November 17, 2011 —
The weather turned warm again, so after school recently Becky, Sam and I went for a kayak ride across Nevin’s pond. For Sam and I, it might be the last ride until next spring. My dear friend Becky typically takes her last ride the day after Thanksgiving when she pulls the kayaks out of the water and brings them home for winter storage. It is not your usual “Black Friday” tradition but a tradition nonetheless.
We went for our ride on a beautiful autumn day, with temperatures nearing 70 degrees. We slipped into the water between the last radiance of summer sunlight and the foreboding stillness of coming winter. I dipped my paddle and peered into the underwater world of snaking tree roots covered with silt and algae. It’s easy to get hung up on these reaching, water weathered roots in an old beaver pond, especially when gliding too close to the shore. We examined the new muskrat den and stopped to reclaim a green, styrofoam pool “noodle” that escaped from our summer swimming days and snagged at the shore.
We saw a group of mergansers floating ahead. They were leery of Sam’s swift approach, and kept a careful distance between us. There were also clattering flocks of grackles gathering for migration. And best of all, five bald eagles. There were two adult and three immature eagles. The young had characteristic dark heads and tails and blotchy white under wings. We were close enough to hear their great wings whistle as they flew near us. When they settled down in an old hemlock, Becky snapped a photo of the perching birds. They were as poised and dignified as only an eagle can be.
The bushes of brilliant red berries at the water’s edge were a feast for the robins and blue jays. They are called winterberry, or deciduous holly, and are a harbinger of winter in our local wetlands. We admired the glowing ring their reflection cast in the still water.
Also around the pond are the frowsy-headed stalks of old goldenrod, gone to seed and worthy of Miss Havisham. I like their brittle, fossilized look better than when they are in their golden summer prime. In winter, the old stalks rise through the snow with gothic elegance. Though I may be alone in this admiration, I know I am not the only person who tells time by the life cycle of goldenrod.
You can tell the passage of time by watching milkweed too: the tender shoots in spring, the pink, mid-summer blooms and then the blasted pods of autumn that send their silky seed tufts through the delicate air year after year. The milkweed down drifted across the pond as we ourselves floated, skimming the water’s surface, and gliding into winter.