The Return of Doug!

Grand River, Tecumseh Park to Fitzgerald Park



24 August 2015

This paddle on the Grand River is one of my favorites—the river is wide and friendly, the wildlife typically plentiful, and the scenery a balm to this Midwesterner’s heart. The trip was even better this time around because it marked the return of our friend Doug to the rivers after some months of travelling!

Fall was most definitely with us on the river. It was a cool day—it never got to 70, and I was sorry I left my jacket behind—and we fought a steady 4 mph wind coming out of the west that gusted to 14 mph like all the time.  By the time we had paddled 500 feet due west head-on into the wind, I said hopefully, “well, the river will curve soon and we won’t be paddling right into the wind anymore.”  “I don’t know,” says Ellen in reply, “the river’s a pretty straight shot west.”  If you look at this map my GPS made of our paddle you can see that, as usual, Ellen was right. So we paddled just over 12 miles directly into the wind.

But what a lovely paddle it was. The wind meant we had to paddle pretty constantly–no lollygagging and letting the current take you—but it whipped up some amazing clouds and made the trees along the bank do constant dances for us.

And there was wildlife! Have a look below for the array, and note especially the osprey on the wing and the deer who decided to look at us through its back legs.

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By every measure, a great trip—and one made all the better by the return of Doug’s cookies as paddlin’ fuel!


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Enchanted River

Huron River, Argo Park to Gallup Park

5 August 2015

Because Ellen is headed overseas for a conference soon, she’s been getting up early to help minimize her jet lag; because I’m a good sport, I’ve been getting up with her.  Since we’ve been up before the chickens for several days now, we thought, let’s see what the river looks like this early.  Turns out, it’s enchanted.  I learned how to upload a video for youtube just to share this short clip of mist coming up off the river where it rushes a bit at Cedar Bend.  I got myself caught on a rock on the river and just sat there for a while taking it in.  I felt like I was in a Disney movie, in a good way.

So we’ve got rushing river giving off lovely mist, and then this sound like music played on wind chimes wafts through the trees.  Ellen and I have been watching Battlestar Galactica and just got to the part where the secret Cylons realize their identity when they hear music no one else can hear, so we were both like, “can you hear that?” We went a bit ahead and found the source of it–not a Cylon base star, just a woman doing tai chi on the river bank.

Ok, so there was the amazing mist coming off the river, music in the trees, and then just tons of animals who didn’t seem to expect visitors so early.  It was like we caught them all in their bathrobes.  Take a look at the ones were were able to get pictures of in the slideshow below.

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The High Green of Late Summer

Huron River, Hudson Mills to Dexter Metropark


29 July 2015

Ellen and I most recently did this 6-mile trip as part of a longer trip–a trip with more paddling on the front and back sides of what we paddled today.  That day (which you can read about here) we had the help of a high river, the threat of severe weather, and a Finnish engine called Mika, all of which worked together to make it our fastest paddle ever. Today, the river was low–like, low low–there was little chance of any rain in the morning (though it rains in torrents as I type this), and we were without the help of Finland’s finest. So we didn’t break any records, but we didn’t embarrass ourselves.

Okay, Ellen didn’t embarrass herself. I didn’t embarrass myself with the speed of my paddling, but, like immediately upon putting into the river, Ellen calls to me from behind, “What’s that?” And I turn to my right to look at a 20-inch turtle swimming up to my boat all curious-like.  I say, “that’s a giant turtle!” We both startle–the turtle and me, that is–and paddle quickly away from each other (so, no picture here; sorry), and then I have the jitters for about a half a mile.  I grew up in places with sidewalks and candy stores but not much wilderness, so surprise close encounters with even the most benign aspects of nature sometimes freak me out.  Who likes to be surprised by nature?

The rest of the paddle held a few more surprises, but none that sidled up to my boat and looked at me, which is great considering that we saw this huge snake that Ellen got a picture of (yikes!).


This time of year, the trees along the river take on a high green color that sort of approaches yellow. You can tell they’re starting to think about letting go for the year. I love trees as I think only a lifetime Midwesterner can; I love to watch them change with the seasons and love them in every season.  This time of year, they remind me of my favorite Dylan Thomas poems. Don’t go gently yet, summer.


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Going the Other Way

Huron River, around the Obama and Foster Bridges

cover bird

19 July 2015

Usually when Ellen and I put our boats in the water at the Obama bridge, we paddle upstream towards Honey Creek, but this time, we pointed our boats downstream and paddled off under the historic Foster Bridge. Thanks to this decision, we spied a river bird we haven’t seen before, the beauty above here, an American Bittern.   Note the righteous green eye shadow.  Lots of other animals joined us out on the river, most abundantly the turtles, which were spread out on logs like playing cards at the start of a magic trick.


Another find of this trip was the very cool graffiti on the belly of the train bridge we don’t often pass under.  The thermometer has crept up over the 90 degree mark today, which it has rarely done so far this summer, so I appreciated especially the ice painting, which reminded me of the days when I won’t go on the river without my foot warmers and made me less crabby at the heat. Even still, it was HOT on the river, and we were glad to have our boats loaded back up on the car well before noon when it got, well, HOTTER–and also, when all the kids with inner tubes showed up and shoved off.

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A Crisp, Fall Day-Type Paddle . . . in July

Huron River, Argo Park to Gallup Park

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8 July 2015

We’ve had such a mild summer this year in our corner of the Midwest that it’s hard to remember it’s nearly tomato season, instead of nearly apple season! Ellen and I set out for this quick in-town paddle in mid-morning, which meant it wasn’t in the 60s yet—and truth be told, it never got above 65 all day.  But the river had its own heat; you could feel it if you just held your hand outside your boat over the top of it, and when I stuck my hand in, it was like bath water compared to the cool morning air.  Lots of waterbirds came out to say hello, and Ellen got them all to sit for some awesome portraits, as you can see above.

I myself don’t mind a mild summer.  If we are lucky enough to swing an equally mild winter, it will be great for paddling.

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Bothering the Birds

Huron River, Island Lake State Park to Placeway Picnic Area 


30 June 2015

We woke up to a cool and cloudy Michigan this morning, and the weather sites were forecasting thunderstorms for the afternoon (big surprise), so Ellen and I headed out early to squeeze this short paddle in before the rain came. Because it rains, oh, every day now in our corner of the Midwest, the river was high, kicking along, and really buggy (we used our Off! liberally on this trip).

This little section of the river is really lovely–very wild without many places where it runs into a nature trail and with no backyards or houses at all.  I see more kinds of river grass on this trip than any other we take, and there are some cool marshy places unlike any other river spots we know well.

It seemed like on this trip we were destined to annoy birds–see that big blue heron lighting out downriver in the picture above? We managed to chase him down a good piece of the river before he finally gave up and let us pass him while he was up to his tail feathers fishing near the bank (Ellen saw him nab and then gulp down a snack).

Then later, we found a little river-room of cattails that we could paddle into thanks to the high water, and wow did we upset a red-winged blackbird doing that–you can see it, blurry because it’s  swooping around Ellen, in the image below.  Probably we were paddling into its nesting area–we saw another red-winged blackbird nest further down the river, later in the paddle. These reeds are pretty thick, packed close together and forming about a 15 foot divider between the cattail room and the rest of the river. While we were in the cattail room, something was seriously disturbing them. It had to be something that could swim, because the reeds are in the middle of the river, but it never caused a splash; we could hear it thrashing around in the reeds and see where the thing was by where the cattails swayed.  Ellen was convinced it was carp (we have seen them act like that before) but, putting together the course on horror I teach in the fall, I’ve recently learned about the Goatman, and I got the heck out of there.  The red-winged blackbird watched me paddle out from a log near the break in the reeds, yelling at me the whole time.


What was left of the paddle included no more visibly peeved birds. But there was so much birdsong–beautiful and various and the of the kind that makes you glad it’s summer, even if it has to rain every single day.

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Legal Spouses on a Twilight Paddle

Huron River, Gallup Park


26 June 2015

Ellen and I have been together for 15 years. In that time, we have never lived in a state that allowed same-sex marriage for more than a weekend, and, over the years, for one reason or another, we found it necessary to take several different measures to achieve a status that approximated legal marriage–we declared domestic partnership when one of us needed to be covered by the other’s insurance; we saw a lawyer to make up wills and give one another power of attorney for medical incidents; we visited Canada and got married there when doing so would afford us federal recognition in the U.S.

But this twilight paddle, our 114th paddle according to the record kept on this blog, was the first paddle we took as legal spouses in the state of Michigan. You know what? It was totally normal.

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