By Jana Seitz
Am I more in love with the idea of adventure than with adventure itself? I think to myself as I try to break free of my house and domestic responsibilities to catch the tide under the bridge that divides me from my plan. My brain tries to change its mind: wait ‘til you know it’s safe, catch up around here. I text a river friend to see if I can get in the marsh if I miss low tide, then I just make myself leave.
I can finally make the drive to the Hudson River without relying on GPS and wondering why the Taconic & Sprain are interchangeable and which 9 to take. I’m going against morning traffic like a salmon swimming upstream. I still get butterflies in my stomach when heading out alone to places unknown. My response pings in: “U can swim under. Watch your feet. There’s a bit of old fence under. U can always lay on top and hand paddle under.” Game on.
Destination: Constitution Marsh in Cold Spring, a basecamp for Hudson Highland adventure. I park at the train station, throw my gear in my kayak and the race is on. It’s a short paddle to the trestle, and I’m in and under with no swim necessary. I’m now free for five glorious hours: 75 degrees, sunny blue skies, light breeze, and stunningly beautiful. It’s as if I’ve paddled into a scratch ‘n’ sniff Bierstadt painting of the big, open West.
My mind bristles with the need to capture and share the beauty. I snap photos which can’t contain it and fight the urge to text them. I finally understand people’s addiction to Facebook, but I let it go. With great effort I turn off my phone and immerse myself in the reality of the here and now.
Constitution Marsh is a 270-acre tidal wetland, separated from the Hudson River by Constitution Island, on a 90-degree bend called World’s End. West Point is directly across, and its gothic spires peak through incongruously as if I popped into the Scottish rather than the Hudson Highlands. I’m the only person in the marsh today, but not the only creature. Thousands of slimy thingys scatter as I pass, some jumping in my boat in their mad dash to avoid it. I later learn they’re small bottom-of-the-food chain fish called “mummichogs.”
I scream when HUGE striped bass breach beside me, hopefully at the top of said chain. I’m thankful there are no snakes or gators as in my native Louisiana. It does remind me of home, of navigating similar channels through flooded rice fields with my dad, racing to the duck blind before the break of dawn. The main channel is well marked with buoys to the Audubon Center, but today I remain off their grid in search of the illusive waterfall.
The marsh is thick with invasive water chestnut. I pick up some floating seedpods (“devil’s heads”), hard round cases with three sharp prongs, to store on my bow in case of fish attack.
I am jolted by the sound of an air raid warning, high and clear, then twelve bells from Cadet Chapel and twelve chimes from the north. Noon has arrived, announced in stereo — magical and otherworldly. I heed its call and break for a quick lunch as the water begins its pull toward the sea. I realize that the recommended two-hour window before and after high tide isn’t just for getting in and out, but for navigating the marsh as well. I break the river’s hold, and scoot along the tree line to find where Philips Brook dumps in, hoping there’s enough water to fuel the fabled falls.
The sun warms my body as the breeze cools it. I move with ease from shade to sun as I hug the shore, and with one stroke spring turns to summer. Osprey fight over a fish, casting a shadow on my boat. One turn to the right and I hear it, then left and I see it: Philipstown Park Waterfall, the centerpiece of a lush copse sheltered by age-old trees.
I jump out to explore, knowing my time is ruled by tide. A rope swing hangs from a huge tree, a cold clear pool catches the water from above, and a path and guide rope lead to the top of the falls. I run up and down the path, jump in the pool, dry off on the swing, then lie on my back and just listen to the breeze.
But tide and time wait for no woman. I tarry too long, so have to walk my boat to deeper water. I click into autopilot and plow past the tug of the tide, taking two hours of strong, steady paddling to exit this magical kingdom, again a salmon swimming upstream.
Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary
Guided canoe trips late April through early September
Boardwalk for landlubbers
Parking very limited
Hudson River Expeditions
Kayak rentals and guided tours May through October
View of the Hudson Highlands from Constitution Marsh
The author was glad to have made it to the fabled Philipstown Park Waterfall.
West Point in the distance