October Waters

by Henry Swain

The colors of October that bring hordes of tourists to Brown County do not happen suddenly upon the arrival of the first day of the month. October sent out scouts as early as August to warn summer that its end was near, and that it had better tidy up its loose ends to make way for autumn.

In late August, a half-dozen bright red leaves begin showing up on the black gum tree off our deck. A few leaves on the dogwoods in our yard blush with a faint pink. The sassafras that borders our road show isolated tints of orange.

At the end of February, the opposite of August, I look for the scouts of spring: the snowdrops, the green clusters of the shoots of daffodils that dare winter to shut down its supply of cold.

Every season has its scouts of change giving notice that the season of the (now) must give way to the season of the (next). It is a reflection of the rhythms of the world in which we live and of which we are a part.

Rhythm describes and identifies life. From the rapid heartbeat of an embryo in a mother’s womb to the long days between the seasons we witness the rhythms of life on different wavelengths.

While we cannot change the rhythms of the seasons, we are affected by them. We do not act or feel the same during the long warm days of summer, as we do during the short cold days of winter. People seldom get “cabin fever” in the middle of summer. Why do we feel more hopeful about almost everything with the coming of spring? But it is October now with its own rhythm, and I must become a part of that rhythm for it will not last.

I feel the urge to share with you an hour or two on our local Salt Creek. As Salt Creek meanders through the bottom land between the hills it has carved steep banks ten feet high from the water’s edge. There are few places where one can launch a kayak or canoe, and it is not as easy to get out of a kayak as it is a canoe. You paddle a canoe on the water, but you paddle a kayak as though you are in the water. You “wear” or “put on” a kayak.

The covered bridge at the State Park is one available site. Where Clay Lick Creek meets Salt Creek is another. A good place to get out of the water is where Greasy Creek flows into Salt Creek. After high water when the stream runs clear again, is an ideal time to float from the State Park to the bridge at Nashville. The Nashville Bridge is an architectural work of art with its compound main arch with smaller arches above it that support the roadway. We drive over it unaware of the beauty beneath that supports us.

With no companion to share the float with me, I park the truck in the field next to the bridge over Clay Lick Creek and drag the kayak down the bank through chest high weeds to the water. The detritus left from the outflow of Clay Lick frequently leaves a gravel bar about fifty feet long down the center of Salt creek. This bar acts like a temporary dam with narrow fast water flowing on either side.

I begin by paddling upstream for the current is slow moving all the long distance up to the bridge near Maldonado’s restaurant. The leisurely drift back is a delight. Colored leaves make their staggering descent from the high branches that arch over the creek. As each leaf silently meets the water, it leaves a rippled dimple of miniature concentric waves around it.

The water surface is covered with leaves so closely spaced my kayak leaves an open path behind me. Some leaves are already water-logged and are suspended a foot or so below the surface on their leisurely descent to the bottom. But today the leaves come down so rapidly they literally carpet the surface in a mosaic of color.

A great blue heron notices my presence and rises to re-alight a safer distance downstream. A small covey of Grebes play tag with me. They go under the surface and I can trace their paths by the movement of the leaves on the surface. If I look closely I can see only their heads above water near the bank watching me.

As I near the gravel bar where I started I choose the left channel for a tree blocks the other choice. It is so narrow that I have to hold my paddle in line with the kayak to scoot by the bar. Once through the rapids I’m again in slow moving water. I drift on to the next bridge and then paddle back to the gravel bar where I disembark and pull the kayak across to my point of beginning.

I reflect on my hour on the creek as I drive home. For that brief moment I was in harmony with the best of what October has to offer. I have filed pictures in my mind of this mild October day that I can bring back in January as I sit before my fire while the snow falls outside much the way the leaves fell to Salt Creek that day back in October.

But January too will pass, and the spring floods will not be that far away. I will again hit the water with my kayak to see what changes the spring floods have wrought.