On March 3, 2021

Open water: The first sign of spring

By Barb Wood
It’s never too soon to canoe, as long as there’s open water.

By Merisa Sherman

We’ve got open water in Killington!

It was a bluebird spring day in February, so I had chosen the long way home along the river. There, uncovered by the warming sun, was something wonderful and rare. I felt my heart skip a beat. There was open water in February! The snow had melted just enough to reveal a strip of the river below. I bit my lip, looking out down the Ottauquechee and automatically thought to myself: I’d paddle that.

Two days later, I found myself standing next to an old friend, looking down a roadside snowbank toward the water below. Boats, which had been dragged out of their winter hibernation, waited patiently atop our cars while we analyzed the safest way to get our boats into water. It was only a short distance to the water’s edge, but recent weather patterns have left the snowpack soft and unpredictable. I was not interested in postholing in thigh-deep snow with a canoe on my shoulders. But this February thaw had also brought a unique adventure that we could not ignore. We were doing this!

After packing out a trail with our snowshoes to check out the launch site, it was indeed a go. I could feel the anticipation building as we unstrapped our boats, getting lost in the movements that defined our summers. The weight of the canoe sank onto my shoulders and I climbed my way over the 4-foot-high snowbank and toward the water’s edge. I started giggling to myself — I was portaging through the snow to launch my canoe off an icy shore.

Unsure of where the shore ended and the ice began, I gingerly placed my canoe down at the water’s edge. With the paddles loaded and life jackets securely fastened, I placed my right foot in the bottom of the boat and gently pushed off into a small pooled section of the river. It wasn’t much bigger than a puddle and didn’t get any deeper than a single paddle blade, but it was just large enough to do a little dancing with my canoe. You could hear the water gurgling over the rocks underneath the bridge just downstream of us as the momentum of the river wrapped me into the cocoon of my canoe. It was perfect.

By Barb Wood
Merisa Sherman floats through icy water in Killington thrilled to be back in a canoe early this year, even before spring is here.

And so I just floated, absorbing everything around me: the birds sharing their warm weather songs, that sweet aroma of the warming earth and the snow. The Snow! Still white and plump, even as it sadly sagged in the 40 degree weather. The leafless trees scratching at the grey sky contrasted with the dark water to creat a monochromatic wonderland: a small, dark island in a never ending sea of white. Now this was a grand adventure, a surreal moment of pure joy. We were paddling in February, surrounded by snow — in Vermont!!

Contentment swells around me as I watch with a huge grin as my friend has her moment of glory. This launch meant 12 straight months of paddling in Vermont for Barb. I hear her gasp as she settles in and I know she is as awed by this moment as I. We were wrapped in winter, yet floating like a summer’s day. We were on an adventure in 2 feet of water.

Having adjusted to the uniqueness of the moment, we headed downstream to explore our minuscule section of open water. The tiniest bit of “rapids” led to a snaking section with creeping ice, known as the “Little Amazon” in the summertime. We followed the river under a downed tree to a mini-waterfall, laughing at how much excitement could be packed into just this tiny slice of water. A pure moment of summer in the middle of winter.

But winter it still was. Our paddles smoothly gliding through the water contrasted sharply with the jarring sound of the neighbor chipping away at a thick layer of ice. But isn’t that quintessential life in the Green Mountains? A place where big adventures can happen in a little space, the seasons make absolutely no sense and you can randomly snag a bucket list item without leaving your home town — all while on your lunch break.

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