Devlin-Scherer: Paddling pleasures and perils

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In the late spring, the Battenkill River awaits with covered bridges and water rushing over rocks. Geocaching, searching for hidden objects using GPS coordinates, with friends in kayaks from Sunderland to Shusan was unforgettable. Looking for small containers, with concealed treasures, we had to fight current, brush aside branches, and keep our eyes peeled. My favorite find was a thin tube hanging from a tree branch quietly waiting for us to discover it; the tube looked just like one of the branches. The water under the lowered branch with the treasure swirled round our kayaks and we had to retrace our path several times to capture it. "Get lost! And found!" is the cry of the geocacher.

My eeriest kayak has been Sadawga Pond. The only lake in Vermont which has a floating sphagnum or peat moss island, full of insect devouring plants and anchored by tree roots, Sadawga's surrounding water is dark and foreboding. Worried we might fall through the tangled plants or injure them, we didn't clamber out of our kayaks to walk on the island. Twisted water paths through the island could lead us astray. As we paddled the still flat water, we felt a presence in the silence. Perhaps Chief Sadawga, believed to have had a hunting camp on the shores and to have swum under the island without taking a breath, was watching us.

Local gems never fail to please. Gale Meadows Pond has glorious views of Stratton mountain. Around the curve on the left, we have seen eagles in fall and summer. In May, entangled in tufts of grass, I capsized in 51 degree water. Grabbing Angie, our toy poodle, by her life jacket handles, I was able to set her temporarily on grasses, then hastily emptied the boat. Warmed by the sun, we wended our way through the area full of underwater yellowed tree stumps and bent and broken sections of trees.

Littered with attractive yellow and white pond lilies, Lowell Lake in Londonderry is picturesque. On a recent trip, diving loons were wailing as a painted turtle rested on a fallen limb. Appreciating a side view of Magic Mountain, we then coasted under branches, in and out of coves, then around Picnic and Annie's Islands and counted at least seven beaver homes.

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"Going kayaking?" My husband asked. "Hmm—could be cold out there." When he is not going, he loves to anticipate problems, I thought. "Did you check the wind; could be windy," he added. I ignored him. "Might need a jacket," he called as I headed out.

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For a friend's birthday celebration, everything should be perfect. Nothing should go wrong. We met another friend on the Stratton Access Road and head to Somerset Reservoir. Dust surrounded our cars on the rocky roads leading to Forest Road 71, itself a rough and rickety ride. Once on FR 83, our devices went haywire—u-turn—and so we did. Trying another road, we were rewarded with the statement—"You have arrived." Where was the water? Retracing our steps, we finally found the right road was closed for construction. Foiled again! We returned to Grout Pond which we had passed over 30 minutes ago.

Whitecaps and waves, must be 15 knots. Grout Pond, with an elevation of over 2000 feet, was colder than home, 59 degrees. I was glad I had a lined jacket. The birthday girl did not, refused the jacket, used a towel, and was chilly. Once in the water we crossed the 2 1/2 mile length of the 83 acre pond at full tilt, surfing the waves and hardly needing to paddle. It was exhilarating.

We eked through the narrows and shallows where the wood sculptures, made by splintered trees, were scattered. Our kayaks rested on the beaver dam while the wind pushed us sideways, then we headed back and into the wind. Close to the shore, the wind was lighter and we glided near above and underwater rock formations, upended and fallen trees and almost impenetrably dense bushes.

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"How was the kayak?" I was asked on my return.

"Beautiful."

Roberta Devlin-Scherer has a doctorate from Temple University and was a professor at Seton Hall University for 20 years. She has written books, articles and poetry. She lives in Sunderland.


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