Canoeing Barton Cove
A visit to a local waterway with my dad.

This column appeared in the Summer 2013 issue (Vol.2, No.2) of The Recorder's Outdoor Adventure Magazine

Canoeing has been a big part of my life since I was a kid. It was one of those staple activities the my family participated in and my memories are packed to the brim with days of exploring quiet coves, and evenings of picnicking and swimming after the canoes were finally pulled ashore. Ever since I started writing for Outdoor Adventure I’ve wanted to do a story on canoeing and I finally managed to pull it off for this issue.

Perhaps the best thing about this particular story is the fact that I managed to get my father to go canoeing with me. It’s been a long time since my father and I did anything alone and the two-seat limitations of a canoe made this the perfect activity. Before we were even within sight of the water we were having a great time together, but the fun multiplied when we pushed off from shore and dipped our paddles into the water.

The first thing that captured out attention was a flotilla of swans plying the calm waters of the Connecticut River. So we put our backs into those first strokes of the day and we made good headway, all the while having a wonderful time planning our movements by trying to reference every bit of jargon about naval maneuvers we could remember from movies we had seen.

My father was in the bow and was responsible for propulsion and stability. I was in the stern and was responsible for propulsion and steering. I also had about $4,000 worth of camera equipment in my lap and spent the first 30 minutes or so in a mild state of panic. One slip and it would all be over.

Calling out instructions like a captain on a British naval vessel from the 19th century, we executed a maneuver called “crossing the T” and gave the swans a broadside. The thing that removed all menace from the whole affair was the fact that instead of canons swiveling onto their targets it was my large telephoto lens.

The swans, no doubt astounded by the skill of our shipmanship, took flight one by one and gave me wonderful views of their running takeoffs. Hooting with laughter over our victory, Dad and I turned the canoe down river and headed for Barton Cove.

Along the way I was delighted to find wild columbine flowers blooming in the rocky ledges that lined the river. They were small jewels suspended from delicate filaments that trembled with even the slightest of breezes. We pulled alongside the rocks and my father steadied the canoe while I took photo after photo trying to time my shutter with the rhythmic motion of the waves.

Then we cast off again and finally entered the upper reaches of Barton Cove. The lack of rain this year has produced very low water levels and the island that used to host a bald eagle nest was no longer an island. Instead of being able to cut around the back of this obstacle, we now had to go the long way around a freshly exposed peninsula of mud. Mallards, Canada geese, and great blue herons were all taking advantage of the situation and even some crows were leaving their tracks in the mud. My father and I wondered if they might someday become part of the fossil record.

This was my first boating trip into Barton Cove and I was surprised to discover that the water was so shallow. Surely this was a result of the lack of rain, but even so it was not what I expected. More swans plied the waters and there was particular male that we named the “cove master.” He spent all of his time displaying and chasing off other swans that offended him for some reason. We paddled over in his direction and he casually went about his business. He was clearly the boss and was clearly in charge.

By the time we reached the public boat ramp in Gill the water was deepening again and the sheltered waters of the northwester section of the cove called out to us. The wind subsided in this sheltered area and the water settled down as a result. We headed for the ledge-lined shore of this wonderful spot and we both sighed with appreciation when we arrived. This was a nice place indeed.

The rocks were like walls that where covered in mosses, lichens and trees. Some of the larger trees even leaned out over the water and acted like living awnings that sheltered us from the sun. It was here in this beautiful spot that I discovered one of the most beautiful ferns that I have ever seen. I also knew that I had never seen this particular species before, so it made the trip particularly special for me.

I was instantly satisfied that my decision to bring my most expensive camera was a good idea. Particularly good in low light, this camera allowed me to take photos that actually worked out despite the unavoidable movement of the canoe. Later, when I was finally back at home I was able to identify the fern as a maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes). I was also glad to see that my impression of the fern was not mine alone. My Peterson’s Guide to Ferns describes this species as, “Daintiest and one of the prettiest ferns…on shaded, moss-covered surface of cliffs and boulders.”

As we explored this magical area we discovered rich evidence of the geologic history of the area preserved in the rocks that lined the coves. Sedimentary layers that had been tilted and folded were exposed with the most wonderful detail and it was only by approaching them from the water that we could get such a magnificent view.

Several hours had passed by the time we reluctantly decided to head back and the business of determined paddling to cover distance at speed gave my father and I the chance to talk about all sorts of wonderfully unimportant little things. We even saw an eagle fly over the river, which was the icing on the cake as far as we were concerned.

If you have the chance to put a canoe or a kayak into Barton Cove I would highly recommend it. The joy of physical activity combined with the quiet and the access to the shallowest of waters will make any outing a great deal of fun. I know that I had a wonderful time with my dad, which was the most important part of all.

Thanks Lance and Bob for their tremendous generosity in allowing my father and I access to the water.