A quick summary of August

I wanted to post every month, but I never got around to posting during August. So I’ll give a short update on what August was like, before moving on to more exciting September content.

First off, these feet definitely earned the right to be called eager during August. My Fitbit tells me there were only two days in August when I got under 10,000 steps, and my average was over 13,000 — so that’s cool.  Since our trip to Sanibel I’ve been focused on my fitness more, have dropped some pounds, and remembered how much I enjoy the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.  Many of those steps came in walks, either around the office or around the neighborhood.  Sometimes the neighborhood reminds me how much I enjoy it.

I also dragged my family out for at least one walk together, on the Rail Trail in Brimfield.  We saw snakes galore!

We also returned to Florida in August, for a quick couple days, to visit my grandfather.  He lives alone, and still takes good care of himself, even though he’s past 90.  We visited him during the solar eclipse … and while I didn’t get a good shot of the actual eclipse, here’s how the shadows looked in the driveway!

Last, but not least, August saw my birthday — we had a birthday dinner at a cool Cuban / Blues bar/pub in Florida after leaving my grandfather for the evening.  No food pictures, but the vibe was pretty cool.


Quinebaug River Trail – East Brimfield Section (Kayak)

For the past two years, I’ve wanted to take a kayak or canoe along the Quinebaug River Trail between Lake Siog and the East Brimfield Reservoir. But whenever I’ve had the time, the river’s been too low, whether because of drought (last year) or just general late season low flow.  But this spring has seen enough rain to keep all the nearby rivers fat and happy, which made for a great opportunity.

With a solid half-day available to me this past weekend, I got everything ready the night before, so I could roll out of bed and into the car first thing Saturday morning. We’d had a few hot days in a row but the temps had fallen overnight and it was in the upper 40s as I drove to Holland.  I again cursed the low clearance and bad angles on my otherwise well-loved Mazda 3; many of the roads to parking areas for trailheads or fishing spots make me wish for something with a bit more room for error (we’ll see what my next car is). After I navigated the potholes and ruts and got to the parking area, I found a few cars and trucks already there at 7:10 AM.

I got to work unpacking the car and loading the boat with fishing equipment.  I’m still getting used to my load-out. The kayak can handle a ton of cargo and so I tend to bring a ton of cargo … but sometimes it’s all a bit overwhelming.  Either way, I was on the water by 7:30, after waiting a bit for some kids to finish getting their little flat-bottom boat off the ramp.

I paddled my way past a few other fishermen on the water, one of whom was fly-fishing from a rather small kayak.  I was impressed with his balance and form; it’s hard enough to fly-fish standing on solid ground, but sitting in a shaky kayak is another story entirely.  I was about to ask if he was having any luck when I watched him set his hook and begin fighting a small fish.

Once I cleared everybody I started periodically pausing to cast as I went.  This area is very quiet with no major reads nearby.  Near the Morse Road bridge I hooked into an aggressive pickerel, who shook the lure out of his mouth just as I was pulling its head out of the water.  I love how pickerel attack and fight, but I’ve never been a fan of taking treble hooks out of their jaws.  So having one toss the lure that close almost felt like a win, even if it was a bit disappointing.

I fished for a while on both sides of the bridge and didn’t hook into any more fish, so I kept heading downstream.  I paused for a moment at the first rest area of the trail, just one mile in.  I took off my heavy sweatshirt (the sun was starting to peek out and the paddling was keeping me warm) and considered changing out my terminal tackle, but decided to leave the simple spinner baits on I had been using.  I probably should have taken the time to switch one of my rods to a rubber worm, but my scissors were buried somewhere in the milk crate and I was itching to keep moving. (Lesson learned; attach the scissors to the life jacket — or use a snap swivel).

I continued downriver as the course grew much more meandering. I passed rest stops 2 and 3 (fairly close together at 2.0 and 2.4 miles downstream) without stopping, simply pausing in the boat when I grew tired and letting the current drift me slowly downstream. The peace and quiet was amazing; every once in a while I could hear a distant car but never the constant hum of traffic I hear from on the Quaboag and East Brookfield rivers. The other thing I was blown away by was the smell … so early in the season that dead pond-scum smell hadn’t really started to develop yet. The river smelled fresh and alive, and periodically as the river went past a particularly flowery tree I’d be overwhelmed by totally different spring smells.  This was exactly what I needed; a quiet, peaceful excursion away from civilization where I could really sink my senses into nature for a few hours.

Of course, as I paused and drifted, I came to the realization that the current was helping me quite a bit … which meant it was going to be fighting me quite a bit on the way back.  I looked at the time, made some guesses, and figured if I wanted to be out of the water by noon I had to start focusing more on the paddle and less on the fishing.

I paused frequently to take pictures and occasionally cast my line, but at this point my focus was on keeping moving.  I saw several beavers, many Canada geese, more red-winged blackbirds than I could count, and lots of turtles too.  I heard a wild turkey calling, watched little fish dart away from my kayak into the reeds, and let the rising sun soak me with warmth.

A bit after 9:30, I approached the bridge tunnel that led to the East Brimfield Reservoir.  I paddled under the bridge, fished nearby for a while without any luck, and enjoyed a banana in an attempt to inject some quick energy into my tired arms.  Then, I turned around.  It had taken me around two hours to get here with the current helping me, and I wanted to get back in about the same time, so I knew I had to push a bit.

The current was rough at first; whether it was just the depth of the water, the peculiarity of the wind, or just my own weak muscles, I felt a little doubt about how this morning was going to turn out.  But I pressed on and things got a bit easier.  I paused much less frequently, as every rest meant the kayak would start to get turned around by the current (not that the current was particularly strong, but it was certainly noticeable). Forward I paddled, until I made my way back to the third rest stop, where I dragged the kayak out of the water and took a breather, eating a protein bar and measuring my progress while throwing out a few half-hearted casts with the fishing rod.  Ten minutes later, I was heading back upstream.

I started to encounter many more paddlers who had started the day later than I had. There were probably twenty different people on kayaks and canoes between the rest stop and the ramp, most in groups, laughing and enjoying the beautiful day.  I waved and greeted them all, happily tired and feeling accomplished.

I made it back just before noon, and was back on the road, headed home and back to civilization.  I’d definitely be up for taking this trip again, though if I was going to do it round trip I’d try and reserve a bit more time for it.

There’s something calming and almost meditative about solo paddling for a few hours, with nobody to talk to, nobody to listen to, and no routine except what you set as you measure how fast you feel you need to go. It appeals to me in the same way that hiking does, with the added benefit of being able to change up the activity with fishing.  I’m already trying to figure out my next chance to get on the water.

Grand Trunk Trail – Brimfield

Last time we hiked in Brimfield, it was December and fresh snow was on the ground. Now, it’s April, and on a beautiful sunny day we wanted a hike without too much mud (it rained all week, and snow is still melting) and without too much strain on the legs.  Brimfield seemed to fit the bill again.


As you can see, it was a beautiful early Spring day. The sky was rich blue with a bright warm sun, and giant puffy clouds drifted overhead.

We parked at the Route 20 parking lot, and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the sun.  Temperatures were around 50 but the 20 mph winds made it feel a bit more brisk.  There were a handful of cars in the lot, and we passed several families walking with dogs and/or kids, as well as a couple sets of cyclists.  We weren’t the only ones thinking today was a good day for the Grand Trunk.


I set out trying to find signs of Spring, but didn’t come up with much.  Most of the snow was melted, save for a few shaded areas, but there was still lots of ice on the standing water.  We saw no rabbits, no snakes, no turtles, and no frogs — all animals we’d seen on our summer trips here.  Plenty of birds were singing, though, and that helped.


As you can see, the trail is broad and flat; it becomes a bit more winding later on but still remains a very bike- and horse-friendly trail.


On both sides of the trail were frequent small ponds, fed by the melt.  Most had some ice still in them.


For a good chunk of our walk, a plane flew overhead, perhaps some kind of training exercise.  It would do wide banking flyovers at fairly low altitude and then repeat.  I’ve encountered this sort of thing before in this area, at the nearby campground and the nearby reservoir. I didn’t get a shot of the plane at its lowest but I did snap one on a higher fly-by.033


We followed the trail for nearly two miles, crossed a dirt road, and almost made it to the other parking area where we’d parked for our December hike.  037

It was there that we saw the first real new growth of the year we’d encountered — bright green thorn bushes.  The first thing to grow is the nastiest?  We turned around and headed back at this point, rather than continuing on towards the other end of the trail.


Walking back out of the more wooded areas we entered the broad, flat section again, and were reminded of the total devastation caused by the 2011 tornado.  It’s likely that the damage to this landscape will outlast us.  We finished our walk quietly, thinking of what the years ahead will bring both to us, and to this scarred section of land.





Grand Trunk Trail – Brimfield

With several inches of Wednesday’s snow still on the ground and no snow-specific gear, we targeted a nice flat well-traveled trail for our post-Thanksgiving Saturday hike.  We chose the Grand Trunk Trail in Brimfield (also known as the Brimfield Trail and the Titanic Rail Trail).  We’d done this trail over the summer with our daughter on a day of exploration and geocaching, and knew it would be passable in boots without too much trouble. In the summer we saw tadpoles, rabbits, and snakes — this time, not so much.

The history of this trail is interesting; the Grand Trunk Railway wanted to create an extension from Montreal down to Palmer MA, and then over to Providence RI.  When the railway head died on the Titanic, expansion plans died with him, leaving significant chunks of land set aside for the railway undeveloped (or used for trolley lines).  Years later, this land would be turned into a rail trail, with the eventual goal of connecting Franklin MA and Palmer MA.  For now, trails in Brimfield, Sturbridge, and Southbridge exist, and need to eventually be connected and extended.

We started our hike at the parking area near Five Bridges Road, a rural dirt road in Brimfield.  As has become our habit, we took Jess’s 4WD SUV and were glad of it when it was time to park in the snowfilled parking area.  We started heading west towards the trail’s current end point at Route 20 in Brimfield.  The trail is broad and flat, and walks through beautiful forested wetlands.


The trail had been heavily traveled since the snow, with abundant boot tracks, dog tracks, and cross-country ski tracks.  We were able to handle it in our boots just fine.



We continued west along the trail, with the intention of forking south to check out the Siog Lake Bypass (into Holland), but we misread the map and ended up taking some minor side trails instead while continuing towards Route 20 in Brimfield.

We snapped plenty of photos of the wooded section of the trail, but there’s not much to say about it; it’s a beautiful area, flat, and easy to traverse.




After a while, though, the trail enters the section of Brimfield which was devastated by the 2011 tornado.  In this area the trees are all down, and the view is stark.  It’s an impressive and sad contrast.


On the other hand, the wide-open area is beginning to fill back in with the kind of growth that isn’t seen in the more forested area, and some of the opened-up views can be beautiful.



After about a mile and a half, we turned around.  We were on a bit of a schedule and wanted to get home in time to do some holiday errands.  We were happy to leave the flattened area and enter back into the wooded paths.


We made good time getting back to the car and continued a bit east past the parking area.  Here the trail leads into a marsh area where the Quinebaug River winds through.  The views here were completely different, including some recent beaver damage.



It was here that we had a somber moment of reflection; in a beautiful spot within sight of the river a lone pink cross stands in the ground.  There, in October 1993, the remains of 10-year old murder victim Holly Piirainen were found. Her murder remains unsolved, and just as with Molly Bish there are frequent reminders of the unsolved crime seen around the area.  Especially so close to Thanksgiving, it was a sobering reminder of how thankful we are for our family, and how many are not as fortunate.

It was with this in mind that we took the short walk back to our car, returning to the wooded section of the trail and wrapping up a 3.5 mile excursion in the first real snow of the year.