Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rivers Are Better Than Lakes

I have mentioned in the past, I spent a good part of my youthful summers in a rowboat on the Pawcatuck River in Rhode Island. Because of this, I am very comfortable in a river ... not so with lakes.  Lakes make me nervous. The apparent largeness, the wakes of motor boats, the deepness ... lakes are scary, rivers are home. Rivers aren't usually very deep. If you do fall out of the boat or tip over, you won't have far to swim. The stumps and branches make for great lifesavers. Lakes are scary when they are placid and scary when they are choppy. Rivers are poetic, full of personality and charm. They wind through the country side through fauna and landscape, cutting through mountains and hills. They run besides roads, under bridges and can cover miles of countryside. When you take a boat out on a lake, you mostly go in circles.

When my wife discovered the sport of kayaking a few years ago, and then got obsessed, we've come up with a deal. I will join her if we do a river. If she wants to do a lake, she can find someone else. A couple of weekends ago, when we visited a friend on Harvey's Lake (pictured above in the shadow of Harvey's Mountain), was an exception. We stayed at their cabin in Barnet which is in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, the most remote and sparsely populated part of the state. Harvey's Lake official name is actually Harvey Lake but the locals add the apostrophe, probably because it sounds better. It was named after one of the first European settlers of Barnet, Colonel Alexander Harvey. The lake's claim to fame is that is was influential in the early life of French oceanographer, SCUBA inventor and television documentarian Jacques Cousteau. We are lucky Barnet is in Vermont and not New Hampshire because there would probably be Jacques Cousteau go-carts and "trading posts" littering the lake if it were in NH. Cousteau apparently visited as a child and did his very first diving in the lake. I prefer to stay above water. When I kayak a lake, I try to make it as river-like as possible. I stay on the perimeter and take as many inlets as possible. We found a channel in Harvey's Lake that was a welcome change from looking at people's backyards and docks. The channel was very shallow and wound through marsh land like a snake in the grass. We had to turn around after ten minutes but it was the most interesting part of the ride. The circle around the lake took about an hour and a half.

The weekend before was more my style. We headed out to Otter Creek in Vergennes, VT. We put our kayaks in near the Rivers Edge Campground in Vergennes, VT.  With our friend, Cynthia, we headed out against the current so that we paddling with the current on the return trip, when we were tired. We paddled for about an hour and a half until we reached the dam which is very near downtown Vergennes. Vergennes is a cute little city. It is the smallest of Vermont's nine cities with a population around 2500 and it is the first city founded in Vermont's history, third in New England. I have heard that it is the smallest city in the country, which simply means that it is the smallest municipality in the country that actually has a mayor, but I haven't been able to find anything on-line to confirm this. The dam is a beautiful spot that is accessible by car. We stopped and had lunch surrounded by families fishing and picnicking and paddled back to the cars which only took a half an hour.

Otter Creek is roughly 112 miles long. Its waters start in a town called Peru on Mt. Tabor in southern Vermont. By the time it gets to Vergennes, it is only a town away (Ferrisburg) from its ultimate destination, Lake Champlain.  The last time we kayaked it, we started near Lake Champlain and turned around at the campground.  So after this trip, we've done from Vergennes Falls to Lake Champlain. One of the nice things about kayaking a river is that the thinness of the by-ways forces you to stay close to your companions. The conversation is better. My wife and I are not natives to Vermont but our friend, Cynthia, is. She told us about how the stretch that we drove past along Spear Street in Shelburne and South Burlington that overlooks Lake Champlain, which is now covered with McMansions and condos, was all farmland when she was a child, just a couple of decades ago. This made me appreciate the kayak trip a little more, for it all might be gone ... soon.

You generally see more wildlife on a river than on a lake as well. On Harvey's Lake we saw an occasional loon, but that is about it. Otter Creek treated us with an osprey mother perched above her nest (we could hear the babies chirping), herons galore and dozens of turtles.

Rivers are better than lakes. Not sure I'd want to building a house near a river with water levels rising the way they do, but for a summertime Kayak trip ... I will take a river anytime.

1 comment:

Olga said...

Oh, I have fond memories of Otter Creek and canoe trips there.