Monday, December 28, 2009

Notes from Old Lyme -- An early morning row

September, 2003

The air is cool and clean. Under my feet the grass is still wet with the morning dew, as I walk the three hundred yards from my house to the dock carrying oars in one hand and my scull’s seat in the other. The best time to row is early in the morning when the water is quiet and the only people on the river are early morning fishermen and crabbers. Mist rises from the water as the cool morning air comes in contact with the water still warm from the late summer sun. The dock reaches out into the Duck River, a marsh creek that connects the Lieutenant River to the Back River. In turn these two rivers flow into the Connecticut about two miles and one mile, respectively, from Long Island Sound. As I walk toward the water the sheep look up from their breakfast grazing. I acknowledge their look. Seagulls flit about overhead. Osprey nests are now largely empty, their occupants having retreated to warmer climates. Crows call out with their high-pitched short screams of irritation. I walk over a catwalk and then over a narrow mowed field to where my scull rests upon its rack. Lifting the boat, it rests easily on my head - the 27-foot length belying its 38 pounds. At the beam the scull is 18 inches, but its outriggers provide an over all width of 6 ½ feet. I carry the scull across the second catwalk to the small dock, which being low in the water, is perfect for launching an equally low-in-the-water boat. Having placed the seat in its tracks, I gingerly grasp the oars in my right hand (freeing the left to hold onto the dock should the need arise), place my right foot in front of the seat and carefully set myself down.

Sitting backward in a narrow scull, precarious in its balance, provides an interesting and all too familiar perspective from which to view the world. (Wall Street, like most businesses, is best understood when viewed with knowledge of its history.) The past is what faces me. To see the future I must awkwardly turn my head and shoulders carefully, so as not to upset the boat. As I move away from the dock I take quarter strokes, which gradually lengthen as I move into the current of the river until I’m at a point where I’m sliding forward. My knees come up to greet my chin, at which point the blades of the oars dig into the water allowing me to pull on the oars while simultaneously pushing back with my legs. The boat spurts forward – or backward to the oarsman. I move upstream with the incoming tide, but against the current. Rowing across Duck Pond I enter a canal that connects to the Lieutenant River. The Lieutenant is noted, at 4 ½ miles, as being Connecticut’s shortest river. The headwaters are a marsh area fed by a stream called Mill Brook and made famous by Roger Tory Peterson, whose home was on the western edge of the marsh. The beauty of the environment is exceptional. The salt marshes and the creeks that drain them are filled with cattails, sedge, black grass and the ubiquitous phragmite. Muskrats, raccoons and even mink make their homes in the banks of the river. Overhead - besides seagulls and ospreys - ducks, cormorants, plovers, marsh wrens and swallows dip and dive. It is little wonder that The Nature Conservancy has declared the tidal basin of the Connecticut River one of the last Forty Great Places in the Western Hemisphere.

My focus, alas, is staying upright and powering the scull forward. But as the tempo smoothes and I begin to relax, a state of quiet ecstasy embraces me. The work is monotonous in its repetition, but the delicacy of the balance keeps one alert. It is at this point that one feels a sense of oneness of man with boat. Sliding forward I feather the blades backwards across the water until the catch is reached, at which point the blades are given a half turn and dropped into the water; I then push off with my legs while simultaneously pulling on the oars to the point of release when the blades are again raised, given a half turn and feathered back. The process is repeated. The silence of the moment is interrupted only by the calling of birds and the splash of water against the gunwales. My course takes me up the Lieutenant, under a railroad bridge, under route 156 and under route 95. I row past the village of Old Lyme with its picturesque homes, past the Florence Griswold Museum where Connecticut impressionists were painting 100 years ago until I reach a point where the river widens, before disappearing into the marsh; turning around, I row home.

An hour after leaving the dock I return back from whence I came, this time watching what had been the future recede into the past. The rising sun has warmed the air and swept away the morning mist. Walking back to the house, glad to be again facing forward, I feel a satisfaction brought about by intense exercise while communing with the natural world that surrounds me.

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