout, pickerel, yellow perch, fallfish, white sucker and a couple of crayfish.

Naturally I netted the primo crustacean for the day. Anyone surprised?

After lunch, which did not include seafood, the team moved on to Wilkinson Brook, a much narrower stream. I managed to forget my camera when I nipped home on the lunch break to pick up some other things I'd wished I had, like binoculars (still looking for that heron rookery), so I have no pictures of that jungle slog. For a small stream it had some surprisingly deep holes. We also missed capturing a brook trout large enough to laugh off our puny voltage. We did gather a number of burbot, more perch, a catfish and more brookies.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Eagle Hunt Delayed by Sparrow

The Anti-Eagle

I was pretty wiped out after work on the Fourth of July and had to take care of a few things, so I ran out of time for the eagle hunt. I'm hoping to get to it today.

Work on a holiday weekend is hectic enough. My duties grew more complex when the patriarch of the shop called me over while we were all out front watching Wolfeboro's parade.

"There's a baby bird here that fell out of the nest, and these kids are all upset and can't enjoy the parade. Can't you do something about it?" he said.

I suppose he imagined I would take it out back and club it with a tire iron to "put it out of its misery." You'd be miserable, too, if you'd fallen out of your safe nursery into a scary, noisy world full of huge creatures, indifferent at best, hostile at worst. One young thug had been winging rocks at the bird.

What I saw was a viable nestling, if only I could get it back to its parents or into a suitably quiet environment. I scooped it up and carried it into the shop. We lock up during the parade, so I had more than an hour to work this problem in peace.

I looked for succulent bugs I could squish in imitation of regurgitated food, but all I saw was ants. I've never seen a bird chow down on ants. Rather than waste a lot of time on it, I moved on to rehydrating the little bugger. He (she?) would take drips from a paper towel. Then I went on line to look for a rehabilitator. I'd dealt with a woman in Madison a couple of years ago with a young squirrel. I hoped I might find someone closer, but I had to start somewhere.

One phone call at a time, to Madison, then Meredith, I was able to arrange foster care and get instructions to help keep the bird alive. Every ten minutes I dripped diluted sports drink onto its beak until closing time. Then my associate in the workshop, who had overslept and had to drive instead of bike, kindly transported it to a rendezvous with the rehabilitator.

In the early stages of this process, when I still cradled the bird in my right hand, I saw bird lice swarming up my arm. I was pretty sure I interdicted all of them before they invaded my armpit and moved on to hairier pastures. Once I had the bird in a nest cup to await transport I executed the straggling lice with a bike spoke heated over a butane lighter as they crawled up the tissue paper away from the nestling. But when I got home, Laurie suggested a thorough shower and immediate laundering of all my garments. Probably a better idea than going paddling in my buggy shirt. Then it was 5 p.m. and I'd really had enough. Figure a minimum of two hours start to finish for the most cursory trip to Province Lake...not worth it. I still had to work full hours on Saturday.

My associate reported that the he passed the bird, still cheeping, to its next custodian. So it made it that far.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Herons and Eagles

As the designated crazy who paddles and hikes inconvenient areas, I get the call to look for things where other people probably won't. This week it's herons and eagles nesting along the jungle shores of two minor rivers.

Following reports of adult heron pairs on Pine River, I was asked to check downstream from the Elm Street bridge for signs of a rookery.

Pine River meanders so tightly that you can often look onto the next bend from the one you're rounding, unless the vegetation is too thick or the water level drops you too far below bank height. It cuts through glacial till, undermining the trees that grow along it. Nearly every bank-side tree can look forward to falling in eventually. Some fall along the course. Most fall across. It's surprising anyone can paddle through at all. There have been years in which it didn't seem worth the trouble.

Nature never stands still. The logjams cook down. Floods add or remove debris. On many of the more permanent ones, different water levels offer different options for crossing. At high water, float over a low spot. At low low water, limbo underneath. At varying mid levels the climb over may be harder or easier depending on what odd projections and additional logs might be exposed.

Yesterday the river was up at a high medium level, following several days of afternoon downpours. The swirling current was a dark reddish brown. The flecks stayed below the surface, so it didn't look like coffee with cream, but more like onion soup. Cold onion soup.

I hit the first log jam right where I expected it. It's been there for enough years that I thought it might have rotted down enough to let me pass easily. Instead I had to hop out of Scruffy, the kayak that loves to go sideways, onto a fat log that turned out not to be as buoyant as its bulk might suggest. I didn't go in, because I move very carefully, but it complicated my crossing.

One of the owners of my local Java haunt came by, walking her chocolate lab along the bank. She and her husband own a house formerly owned by other friends of mine, which includes a fair amount of unbuildable shore frontage. She said she thought it got worse downstream. As unwelcome as this news was, it still fell within normal variation on the Pine. I was doing this for Science. If Rick, the naturalist, could stick to a compass course through a chest-deep, basically uncharted bog, I could crawl through a few logjams.

A long stretch went by with no major obstacles. I'd reached the shore frontage of the shooting preserve on river right. I hadn't looked at it in years, since we aimless explorers were posted out. Early on they had bulldozed the bank to make what appeared to be a canoe launch, but that has grown back in. Only the signs forbidding entry, peeling from every other tree, reminded me of what had been a fine place to wander and watch the post-glacial terrain evolve.

A side channel invited entry but contained no nest sites. Then I came to the second stopper.


This picture is taken from the bank after I had hauled the boat out on that tree trunk.

A couple of boat lengths dragging through the grass and I was underway again.

Below that jam I passed a lagoon to the left. Someone's building a magnificent dwelling overlooking it, so I doubted herons would find it attractive.

Herons like tall pines, I was told. I figured since they're large and stork-like, they might have similar tastes, so I looked at all tall trees. I found nothing.

The forest opens out into flood plain with isolated hardwoods, many dead from the ice storm of 1998 and various flooding episodes. There are tons of birds. I saw one adult great blue heron, wood ducks, some other crested water bird, a kingfisher, a selection of woodpeckers, warblers, redwing blackbirds, cedar waxwings, phoebes, grackles and more.

When I reached an area I knew could be surveyed from roads on shore, I headed back upstream. Traveling two directions gave me another angle from which to tell there were no nests. I was briefly tempted to push on down to the public boat launch at Route 25 and call for a pickup, but I was less than halfway there. And I believe that you should get yourself out of whatever you get yourself into.

Paddling upstream into obstacles is easier in some ways than coming down on them with the flow. You don't get pushed into things. On the other hand, you have to pull for every inch. The crossings were a bit trickier, but somewhat familiar.

With arms and shoulders sore from the sudden surge of paddling, I pulled my way back to the launching site. We paddled the lower Pine on Sunday and ended up racing thunderstorms home.

The eagles may have to wait. These jungle cruises have a way of eating up time, even if you don't cover much ground. I have chores to do to get ready for next week.