What more could a father ask for?

March 30, 1997|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- Both our children were on vacation this week, one from college and one from the eighth grade, and as a result my personal productivity went into a precipitous decline. It was great!

One day, when I should have been writing a book review or fixing fences, Sarah and I tried out the new bike trail along the Susquehanna, from Deer Creek north to the Conowingo Dam and back again. It was only a few miles, and the pedaling and river-gazing didn't take us long, but what with the preliminary messing around with tire gauges, air compressors and bike racks, we killed most of the afternoon.

It was time well spent. The river has seldom looked more spectacular, slipping southward in a smooth, steady flow, and we stopped more than once just to stare at it.

On this particular day it looked from a distance like a calm blue lake. You had to get right next to it to sense its power, but when you did so there was no doubt that you were looking at serious water. It's the biggest river on the East Coast in terms of water poured into the ocean, averaging 25 billion gallons a day.

Sarah now rides Willy's old bike, a veteran of many riverside miles. It's done the C&O Canal towpath twice, all the way between Cumberland and Washington, on Boy Scout outings, and although it isn't as sharp-looking as it used to be, the wheels still spin truly and the gearshift, recently rebuilt, works better than ever. Sarah and I have talked about doing the annual Cycle Across Maryland ride some day, unless one of us gets too old for such things.

The Susquehanna trail follows what was once the towpath for the short-lived Chesapeake & Tidewater Canal, and subsequently the route of the railroad built in the 1920s by the Philadelphia Electric Company to carry building materials to the construction site for the Conowingo Dam. The old canal is for the most part only a swampy place now, but it's full of frogs and fringed with wildflowers.

The day after the bike ride, with the book review still unwritten and a newspaper deadline approaching, Sarah and her mother had an out-of-town appointment. It would have been a good time to sit in front of the keyboard and grind out some words. But the sun was out, Willy was available, and there were a couple of kayaks sitting unattended in the shed, so . . .

Steep shores, little cabins

We slid them into the water at the county boat ramp on Broad Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna above the dam. Along its steep wooded shores perch dozens of little cabins, privately owned but built on land leased from the power company. Many of them are accessible only by water. In summer the creek is full of power boats coming and going from the big Conowingo lake, but in early spring it's a very different place.

First we went downstream, out to the lake -- the impoundment created in the river by the big dam. There we found several migrating loons, presumably feeding on the small fish so plentiful in the lake. Then we reversed and paddled up the creek as far as we could, to below the smaller dam that creates a much smaller lake in the Broad Creek Boy Scout reservation, where Willy and I used to spend some time.

The creek here was swirling with baitfish, some of which tried to hurl themselves into the kayaks. The woods were full of mountain laurel, and the laurel was full of birds. We saw many kingfishers and a pair of wood ducks. Once we heard an odd noise and stopped paddling to listen.

''Frogs?'' I guessed.

''No, it's mechanical,'' Willy said. ''A lawn sprinkler, maybe.''

We eased closer, and found that the noise was coming from a cabin almost hidden in the trees. It was a burglar alarm, and it sounded a little weary. We wondered how long it had been going, and who was supposed to be responding to it.

Paddling back to our put-in place, we passed a woman sprucing up the grounds around her cabin, helped by a black Labrador which kept leaping into the creek and retrieving sticks, in case she needed any more.

Our two kayaks are plastic, weigh less than 40 pounds apiece, and cost a little over $300 new, about the same as a nice bicycle. They're easy to carry, in your hand or on top of a car, and easy to paddle. And they illustrate the old principle that the smaller and cheaper your boat, the more fun you're likely to have with it.

Two bikes, two kayaks, two beautiful March afternoons, two terrific kids. What more could a father ask for, except for more of the same, and maybe a little elasticity to those pesky deadlines?

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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