Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Peace Like A River

Being a professional naturalist has given me the opportunities to either ride in or drive many kinds of vehicles.  I've been on ATV's, agency pick-up trucks equipped with infrared and night vision scopes, airplanes, motor boats, mountain bikes, John Deere gators, and even a helicopter.  These things make work in parks/wildlife easier, depending on where work needs to be done. Sometimes, not all wildlife is best enjoyed by a fast trail vehicle or the coolest aircraft.  Sometimes, it's all about something meaningful.

Potomac River sunrise
This past spring, I noticed a stretch of forest with bald eagle nests, a heron rookery, and a cormorant rookery. These rookeries are places where flocks of birds come to nest and congregate.   It just sounded like a little slice of wildlife watching heaven to me.  I had to get out there to see the birds and to try to photograph some of them.  The forest was only accessible by boat, and the boat I was dying to take out was in my backyard straddled upon a few sawhorses, on dry land.

The boat's name is Peace Like A River, and for the past 2 years, she had only touched a body of water a few times.  I wanted to change that. 

My desire to take her on the water increased when I was flipping through a small photo album of my grandfather's, from years ago.  This album was basically the story of how that canoe (and a few others) were built by him and of the adventures my mom and uncle had in those canoes, as children.  In between the pages of these photos are blueprints and plans that were used to construct Peace Like A River.  It doesn't seem easy to build one of these things, so it goes without saying that I'm thankful for having one so accessible to me.
Author's grandfather in Peace Like A River.
She's got an incredible amount of character in her wooden body.  She rides smooth, and although some maneuvers can be wobbly at times, she'll make every ride an enjoyable one.  It's even more enjoyable when you think about her history and character.

Author as a child (middle) with family on the Potomac River.
My siblings and I, as young kids, used to really enjoy going for rides in the boat.  My father would do most of the paddling work because as a kid, my main job used to be focused on not flipping the boat or leaning outside of it.  We'd fish from the canoe mostly, and often take breaks for lunch on the islands.  As I child, this was seen as an excuse to explore, an excuse that I still haven't let go of today as an adult.

As I was thinking of a plan to take the boat out and to see the bird rookeries, I figured I'd invite my friend Jeff.  He's a professional photographer with works and ties to National Geographic.  I found it fitting, as we try to find excuses to get out in our local parks anyway.  Plus, he takes amazing photos. He agreed and my excitement to go increased immensely. We paddled on the Potomac near where the birds were nesting.  We didn't disturb them at all, and Jeff got some really good photos of cormorants and herons. The "drop zone" of bird poop was quickly determined by us, so we knew to keep a bit of a distance from the animals.  The nests were probably between 40 and 70 feet in the air, and when a bird needed to poop, they didn't think twice about sending it straight down from that height.  It was an interesting experience, and I'll never forget the commotion of nesting cormorants and herons.

Cormorant rookery (nesting site).  Photo:  Jeff Mauritzen

Peace Like A River was originally a northerner, being built in New Jersey and taken out on bodies of water in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

She now resides in Virginia, and her most travelled body of water these days is the Potomac River, turning her into Southern Belle with northern roots.

Brian Balik (author) in Peace Like A River, searching for birds.  Photo:  Jeff Mauritzen
-Big thanks to Jeff Mauritzen for taking amazing photos and coming along on my local excursions.  Click to see more of his work here:  Travel and Wildlife Photography .

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