Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Paddle and a Quack

After the cloying and energy sapping humidity of Saturday I decided on Sunday that I would go for a paddle locally. I put in on the Shenandoah only about 20 minutes from my house but as I trundled Big Red down the steep ramp I seriously wondered if I'd made a bad decision. There was a large Latino family gathering on the water's edge, with a large BBQ set up and chairs wobbling on the rocks, Coolers were dotted around and a pile of huge water melons sat in a large triangle formation waiting to be chopped up. I was rather impressed with the amount of planning this must have all involved and actually a little envious as I have no family to do this with but what really annoyed me was seeing a couple of women squatting down on the ramp by the water, who had about 6 dogs and 2 large bottles of shampoo. They were giving their pets baths in the river, frothy bubbles floated downstream and I fervently wished I had friends with me so I could say something about their pollution of the water. But there were too many of them for just me so I walked past them tight lipped and pushed off, hurrying to get as far away from them as possible.
 I paddled fast downstream until I could no longer hear their chatter and then as I rounded a corner I felt myself relax and sat back to enjoy the peaceful solitude. It was beautiful here with crystal clear water, vibrant greenery, a cool breeze and calming silence.
Until I heard a quack. and then another louder quack.
I looked back and saw a pretty little female duck paddling down by the bank. I called out a greeting and she quacked back. I carried on talking to her, complimenting her on her fine feathers, and wanting to hear more she came closer. It wasn't long before we were firm friends and I named her Samantha. We both glided down the river slowly, and she kept close by, either by my side or paddling in front. If I wasn't keeping up, she would quack loudly and showed obvious approval once I had paddled to get alongside her again.
We must have traveled thus for a good 20 minutes with both of us chatting away. When I spoke she would come close and tilt her head to one side as though very interested in my words.
I was actually quite disappointed when eventually she quacked a few times and hung back. Despite my pleas she wouldn't paddle with me any further but continued to quack her good byes as she watched me carry on down the river. We'd likely journeyed together for about 1.5 miles so maybe she wanted to stay in her territory. I wished her a good day and carried on.
The air was thick and heavy with the sun occasionally busting though the clouds with fierce rays, so I kept to the sides of the banks where it was more shady. There were thousands of dragonflies, bright streaks of blue, green gold and red danced around me, many of them landing on the boat and even my arms. There were skimmers too but mainly beautiful fluorescent dragonflies. Any branches that poked out from the water, tips of rocks, even floating leaves had dragonflies perched on them in pairs, singly or just flitting around in circles.
I floated down a little further until i came to some fast moving water over rocks. I'd already been over some smaller rills but didn't fancy having to deal with these ones on the return trip. I would be paddling upstream now so had to work harder, which was fine, but I wanted to travel further up river from the point I put in, so now was a good time to turn around. Plus I was also rather curious to know if I would see Samantha again.
I was paddling towards the ramp when I caught sight of some little ducklings scrabbling along the bank and then disappearing into some reeds. Immediately I heard an adult quack and wondered if it was Samantha, and maybe that's why she didn't travel further with me, because she was out on a food hunt for her chicks. I wished the little family well and paddled on.
I followed this heron all the way up river, I think he was very fed up with me. I'd get close, and then he'd lift heavily into the air with his legs dangling, croaking at me furiously, push his legs back as he flattened his body, and then slowly flap just a few yards upstream. As I approached a few minutes later, the whole drama was reenacted again. We did this about 5 or 6 times before he finally realized that I wasn't changing direction and this time it might be better for him if he flew in the opposite direction that I was traveling in. A right proper bird brain. but it had been amusing.
I eventually got as far as I could go upriver. I'd had to paddle like crazy to get past some rocks that created a strong current but now I had reached a point where there was an island in the middle of the river and the water cascaded down towards me from each side, fast and loudly over piles of rocks. I couldn't paddle past here. I sat and watched the water for a while and noticed the clouds were getting heavier, darker and lower. Time to head back. When I reached the ramp, the family had left but to their credit had left no signs of their event. There wasn't a scrap of litter anywhere. 2 guys were loading boats on to trucks and both offered to help me with mine, which was great as I was feeling tired. I drove home wondering if Samantha was OK and whether ducks have memories. I couldn't find any information about that but did find this interesting little article about their behavior, along with gooses.

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