Friday, July 06, 2007

Kayaking the Great Marsh

I had the opportunity to go kayaking in northeastern Massachusetts' Great Marsh on the fourth of July. The Great Marsh is an extensive network of tidal inlets, rivers and tiny channels surrounded by wide open beds of marsh grass, and a kayak is truly the way to explore this incredible landscape. Slipping silently through the soupy gray-green water, brushing past clumps of sharp, fibrous rushes rising from the rich, living mud, watching snowy egrets stalking all manner of small fish and wriggling muddy beasts, pushing easily against the tide as you work your paddles back and forth... Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy tooling around with small motorboats but for really sinking into a place like this, there's nothing like a kayak. They are so light and maneuverable - there was almost no channel to narrow or shallow to explore, and when we hit a dead end, we just picked the kayaks up and marched over the grass to the nearest navigable waterway.

My friend Glen and I headed out toward an attractive and mysterious island named Hog Island. Hog Island is a drumlin, an island formed by glacial deposits. As we got close, we realized that there wasn't really a clear channel of water surrounding the island, just a confusing network of marsh, smelly landlocked pools and tiny tidal channels that often drifted away and ended in the grass, so we portaged around for a while until we found ourselves in a large inlet that led around the the back side of Crane's beach. Several Willets spooked up from their hiding spots in the grass as we paddled by them, calling their clownish greeting 'we will willet - we will willet - we will willet - we will willet'. Least terns, certainly amongst the most graceful and beautiful flyers that I've ever seen, flew elegantly through and against the stiff wind of the day, often holding steady in one spot, flapping, watching the water below and then suddenly dropping like a rocket, sharp beak first, plunging full into the water with a sudden splash and lifting immediately away with their prize. Swallows also skimmed the water in multitudes, and bullyish Herring and Great Black-backed gulls lorded over all and sundry.

I was hoping to see sharks - not jaws, but Glen's mother has seen the dorsal fins of small dogfish slowly swaying through the main tidal channels here. I would love to see that sight. I've snorkeled here before and seen striped bass, but the water doesn't have nearly the visibility that the open ocean does.

Oh, we saw turkeys, too, meandering through the grass. I'm sure there are lots of bugs and worms in the mud out there, but this was a first time seeing turkeys in salt marsh.

Anyway, I'm going to go now. Love to all,

Oh, and I want to recommend that everybody buy Dorothy Monnelly's wonderful book of photography entitled The Great Marsh. It is an exceedingly beautiful portrait of this unique landscape and ecosystem by this very talented artist and courageous advocate for open space and our natural heritage. You can get it from amongst many other places.


Nick said...

beautiful !!!

Meghan said...

That looks like a very pleasant excursion. Do you remember when we went Kayaking in Thailand? I remember having exhausted arms by the end of it. Have you refined your paddling technique since then?

Brian C. Kenney said...

Arms were tired in Thailand, but the biggest problem was the pain in my back because there was no appropriate place to firmly hold my feet against. These kayaks are much more comfortable - my back doesn't hurt at all. Also, I've learned to push instead of pull for the paddle stroke, which is much less tiring, working your abdomen muscles instead of arms.