Sunday, January 19, 2014

Between the sea and Ninigret pond

There was a steady, cold rain falling as we arrived at East Beach.  Monica was supposedly leading a hike for the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, but we weren't expecting anyone to join us.  A light breeze was moving great bands of torn black cloud from south to north.  But Monica had brought a huge black umbrella, and I wore my broad brimmed hat, and we were determined to walk.  My resolve to get out into the woods every week had failed me for too long already.  There's an irruption of snowy owls along the southern New England coast, and we weren't going to catch a glimpse of one by staying inside.

The southern Rhode Island coastline from Watch Hill to Point Judith is made up of salt lagoons separated from the sea by narrow barrier beaches.  Ninigret pond is the largest of these lagoons, and East Beach conservation area - an undeveloped stretch of coastline - bounds it for three miles from Blue Shutters beach to the Charlestown breachway.

We walked east northeast along the sandy, unpaved jeep trail through a low forest of pine.  The rain upon needles sounded like sleet, and felt like sleet on the skin, but it was liquid enough.  Juncos, chickadees, sparrows and yellow-rumped warblers flitted around the underbrush.  A downy woodpecker chittered to itself as it poked in the bark.  A red squirrel fled across in front of us.  Deer had left deep tracks in the rain-wet sand.  The crash of surf seemed odd to hear as I walked among pine trees.

After a couple of miles we crossed the dunes to the beach, and continued further.  The graceful gulls of summer are all gone, leaving dour Herring gulls and their larger cousins the Great Black-Backed gulls.  A few rafts of eider and maybe scoters bobbed up and down on the swells beyond the surf.  We didn't walk all the way to the breachway.  In the mist it kept retreating.  And in any case five miles on sand is hard work for a Saturday morning.  As we hiked back along the wrack line, my wet, cotton pants gripped my knees icily.  But every shell, stone and crab carapace upon the sand glistened with vibrant color and glossy texture in the stormish light.