Where Did Autumn Go?

It seems only yesterday that I was on the cusp of Thanksgiving, wondering how summer had become but a memory.  Now the winter solstice is here, with Christmas and a New Year looming.

The obvious question is this: where did Autumn go?

At the back of my mind is something more elemental.

How do I slow down the passage of time?

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Watery Weekend

In which, Captain Robb takes us Pontooning, and a Short Kayak Excursion nearly leaves us Marooned on a Deserted Island.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon_2651aOne of our favorite things to do in the summer is to go to Lake Nockamixon and rent a pontoon boat for a couple of hours. A gorgeous Saturday, blue water, a light breeze, a shady boat canopy; what could be more relaxing?

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon_2521aDon was so relaxed he took a little nap, trusting in Captain Robb’s superb piloting skills.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon_2646acsOne of the rock outcroppings along the shoreline.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon Sailboat_2854acsSailboats in front of the marina.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon Haycock Mt_2764acsHaycock Mountain. Calling Haycock a “mountain” is a bit of a stretch, in my book. It’s only 960′ in elevation, nothing more than a hill. But it is the highest “summit” in Bucks County.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon_2876acsThe guys chit-chat away, with Haycock in the background. All in all, it was a lovely day on the lake.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1024acsSunday morning we set out on a much-anticipated kayaking expedition, down Darby Creek to the Delaware River and across to Little Tinicum Island. It’s a small uninhabited island about 3 miles long by 500 feet wide. Most of the island is overgrown with impenetrable vegetation, but the shore is lined with narrow sand beaches.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1018acsWe paddled out on a day so calm the water was like glass. The tide was out, and we were surprised at how shallow the river was. Robb saw a crab swim by his kayak. Here’s Robb and Don paddling around the southern tip of the island.

Partway up the New Jersey side, we decided to land. This meant walking across a long stretch of slippery, sticky mudflats while dragging our boats behind us. Yuck! Once we reached the sand, we had a grand time exploring the shoreline.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1083acsLooking north from the beach.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1090acsRobb and Don on Little Tinicum Island, looking south, with the Commodore Barry Bridge in the background.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1119acsWe found two cozy little “camps” on the island, one on each side. People had set up chairs, a table, tire swings, even fire rings. Probably fishermen, since each camp had its own skillet. Robb couldn’t resist one of the swings. Really, he’s just a big kid.

When we left the Jersey side, there was a large freighter out in the main channel. I was back on the water first and glanced back to see the guys sitting in their floating kayaks, ready to paddle away. Then I heard Robb shout something. I turned around to see them still in their kayaks, still in the same place – but now high and dry on the mudflats! No water anywhere near them!

FUN FACT: Why did the water drain away from the shore? Something called bank suction, created by that large ship that was passing by. The increased velocity of water past the hull of a ship in a restricted channel causes a decrease in pressure which draws the ship bodily toward the near bank. That decreased pressure also draws the water towards the ship. The effect is temporary; the water flows back in a moment or two.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1144acsDon paddling along the Jersey side of the island, once he’d gotten some actual water to paddle in.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1348acsA “lazaretto” or “lazaret” is a quarantine station for marine travelers. The Philadelphia Lazaretto, on the Delaware County shore of the Delaware River, was built in 1799 in response to the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. All ships were required to stop here for inspection, and ill passengers were quarantined. It operated as a hospital until 1895. A century older than Ellis Island’s inspection station in New York, this is the oldest surviving quarantine hospital in the U.S. The view of the building from the river is something a lot of people never see.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1301acsNot everyone can say they’ve paddled under the runway lights of the Philadelphia Airport, either. These are on a long wooden pier extending obliquely along the shore. Needless to say, there were a lot of planes taking off and flying overhead while we were out on the river.

The first three hours of our fateful trip were relaxing and fun. The second three hours, not so much.

Tides are tricky things. We had only planned to paddle partway up the Philadelphia side of the island, for about 45 minutes. But we reached the north end in 30, thanks to the incoming tide.

Then it took us over 2 hours of HARD paddling to cover the same three miles against the tide. We seriously underestimated the strength of the flood current. At times we were making no progress at all.

And that’s how our three-hour tour turned into a six-hour marathon, and nearly left us castaways on a deserted isle!

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1282acsAll in a wonderful watery weekend.

Campfire Tales

Nockamixon Camp Chow_7729The twilight falls gently with a wisp of cool breeze, indigo sky playing peek-a-boo in the spaces between the trees. Hush! Be still and drink in the evening. Listen to the crackle and hiss of the campfire, see the tongues of flames dancing, sparks spiraling upwards toward the stars they yearn to be. Breathe deep of the tangy scent of wood smoke, the flowering trees, the rich earth.

Nockamixon Cabin_7985 acsIt is the enchantment hour, a quiescent moment suspended betwixt sunshine and moonbeams. Now is the time to tell tales of today and of days of yore.

Friends have gathered at lakeside cabins to spend a rustic weekend in the woods. What adventures will this motley crew undertake? What stories shall we hear at this fire?

Nockamixon Fishing Pier_8239 acsThe blue waters of Lake Nockamixon beckon our campers to explore on a pontoon boat. Haycock Mountain looms on the horizon, and osprey and eagles ride escort for the boat as it plays tag with unwillingly cormorants.

Nockamixon Fishing Pier_8144 aAt the water’s edge an Eastern Kingbird perches sprightly on a gray-barked branch. In his dark ash suit and white waistcoat, he looks the part of a nattily attired young businessman.

Nockamixon Fishing Pier_8187 acsLook sharp! There a Northern Water Snake, on business of his own, slithers out of sight.

Nockamixon Camp Chow_7687No camping trip is complete without the nightly campfire. Preparation requires skill, dexterity and, with luck, no bandages.

Is it the wood smoke or the fresh air that makes a dinner of hamburgers and hotdogs taste better when cooked over an open fire?

Nockamixon Camp Chow_7726 acsEach meal on this weekend comes with an appetizer of impassioned discussion. Eavesdrop now as the debate rages over the finer points of burger-flipping. Soon these two, innocent of the temptations of s’mores, will lose their dessert virginity to the siren’s call of marshmallows and chocolate.

An evening in the woods offers the chance to experience the sights and sounds of a forest at night. There will be owls hooting, foxes barking and ruffed grouse drumming, while the Milky Way arches brilliantly overhead. Or perhaps not, for the critters will not cooperate, and the sky is a thick blanket of dark clouds. The Milky Gray!

Instead, a brightly lit fishing boat takes a short tour. During its voyage, a kayak and its paddler materialize from the darkness beyond the shore.

Nockamixon AM Walk_8106 aDaylight brings new adventures. Hikes are taken down paths through verdant woods, fallen pines and rocky slopes. Powwows are held over the identity of this or that plant. The flock’s incurable wanderer strays from the trail, and must be shepherded back like a lost little lamb.

Nockamixon Old Mill Trail_8325 acsAlong the way a creek bubbles through moss-bound rocks, calm pools and swampy meadows before tumbling over a dam to find its rest in the lake.

Tohickon CollageSome spend a morning exploring the park by horseback. Others go on a driving tour around the lake. Treasures revealed on this sojourn include a bright red barn, the watery geometry of a dam spillway, and an eccentric old church. Behind the church, gravestones inscribed in German march in disorderly rows, leaning this way and that. Further on, Covered Bridge Road surprises with an actual covered bridge. An old grist mill and antique car are additional delights.

A steady rainfall late in the day is not to be lamented, but enjoyed from the sanctuary of the cabin porch. Dry and cozy, the gentle patter of raindrops on the leaves is balm for tired souls. The wetness does not deter from another campfire after dark, and another round of story-telling.

Nockamixon Cabin_8006 aThe morning after the rain dawns with clear blue skies above the tree canopy. Below, the cabin hides behind an ethereal mist.

Moisture glistens on every leaf, and drips from every leaf tip, sunlight refracting into a rainbow of colors.

From everywhere bird song echoes through the woods. A ray of bright red reveals a scarlet tanager; an iota of orange, an orchard oriole.

A clear two-note song rings out from all directions. A search for the singer is met with success. Ovenbird, a lifer!Nockamixon AM Walk_8003 acs

To walk out the front door into a deep wood filled with chattering birds and rippling creeks is perhaps the greatest gift of this weekend idyll. Too soon the fire burns low, the tales draw to a close, and the road leads out of the woods toward civilized society. As the lake recedes in the rear-view mirror, the inevitable end-of-camp blues set in.

Memories must sustain us until the happy day when we shall return, when trails to explore unfold before us and campfires flicker anew.Nockamixon Cabin_8020 a