Fighting The Catawba River in North Carolina

Photo by Glynn Wilson

Peak autumn color photos from the Catawba River in Marion, North Carolina.

by Glynn Wilson

MARION, N.C., Oct. 22 – It was about 3 p.m. Eastern Time when I finally got the boat in the water after a buffet lunch downtown in what used to be an old hotel back in prohibition days. With the gear all loaded up for what was supposed to be a two or three hour meandering float, I got about 10 yards down the Catawba River and hit the first shallow shoals and the strongest current from Highway 70 to Lake James.

Before I could get my dumbass fully oriented to the strange stream that should have been a cake walk in a canoe, I got tangled in the current next to several downed trees in the water. In other words, I busted my ass and got wet.

But did I pull out and give up? Not a chance.

I grabbed the dry bag with the digital camera and other crucial supplies inside, including a dry lighter and the inspiration, along with one of the two paddles. And with only one boat shoe left, I turned the canoe over on a log and got all the water out then shoved off into mid-stream and took off.

For the first mile and a half it was nip and tuck and stay on your toes and paddle and steer over the shoals in the fast current and around the snake-like bends in the river.

Twice I had to lift my weight off the seat and scoot over the rocks, keeping the canoe straight all along to avoid getting turned sidways in the current. Once I had to put my right foot out of the boat (the one with the rubber water shoe) and push off to get going again.

The first wildlife I encountered was what I call an ugly duck. It was black with a white face and this gnarly red thing on its head, sort of like a chicken. If it wasn’t so late, I would Google the species and provide a link. Ugly sucker. He floated along with us for awhile.

When the river finally slowed down enough to relax and break out the camera, two pairs of mallards took off in front of us on every turn, along with a couple of great blue herons. It was as if we were chasing the fish down stream into their path.

At one point we (the boat and me) scared off a cooper’s hawk and a great blue fishing the same hole.

Two river otters showed up on the trip. The second one came running down a beach and dove into the water in front of the boat, then aimed his head in the water right at me and started complaining like a damn squirrel. Not knowing if he might try to jump in the boat and get personal, I stopped taking pictures and started paddling. He went down and swam under the boat, then came out behind me with a splash. But when I tried to make a stream u-eee, he disappeared.

At the downstream end of one of the campgrounds along the river, a German shepherd dove in and chased me down stream for a ways. He couldn’t keep up.

As the river got wider and deeper and slowed down and got closer to the lake, the bends became covered in autumn color, yellow, gold and red, with some left-over green mixed in. It was hard to keep paddling, even knowing the sun was going down by 7 p.m. and even soaking wet from the cold Blue Ridge mountain water.

These are only a couple of the more than 200 photos. Now if only I could get this slide show function in Adobe Photoshop to work, I could show you them all

The trains are still running through the pass, but the wind has picked up and it’s growing almost too cold for the smoking porch. Guess I’ll knock back one more Yuengling (yes, they even sell it in Marion, but not in the grocery store since it’s a semi-dry county) and kick back with Cody the dog for the night.

On Monday, the plan is to mine for gold and shoot aerial photos of the peak color from a small airplane. If it looks from the air anything like what it looked like in a van on the Blue Ridge Parkway or a canoe on the Catawba River, it’s about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in nature.

And that includes the beach in October…

Photo by Glynn Wilson

The Catawba River is the place to be this time of year, if you chase art on water…