By Johna Till Johnson
Note: I’ve been remiss in blog posting for the past few months; the adventures have been happening faster than my ability to keep up! I look forward to sharing them with readers over the next little while; there’s quite a lot going on. Please stay tuned!
It’s 3 PM, on a fine winter day. The sky is a clear, pale blue. There’s little wind. The temperature is in the low forties, warm (ish). Three of us—Brian, Richard, and I—have met up for a short paddle celebrating the winter solstice.
We launch from Yonkers, heading south with the ebb. Slack is supposed to be at 3:18 at the George Washington Bridge, but I’ve conveniently forgotten the one-hour difference between GWB and Yonkers, so I’m naively assuming it will be slack soon. We set off across the river, and catch sight of a tug-and-barge farther south. Is it coming up the river towards us?
The distance between us appears to be shrinking rapidly, so we put some effort into the crossing, to stay out of the path of the oncoming barge.
Soon enough we’re on the far side of the river, paddling gently with the current, enjoying the sights of the New Jersey shore.
We pass a frozen waterfall. Then Richard spies something in a tree. “Is that a bald eagle?” he asks.
We squint. No, we decide, just a trick of the light and maybe a patch of fungus white against the tree trunk.
Then the “patch of fungus” moves and sure enough, it’s the head of a bald eagle. They’re common sights farther up the river, but this is the first time we’ve seen one this far south.
We stare in awe, nearly holding our breaths. Then just as we go to take a picture, it takes flight, majestic wings flapping gracefully.
We continue down the river, helped by a current that (according to Johna’s faulty calculations) shouldn’t still be ebbing strongly. But it is.
Brian paddles close to the bank to inspect another waterfall. This one leaps majestically from the cliffs, frozen in cascades of ice. Even though the day is warm, the ice warns us of winter to come.
A tug-and-barge announces. Is it the one we passed? No, that one isn’t moving, except to shift with the (finally) changing current. It was anchored after all.
But there’s another one, a barge towed by one of the bright turquoise tugs, the Megan Ann or one of her sisters. It’s heading south to sea, and passing by another tug-and-barge on the eastern shore.
We watch for a while, then turn to cross the river towards home. There’s still a strong ebb in the middle of the river, even though it’s past four. The Manhattan skyline glows pink in the misty sunset, the strange new spires glimmering.
We cross over, surfing the waves, and chat a bit as we begin to paddle north, on the East side of the river this time. We admire the new kayak storage at the Yonkers Paddling and Rowing Club.
A flock of seagulls circles overhead, squawking. “Seagulls and eagles,” I joke. “Seagulls and eagle,” Richard corrects me. He’s right. Only one eagle!
Full twilight sets in. I push ahead, working on my forward stroke. “Slow down so we can make the trip last longer,” Brian says. I stop paddling and just drift for a moment, admiring the Yonkers skyline against the darkening sky.
Finally we round the corner and pull up to the boat launch. It’s 5 PM; we’ve been out for almost exactly two hours. Not a marathon trip by any means, but a fine way to welcome winter.