This Side Up

Beware of hunters, or rather, their company


The sky brightened. There was a rosy glow in the east, the shoreline homes of Shawomet Avenue were silhouetted above a tranquil bay. The moon, full and silvery was in the west. The air was still and the grass was frosted white.

But Sunday morning started off with a bang.

Actually, it was more like distant artillery as if there was a skirmish on Gaspee Point, maybe even further north in Pawtuxet Village. The random pop, pop of gunfire reverberated.

The scene was unchanged, tranquil. Swans and ducks rode the gentle swells. There was the honking of geese, more chatter than an alarm, and a couple of seagulls, intent on reaching their destination, winged toward Conimicut Point.

Surely, the duck hunters were far enough away not to interrupt a morning row. If the fowl in my vicinity were not perturbed, why should I be?

I dressed warmly, although I expected, by the time I had completed my excursion, I would be ready to peel off my fleece – I picked red, figuring that would be a prudent choice for duck hunting season. Naturally, the thought occurred, how could a duck hunter confuse a sculler in a 21-foot boat with a duck? But then deer hunters have confused deer and cows, not to mention deer and people. I’d wear red just to be safe.

Maybe I should have worn a sign, “I’m not a duck,” but that was just an early morning whimsy.

It was an ideal morning on the bay.

Once on board, the delicate procedure of easing onto a sliding seat, that rides on a track no wider than a foot, I brought the oars to my chest to stabilize the craft. With the oars extended from their outriggers, the boat is firm in the water, even when the wind has kicked up waves that splash over the boat’s pencil-like form. I took a moment to take in the scene. The bay reflected the robin’s egg blue of the sky and the orange to the east.

The far off guns were quiet. I slipped the oar handles through the holes in my poggies, which, like mittens, keep my hands warm.

Slowly, I leaned into the stroke, pushing off with my legs. The boat gained speed. I glided north, following the shoreline.

My morning forays have become commonplace to the regulars.

Unless I’m on a collision course, and that’s difficult to judge when you face backward to the direction you are traveling, swans paddle out of my way. It’s when I hear the beating of their giant wings, followed by the splashing of their running feet on the surface, that I know I came too close for their liking. For the most part, geese and ducks pay no attention. Once I spotted a seal. Or, rather, the seal spotted me. It raised its head in my wake to watch my passage. That was a treat.

I paddled along Cole Farm where I spotted a flock of coot, a small back winter visitor that flies in sudden bursts and swims with its head nodding back and forth. The birds weaved in between the shore reeds on the rising tide. They weren’t troubled. None took to the wing.

The sun had risen and I could feel its warmth. It was going to be a beautiful day.

I passed through the Cole Farm mooring field. There wasn’t a single boat. I went by the pink dock, so painted, I was told, to keep away the seagulls. I can’t vouch for whether that works.

And then it became eerily silent as I approached Occupasstuxet Cove. The water seemed to be all mine. There were no swans, no geese and no coots. I shot a glance over my shoulder. I was heading for a raft of ducks. They would swim out of my way. There was no need to change course.

But then they didn’t.

I feathered the oars to break my speed. The birds didn’t move although one duck on shore was beating its wings as if to take off. But it didn’t rise. It kept rhythmically beating the air. It was mechanical.

And then there was an anxious, excited moan. I recognized it immediately as canine. It was a chocolate lab, sitting obediently outside a blind, ready for the command to spring forward. The dog was quivering in anticipation.

The hunters hadn’t mistaken me for their prey. No guns flared. In fact, the hunters remained hidden, silent.

But the dog? Could they contain him? Might he leap forward in an effort to retrieve this water creature that dwarfed any prize he has returned for his masters?

I decided it best not to find out. I turned back. Not a shot was fired. The guns were quiet all the way home.

The hunters’ decoys had had me fooled, especially the one beating its wings on shore. Obviously, the fowl knew better.


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