Walt Amses: Toothed Entrepreneurs Outsmart This Spring’s First Paddle

This commentary is from Walt Amses, a writer who lives in the north of Calais.

On a day that feels like a negotiated settlement – legal compensation for the deep winter and even deeper mud, some still clinging to the sides of the car – I wind my way upstream, through the winding canals of Kingsbury Branch as it advance slowly in Étang de Montpellier Nord.

I paddle quietly, hoping to catch a glimpse of the abundant marsh fauna that have made their home in this tangle of riparian vegetation, soggy fallen trees, and skeletons of ancient duck blinds, slowly being reclaimed by the elements.

It’s been sunny and getting warmer for the past week, an unprecedented stretch in this part of central Vermont. On a morning walk, we smell the first noticeable dampness of the young season, and in front of us, perched just above the road, one of the neighborhood bald eagles can’t help but have the masterful as he gazes at us for a bit before falling from the tree, spreading his enormous wingspan and hovering like a mythical creature above a hillside grove of maples as a chorus of loons in distress marks his departure.

But it’s not the only winged creature to take flight this morning. The annual debut of the black flies, as expected as that first juicy, sun-warmed tomato, but for decidedly different reasons, also occurs this morning – their voracious hunger is well out of proportion to their small size.

We joke that since their attraction to us is triggered by carbon dioxide, we’ll be fine as long as we don’t expire. Of course we do, and they come. Not much at first, but black flies are economical; you only need a few. As the cloud grows we pick up our pace and by the time we get home we are both sweating freely. It smells like summer.

The older I get, the more convinced I become that loading kayaks onto an SUV should be a senior Olympic event with a host of judges grading performance based on degrees of difficulty worked out by a formula incorporating age, weight (of boats ), air temperature, humidity and the number of biting insects. I see the mixed doubles of such a competition as particularly adventurous.

But we manage the back-and-forth without resorting to torque advice, a minor triumph as we embark undisturbed on the first paddle of the year – or so we think.

After a leisurely float along the pond, we enter the first of a series of channels that meander upstream through the marsh, which seems to come to life around us with a vast competition of birdsong, explosive wingbeats like a mixed flock. ducks and Canada geese fly away as we approach, and the constant subliminal trill of excited toads, looking for a hookup.

The Kingsbury Branch, which flows 12 miles from Woodbury’s Sabin Pond towards the Winooski, is a virtual nutrient conveyor belt, providing enough food to sustain this diverse ecosystem of amphibians, birds and thriving small mammals.

The first barrier we encounter is somewhat surprising: a perfectly wedged fallen log, blocking our reliable exit to the next stretch of river.

I inaccurately remember an alternate loop that ends up in a dead end with a big beaver rummaging through the remains of last season’s cattails, a toothy harbinger that we absolutely don’t recognize that much later. Inspired by Berra’s Yogi – “When you see a fork in the road, take it” – we backtrack, the only choice we really have.

Although heavy and snugly lodged between heaps of beaver nibbles at either end, I manage to grab hold of the only piece of vegetation not gnawed at the roots, grab a bit of leverage, and laboriously the barrier slowly gives way, offering entry and a sense of accomplishment, albeit brief and ultimately meaningless.

The more we advance, which is not very far, the more we find the muddy banks more and more spoiled by a vast construction project. The Castor Canadensis Development Corp., claiming eminent domain, is creating the area’s first gated community.

As we go from Huckleberry Finn to Apocalypse Now with defoliated muddy banks, huge and formidable dwellings and a myriad of canals providing underwater access, the landscape changes dramatically. After a few more bends we encounter a much more insurmountable barrier in the form of a dam, almost bank to bank, with only a narrow but quick break (in the wrong direction) on one edge.

I decide to give it a shot while Hélène begs, content to wonder where she is. Using the bank and part of the structure itself, I drag myself leaning heavily on my upper back and shoulders, which will remind me of this choice for several days.

The next dam is less than a quarter mile away and could hold a tractor trailer. There’s no way around and crossing would require explosives, so I turn around again, sneak through the first dam and try to remember all the good things beavers do for a ecosystem. I can’t think of anything.

We explore a little longer, discovering what appears to be a long, unblocked stream that may offer a workaround to the headwaters of the river, but is narrow enough for a motivated rodent with the proper braces can block it. during a coffee break.

As we return to the main lake, a solitary purple martin, clinging to a small twig, gently dances in the breeze. He is all merry, perhaps mocking condescendingly. But I’ve cut his attitude a bit since he’s new in town, having recently traveled over 4,000 miles from his wintering grounds in Brazil to this little pond in central Vermont.

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Tags: beaver, beaver dams, black flies, kayaking, Kingsbury Branch, Sabin Pond, Walt Amses


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