SOLO ON THE CHOPTANK

Finally! After watching several perfect days in April slip past,  I was about to embark on my first trip of the year in the Kayak. Arriving at a spot that has been screaming my name for as long as I can remember I was about to enter my retreat; my church. Dad said, “Drop it in down the end of the street there and its about three miles or so up to Greensboro”. Seemed like this trip up one of Maryland’s many scenic rivers would be more on the “or so” side but I didn’t mind. I had a rare afternoon all to myself.

Scooting off into the Choptank from the old concrete ramp and dilapidated bulkhead, I entered a whole new world with just one pull of the paddle. The tide was flowing upstream towards my destination of Greensboro so I stroked and drifted with the tide hoping to catch a slack or outgoing tide during my return. The choir started barely 50 yards from the ramp. Gliding along the outer edge of a patchwork carpet of lily pads,  the first Great Blue Heron of the day scolded me with a guttural squawk as he glided effortlessly just a few feet off the surface, upstream and around a bend. I noticed a little ache in my cheeks from smiling as I was also surprised at the clarity of the water in this brackish environment. I could see the stems of the pads stretching towards the bottom 2-3 feet down. As I rounded the first bend an Osprey began to protest from its driftwood nest atop an old channel marker. A sign which read “Children Swimming” hung on the marker as well. Such an appropriate nesting spot. Strangely, on this weekend before the first big holiday of the summer season, I had yet to hear or see another soul enjoying the river. The view from my seat just a few inches above the surface absorbed every ounce of stress from my body. Overcast, light gray skies and black water separated by brilliantly green trees and the bow of my red Kayak would have inspired the most novice painter with a canvas and brush.

Wildlife was abundant and tolerant to my invasion and I felt like one lucky fan in a stadium all to his own, on the edge of his seat watching the pros. Eagles and Ospreys diving for fish; turtles catching some daylight and breeze atop ancient stumps while Ducks and Geese herded their offspring closer to the banks as I drifted by. Up ahead to my right I noticed a serene, secluded cove and as maneuvered around a slight bend ducking under a tree limb a whitetail buck, just sprouting new antlers,  snorted in my direction from the back of the cove. His auburn summer coat against the green backdrop of the woods glistened as he stood knee deep in the dark water, gauging my intentions. He stayed just long enough for a quick but fuzzy picture and with a flick of his tail, and a quick hop, he melted into the bushes. Luckily the picture in my head is much clearer than the one on my camera.

Beyond the trees on the bank, a distant sound of a tractor working a field reminded me of civilization and I started wondering why I had not paddled into Greensboro yet. Phone service was only registering a bar or two so instead of checking to see where I was, I decided to turn back to Denton. Two hours had just evaporated in what seemed like minutes, but luckily the tide was nearly slack and easy to paddle against for my return. I veered off “trail” a bit on the way back to explore a partially submerged abandoned houseboat appropriately named “Better Days”. A raccoon and a few turtles scattered toward shore as I approached. The day was so peaceful and quiet that I could almost hear the family enjoying the better days on their once floating summer escape. Digging for Denton in an efficient blur of paddle strokes, I flushed a few more Herons and a couple Cranes in route to a til we meet again salute to the momma Osprey I disturbed a few hours earlier. She was a bit more tolerant this time, allowing me to get close enough for a powerful picture of her lifting off from the nest.

Approaching the old neighborhood ramp I couldn’t help but realize how lucky and fortunate I was to have spent a few hours on this beautiful Tributary. Another half mile downstream cars and trucks traversed the river on the Route 404 bridge, seemingly oblivious to the beauty below them. Hopefully, they were all either traveling to or from their own outdoor sanctuary.

I had called ahead and Dad was waiting at the old ramp. I choked up a bit realizing his 80year old self is the one who introduced me to the great outdoors some 45 years ago. “What you think of Greensboro”, he asked when we got back to the house. “Don’t know if I missed it or came up short. Doesn’t matter”, I said as we looked at a map of the river pinned to the garage wall. Turns out the three miles to Greensboro he referred to was by vehicle. The distance by boat turned out to be over 7 miles. I turned around at about the 6-mile mark. I’ll make it to Greensboro next time and maybe Dad will join me in his own kayak. Never expected I would I would feel better at the end of a 12-mile paddle than at the beginning. Well, better mentally anyway.

About the author

Boyd Lawton

Lifelong resident of the beautiful state of Maryland. Enthusiastic participant of everything outdoors and a passionate writer who strives to get everyone up and outside! From the mountain peaks to the sandy beaches and everywhere in between I’ll be there to experience that feeling and write about it. C’mon out!

Member of American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI)

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