Confluence: a river blog © 2009 by Karl Meyer

Confluence: entry one, January 28, 2009

I spent an hour walking in the snowy woods along the edges of a ridge that presides above the confluence of the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers. I walk there frequently. It’s a jumble of shorter and longer trails, some up, some down. You can pick your length and pretty much get what you want from a walk just ten minutes beyond the center of town. It’s an extension of the Pocumtuck Ridge, an ancient basalt escarpment that extends two miles to the north, and maybe six miles south of here. It’s interrupted by the water gap here where the Deerfield was forced to enter the Connecticut from an upstream angle due to this ancient rock formation. There is energy along this corridor.

As I walk the morning is cold, in the teens and sunny, but otherwise unremarkable. A few tufted titmice are beginning to hold forth with extended notes, foretelling their anticipation of spring—still months distant. If you take any one of the trails diverging from the main paths you can generally have a solitary walk in these woods. Noise from the outside world is not excluded completely, but it is generally a distant muffle against the sound of your own footsteps. As I circle down and then up along the shoulder of the ridge tumbling toward the Deerfield, I note through the trees for the first time that the river, half-obscured by my angle looking south from this ridge, is snow covered and frozen. I don’t recall that from last year—this being my second winter walking these trails.

What are remarkable, apart from the prints of snowshoes, skis, people and dogs along this trail, are the easily identifiable deviations of the wild creatures. Of most note are the tracks of coyotes which lead off in bee-line fashion at steep angles from the beaten paths, veering toward ridge lines and bounding down hillsides as they go about their wild business. It is pair bonding time for this species. These woods are busy each night as dusk descends. Rising up the hill from a site near the mouth of the Deerfield, comes a steady low hum and then banging echoes of a metal recovery works. Beyond that and opposite on the Deerfield sits the sprawling and sometimes busy track grid of the East Deerfield rail yard—still a significant switching station here in the Northeast. From there the rumbles of idling locomotives and the chain-slamming start-ups of train vibrate the air.

As I finish my loop here I am angling up hill with a view north toward a gap in the ridge with pure blue sky looming above. Something pulls my eyes in that direction and I’m struck with the absolute blue of the sky spreading beyond that snow covered lookout. It is such a deep blue I am momentarily dumbfounded—the stuff that you might pick out of the pure selections offered from a computer program for brochure printing. Only this is the real thing: deep, clear, clean blue. It is a saturated natural canvass, and one that I scarcely remember coming across before. There must be some interplay of sun, snow, and ridgeline color, and the angle of late-morning January light that has caused it, but all I can think is that it is magnificent.

I’m trying to capture this in my head, azure?—cerulean??—I’ve never been good with color descriptors. A speck glides into view against that canvass. It slides across with a flap or two of its wings, and then simply floats northward above the ridge. Though it is perhaps a seven hundred feet up there is no mistaking this raptor. White tail, white head, dark body—strong, flat-winged glide: bald eagle. I count back in my head and realize that this will be the ten year anniversary of the return of naturally nesting bald eagles to the shores of the Connecticut. That nest is less than three miles from here. It’s possible that’s where this bird is heading. Against the blue I’m reminded of the eleventh hour attempt by the Bush Administration to turn back many of the tenets that brought this species back here for the first time in over a century—the Endangered Species Act.