A Kind of Oasis

Feb. 24, 2013

At Port St. Lucie, Fla.

An anhinga perched along the North Branch of the St. Lucie River. Click to enlarge.

An anhinga perched along the North Branch of the St. Lucie River. Click to enlarge.

Surrounded by the sprawling development of coastal south Florida, the North Branch of the St. Lucie River comes as a surprise. With U. S. 1 just to the east, and Interstate 95 just to the west, this river  - at least the section from White City Park south for 4 miles – has, improbably, a near-wild appearance.

With the exception of a comparatively small number of homes, the banks of the North Branch are thick with oaks, maples and palms, the understory dense with ferns and other vegetation. This section of the river, much of it about 80 to 100 feet wide, makes for a terrific paddle in a canoe or kayak. I spent two hours exploring the North Branch without seeing another boater until I was approaching my take-out spot, the River Park Marina.

Coral bean flowers provide a splash of brilliant color to the oaks, maples and palms that line the river. Click to enlarge.

Coral bean flowers provide a splash of brilliant color to the oaks, maples and palms that line the river. Click to enlarge.

Bird life was abundant; including numerous kingfishers, great-blue herons, and osprey. I brought along a camera with a 300 mm lens, and was glad I did. I came upon an anhinga perched on a fallen tree trunk at water’s edge. I let the kayak drift slowly and managed to get within perhaps 12-15 feet of the bird, snapping more than a dozen photos. The bird then flew to another fallen tree trunk downriver. Approaching that perch I got off another dozen photos, including one I especially like.

Brightening the riverbank were occasional colonies of coral bean, with big, showy bright red flowers.

Don’t Waste This Opportunity

Feb. 20, 2013

There is plenty of snow, the best in many years for snowshoeing.

After all, the whole point of snowshoes is to make it possible to walk in deep snow.

You received snowshoes for Christmas? Or maybe you got them for Christmas last winter, the winter that wasn’t. Now is the time to use them.

If you don’t own snowshoes, by the way, you can rent them by the day. Both REI and Eastern Mountain Sports shops rent them. Sales of snowshoes, of course, are booming since the big storm.

Another option is Winding Trails in Farmington, a sprawling outdoor recreation facility where you can rent snowshoes and tromp along a dedicated snowshoe trail all in one stop. It is a good choice for beginners.

“Nothing is very difficult; it is moderate, rolling terrain,” said Robb Armstrong, outdoor adventure director at Winding Trails. Follow the snowshoe trail then trek along Lake Dunning and you can put together a walk of three miles. “There is a lot of open space here for people,” Armstrong said.

A three-mile hike in snowshoes will be plenty of exercise for most people, especially the first time out for the season. You probably know what it is like to walk in soft, deep beach sand; same idea with snowshoeing. It can be very tiring.

My column on snowshoeing with suggestions on where to trek appears in today’s editions of The Hartford Courant.

Winter Walks: the Newtown Tragedy in Mind

Dec. 20, 2012

At Farmington, Ct.

Two, wide, long trails parallel sections of the Shepaug River in Washington, Ct., perfect for a restorative winter walk. Click to enlarge.

Wide, long trails parallel sections of the Shepaug River in Washington, Ct., perfect for a restorative winter walk. Click to enlarge.

Maybe a winter walk will help.

A walk in winter is always exhilarating; crisp, cold air feels fresh, uplifting. Moreover, that you get yourself outside, away from the television and into the sunlight puts a positive charge into the day.

Choose a trail along a river or brook and that winter walk can be not only pleasant, but perhaps even soothing on a grander scale. Let the river serve as restorative, its flowing waters suggesting both eternity and renewal. Is a river not the boldest, most reaffirming expression of life in a winter landscape?

Throughout the state there are rivers or parts of rivers with parallel walking paths. Some, like the section of the Farmington River Trail in Farmington, Burlington and Canton, are the interstate highways of river paths – wide, paved, maintained, heavily traveled.

A half-mile section of Jack's Brook in Roxbury is paralleled by a well-marked hiking trail. The cascades are framed by evergreen hemlocks and well worth a visit even in winter. Click to enlarge.

A half-mile section of Jack's Brook in Roxbury is paralleled by a well-marked hiking trail. The cascades are framed by evergreen hemlocks and well worth a visit even in winter. Click to enlarge.

Others are dirt paths no more than a hip’s distance wide. There is everything in between, as well. What matters is that all of them get us close to a river and its calming aura, especially welcome now, with the Newtown tragedy saddening us all.

The on-line version of my column on restorative river walks is posted today on The Hartford Courant website and appears in print editions tomorrow, Dec. 21. I suggest some pleasant walks along rivers throughout the state. There are many more, many hundreds more really. Some kind of trail meanders along most streams in the state, some short, some longer. All provide access to the soothing sounds and sights of flowing water.

Only in recent days have I discovered Jack’s Brook in Roxbury, a charmer of a stream with a parallel blazed trail for a distance of about a half mile. You want to sit near the hemlock-shaded cascades.

Maybe it will help.

Some resources for winter hikes along rivers: http://www.mcleangamerefuge.org. http://steeprockassoc.org. http://www.fvgreenway.org. http://www.roxburylandtrust.org/MapTierney.pdf. http://www.putnamct.us