The National Weather Service warned that the Sudbury River was flooding through Thursday from the big rain Tuesday (on top of an already high spring water table).
It was time to get out in it with a kayak. Overcast, cool temperatures, and low winds made for perfect conditions. A judicious use of technology allowed me to get in the maximum amount of analog time and experience profound nature in the midst of raucous civilization. First, I used a combination of Google Earth and Google Maps to zero in on where to start upstream. But once I selected the place, I put away the maps and just drove there. This is, after all, my neighborhood.
At the put-in just north of the Saxonville Dam, the river is narrow, and the water was rushing by. Upstream, I could hear rapids below the dam. Downstream would be all about dodging an obstacle course of fallen trees, but here it was smooth enough to embark.
Once through the narrows, the river opened up and showed itself for what it is this time of year: a floodplain.
In low season, midsummer, when there’s been no rain, the channel snakes through a vast flatness. Now, a sheet of water was moving through meadows and woods alike, often sideways to the normal flow. The channel was difficult to see. Many of the signs marking the federal boundaries were partially or mostly submerged.
At one point, I tangled through a line of maples, and thought, ruh roh, this can’t be right, and next thing I knew, I could see cars. From the river, you can’t see cars except at bridges. I had stumbled out of the woods and onto Heard Pond, around which curves Pelham Island Road.
I scrambled back southward to where I thought the river was, and a few minutes later emerged on the pond again. Turns out, this time of year, the river and pond are one.
I gave in to the flow and just paddled across the pond and out the other side, carried onward by the river.
Whirlpools and eddies surfaced in groups, particularly after a bridge, where all the water was forced through a narrow (and sometimes low!) passage. The the turbulent volume would occasionally spin me persistently in one direction. At those times, steering consisted of setting one paddle tip lightly in the water to offset the tug of the current.
If you want to know what it takes to survive in a swamp (never know when you might need that adaptation), take a look at this red maple group.
Despite the lack of wind and going with the flow, I was tired enough by the Route 20 boat landing to pull out. I stashed the kayak on the side, grabbed all my other gear (mini-anchor, wet bag, water bottle, paddle), and tromped over to The Local, a restaurant in the mall that replaced the old Raytheon factory.
From there, I fired up Uber. Not 10 minutes later, John was there with his white Camry to help me close the loop. The ride cost $12.72 and took 11 minutes, comparable to a ski lift.
After retrieving the car and driving back to reclaim the kayak, I started to pack up. I was wiping down the boat carefully before stuffing it in the vehicle. The sun was already at a low angle, reflecting blindingly off the river.
Suddenly, I heard something that sounded like a dog jumping in the water, which is common enough around here. I didn’t pay it any mind.
Then, I heard it again, a floppy splash.
This was not a dog at all, but fish, hundreds of them, big ones. I estimated some to be about 14" and some as large as 20". And fat.
They were swirling insanely right at the river’s edge, occasionally leaping out of the water. I suspect it was a tribal mating ritual, triggered by the high water.
I was only about six feet away from the water’s edge. When I approached, the fish spooked and swam away toward the center of the river, but they came right back again. I climbed the embankment to get a better viewing angle. The swarming, swirling, flopping continued for a long time. I was in no hurry to leave.