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Chick Ludwig

ADay onthe Green River

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A DAY ON THE GREEN RIVER

   It is a beautiful, calm, relaxing day on the river. I’m glad you decided to come along with me. Let’s go back to the beginning and see what we’ve experienced. We pulled up to the ramp on Lake Adger about noon and I ate my lunch of homemade tomato soup as we contemplated launching our Happy Hour kayak that I recently finished building. It’s a comfortable Fall day with the temperature in the low sixties. We had the ramp all to ourselves except for one lonely truck and trailer in the parking lot. The first thing we noticed was that the water level was about two feet below normal. This end of the lake is slowly silting in and there is only a narrow channel to get from the ramp to the deep part of the lake.

   We unload the boat and set it at the water’s edge. The water at the ramp is very dirty and the color of coffee and creamer. Visibility is only a few inches. We gingerly climb in and plop down into our comfy bass boat seat. My old bottom cannot abide by hard seats any more. As we begin to paddle away from the ramp, we here a GRONK-GRONK and see old Long Legs, a great blue heron, lift off and flap across the mud flat, expressing his displeasure at our disturbing his lunch. Off on the other side of the mud bank is a snowy egret. He’s standing on one leg in a pool of shallow water, diligently searching for some tasty morsel. He is too far away to be concerned with us.

   We skirt the edge of the mud flats, following the channel until we get into the lake, then turn and head for where the Green River flows into the lake. Paddling as far as we can into the river is our goal for the day. The water is getting shallower as we approach the river. Do you think we’ll make it? I guess we’ll know soon enough. We stir up billowing clouds of mud behind us as we dip our paddle into the shallow water. It’s interesting looking down into the water, that is now beginning to clear from the fresh flow from the river. Lots of stuff litters the bottom, leaves, tree limbs and trunks, as well as old cans, bottles, even a big piece of corrugated plastic pipe about two feet in diameter. It’s long and doesn’t float. I wonder where it came from? Some kind of drain pipe leading into the lake? There are streams of bubbles issuing up from rotting vegetation buried in the mud. Look, over there. A school of large fish. And on the other side, a bunch of “water skater” bugs crowding each other as they skim across the surface, supported solely by surface tension.

   Now we’re moving into the actual river. There is very little current, but what there is continues to clear up the water. We can see the bottom everywhere now which is changing from sticky muck to cleaner, tan colored sand. There are still patches of leaves piled in to brown drifts, as well as tree trunks and branches that have taken up residence mostly along the sides in the slower water. The center is mostly clear, so we stay half way between the exposed sand banks along both shores. Soon we’ll have to stay close to the side with the deeper water. We have learned that when the river bends, the currant flow gouges out a channel along the outside of the bend.

   The landscape is changing now from low mud banks to crowded woods with fallen trees projecting into the water. Earlier this year there was a lot of rains which raised the level of the river, and increased the velocity of the flow, which washed out the banks and toppled many trees. Then we had a long dry spell so the level dropped, stranding the trees where they fell. Maybe next spring they will be washed out into the lake with the increased water that always flows into the rivers, and off of the land as the winter snow melts. Boaters will need to be aware of these floating hazards to navigation. There is a gentle breeze is picking up a little and rustling the dry leaves in the trees. The warm days and dry weather is causing the leaves to dry out and fall off before they have a chance to turn colors. But it’s quiet enough to hear the crickets chirping, and birds singing in the trees. There’s an occasional splash of a fish jumping in the deeper water.

   One of the things I look for on these paddling excursions is to observe turtles on logs or in the water. It’s probably too cold for them today. So far we haven’t seen any. Hey! What’s that little brown thing swimming on the water’s surface over there? Let’s go see. Oh, it looks like a little salamander. Let’s paddle over and see if we can catch it. I reach down and easily pick it up in my hand. He sits unperturbed on my palm as I examine it. It’s a red spotted newt juvenile. Juveniles, also called red efts, are bright orange in coloration. They have rows of black-bordered red spots that run ventrally along either side of their body. I lower my hand back into the water, and he sits for a couple of seconds before calmly swimming away.

   We paddle on for awhile observing our surroundings. LOOK, up ahead. Is that a turtle on that fallen tree up ahead? We paddle slowly, trying to get close enough to see him clearly. We are able to get close enough to identify him as a male eastern river cooter. The males have longer claws on their front flippers. The girl cooters find that attractive. Up in the mountains, the river cooter is the only large aquatic turtle we have. Well, except for the snapping turtle. He slides off of the log with a “ker-plop” as we bet closer. That was a treat. Maybe we’ll see more later. We’re approaching a wide spot where the old river channel used to go. Last time I was here, there was one particular log with several cooters lined up head to tail. I wonder if they’ll still be there.

  Meanwhile, let’s just keep heading up river and see what we can see. A few trees are beginning to get there fall colors. Maybe enough have survived the heat and dryness to give us a pretty fall after all. As we make our way through a bend in----WHAT WAS THAT?! A loud crash sounds from the shore just ahead of us. Look, there it is. A family of three deer have been startled and are scrambling up the bank through the underbrush! Now THAT’S a beautiful sight. One of the experiences we are hoping for on our expeditions. Let’s follow along as quietly as we can and see if they will venture back to the water’s edge.

   Well, we have reached the spot of the old river path, and we haven’t caught sight of the deer again. I guess they’ve just remained back in the woods. And there is the “cooter log”, but no turtles on it today. It’s obvious why. With the lake and river level lower, the log is sitting high and dry. I wonder if there is enough water still in the old river channel to paddle back to the lake? From the lake side, I had looked over this way and could see what looked like a shallow layer of water at this point. Maybe we’ll try to leave the river by this path, but for now, there is still a long way to get up river.

  We turn our kayak around and make our way back into the river. It’s getting shallower and the flow is getting faster. How much farther will we be able to go before we can’t paddle any farther? Let’s head over to the deeper water along the outside of the bend. Maybe those deer are still ahead and we may get another chance to see them up close if we are careful. There is a lot of trees and brush all across the river’s path now. We have to dodge around it all, while at the same time trying to find water deep enough to not drag bottom. Occasionally we bump bottom on a rise in the bottom and have to “pole” our way past by pushing our paddle against the sandy river bed.

  Look up there! On that fallen tree. Aren’t those turtles? Yes. Three of them. Quietly, trying not to splash with our paddles, we approach the wary cooters. Awww, there they go. First one, then another. But one is still staying in his place. Careful now. Let’s see if he’s brave enough to get close. He’s stretching his neck out watching us. Sometimes during summer when it’s hot, you can almost get near enough to touch them. But not this time. There he goes. At least we know they are here. Maybe we’ll see more.

   We maneuver around the log and continue to pick our way up stream. There’s the bridge up ahead. It’s the one that we crossed on our way to the launch ramp. The stream is almost blocked be debris that have washed down the river and been trapped by the bridge pilings. We are able to make our way under. As we do, we look overhead to see if there are any barn swallow nests attached to the bridge structure. Most of the bridges do have them, but, surprisingly, there are none here. I wonder why? I don’t see any “no nesting” signs. So we come out on the other side and continue dodging the obstructions. The river is getting shallower and faster, but we are OK for now. The river narrows as we round another bend. Plenty of water right here anyway, and look, there are a couple more turtles, but they beat a hasty retreat before we can get close. Soon, the river bed widens again. It’s much harder finding a deep enough path around the fallen trees, and we have to keep paddling constantly to move forward against the current. It’s time to give up and turn towards home.

  Let’s just quit paddling and drift with the quiet flow. Maybe we can sneak up on some other unsuspecting wild life. It’s pleasant to just sit and rest our shoulders. We do have to guide our craft around the same roadblocks we negotiated on our way upstream, but for the most part we can just take it easy and enjoy the trip. We soon float under the bridge, often dragging bottom and pushing across the barely submerged sand bars. Not much to report on our return trip. LOOK UP AHEAD! Over on the left bank. It’s those same deer again! Now they are on the other side of the river. They crossed the shallow stream after we passed them on our way up the river. They haven’t seen us. Maybe we can get really close. Be still as we drift, and I’ll tell you a little story about an experience that happened to me a few years ago.

   It was on the Neuse River own near Havelock where I used to live. I was in a skiff about half way across the river when I saw something moving through the water up ahead. As I get closer, I see what appears to be a stag deer swimming. But the river is three miles across at that point! What’s he doing way out here? He seems to be struggling as I draw closer to him. Maybe I’d better help! I motor up to him and reach over and grab his antler, then hold on to him and head towards the nearest shore. I do my best to hold his head above water so he can breathe. He’s in distress but I have to save him! He soon stops thrashing and I think all’s well, but then get suspicious. Somethings wrong. He’s not moving at all! I stop and pull him up closer. He’s DEAD! OH NO! What have I done? All I can do now is let him go and head on to where I had been going.

   Later, I have a chance to talk to some folks that tell me that it is pretty common for deer that are being chased by hunting dogs to swim across the river to escape them. If I’d have left him alone, he’d have been fine. I don’t know if he drowned, or died of fright, but I learned a hard lesson that day. God created the creatures with the instinct to know how to survive, and it is better to give them that chance that to try to interfere.

   By now we have drifted down on the deer, but they see us and move away from the water and into the woods again. I guess they’ll just keep heading up stream and return to the river’s edge after we pass. Nothing for us to do but continue drifting. Maybe we’ll at least encounter more turtles. Listen. That sounds like a pileated woodpecker! “Graack-grack” he calls out. Then Tap-tap-tap as he digs into the tree to get to his lunch. But where is he? He’s close. In one of those trees just across the stream from us. Maybe we can catch a glimpse as we float past. YES! There he is! We can just make him out as he moves around that dead tree. They mate for life and stay close together.  Maybe his mate is near, but we don’t see or hear her. We pass on by, and soon are beyond them. We are floating past a big root ball of a fallen tree, when CRASH-SPLASH. It’s those same deer again! They turned back downstream and were once again at the water’s edge just on the other side of the tree we were passing. We snuck up on them and startled them. And US! They’re gone now. I guess that’s the last we’ll see of them.

   Now we are back at the spot where the old main channel used to be. Let’s give it a try. So far, so good. It’s getting shallower and muddier. There’s Long Legs and his egret buddy waiting for us. They follow us with beady eyes, but no attempt to fly off as we paddle by no more than 20 feet away. I guess they’ve deemed us safe. So, now we’ll load up and head back home, carrying some good memories of a pleasant afternoon paddle on the Green River. Thanks for coming along. See you next trip.

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