The Upper Delaware: The wild and winding thread that binds us
UPPER DELAWARE RIVER REGION — The paddle enters the dark water and the motion is like breathing. Rising and falling, merging with the ceaseless flow, the blades are driven, dropping to either side of my kayak with a rhythm reminiscent of cadenced prayer.
I ply another section of the longest free-flowing river east of the Mississippi—the Delaware River—this waterway of breathtaking majesty that frames so much of our lives.
Whether we call ourselves residents, or journey here from other places, we ascribe our devotion to the special river that has called to countless hearts, soothed many a ravaged spirit and nourished a wide variety of life forms that subsist on its trove of treasures.
The Upper Delaware River becomes one broadened flow at its wilder reaches where the East and West branches merge near Hancock, NY. As it courses toward New Jersey and Delaware, the river’s meandering thread knits together a string of unique towns that have emerged along its New York and Pennsylvania borders.
Glimpse here some of those lively and lovely settlements, the fun and fascinating historic and recreational treasures available to any who seek them and the wild felicity of flora and fauna with which we coexist.
Long before humans staked their claims along its borders, the river has been the lifeblood of the region. Those who journey on these storied waters may encounter some of the beautiful and interesting plants and animals that are woven into the fabric of life in the Upper Delaware River region.
The stunning artist’s palette of the sycamore tree’s bark, the shadowed hemlock groves that line the ridges, even the bad but beautiful invasive purple loosestrife and Japanese knotweed—each can be seen here.
The doe and her fawn seeking a sip at water’s edge; the black bear peering from a forested fringe; a great blue heron feeding in the shallows; bald eagles soaring over the open channel; aquatic insects, river-cleansing mussels, shad, even eels and lamprey—each living their lives in or near the river’s flow; warblers, finches and the other winged ones that brighten our experience with the brilliance of their plumage and song—find all these and more.
On the river, one’s senses come alive to the sound of waves lapping and rapids running, the piercing cry of the bald eagle or coarse croak of the heron, the laughter and many languages of river recreationists, wind wrestling with the wide-reaching branches of the white pines.
One may be greeted with the wafting scent of smoke from a campfire along the shore, the fragrant burst of blossoms in spring, the fertile dank notes of the fishery, or the winey syrup of fall’s wild grapes.
While the river gives abundantly, it also takes—occasionally stealing lives or destroying property—thereby earning our sober respect. Its might can be truly terrible, its toll at times too high, when the lure of a deceptively peaceful stretch proves too strong for an unprepared swimmer, or raging flood waters rise and claim whatever lies in their course.
The river has also stirred stewardship, spawned battles, awakened activism, divided and brought together individuals and communities over issues that, like the waterway itself, change over time.
But always, and ceaselessly, the river flows, much like the hours that carry each of us through our days here. Ultimately, the Delaware River invites journey, and rewards those who accept the invitation with the gifts of its inestimable riches.