What’s in Your Paddleshed?

I crave contact with the basic elements. I need mud on my boots, sun on my skin, rain on a jacket, or, better yet, water moving under a boat. Thermodynamics is fine, but gravity’s the one natural law I can’t seem to go too long without acknowledging.

Lawson’s Fork flows through the trees behind our house. Not a day goes by that I don’t gauge the clarity and height of its flow. I can tell by the color it’s running what sort of “progress” is underway upstream and how much sediment pollution has entered as damaging run-off.

There’s an old tire right behind our house lodged in the creek bed and, as much as I despise it, I’ve chosen to leave it there because I can use it to gauge the creek’s level. If the water’s over the tire, it’s a good day to paddle. The tire also reminds me of how much we ask the creek to dispose of-all the junk we throw away. It’s like one of those little shrines on a pilgrim’s path, or a monument to a battle still not won.

So on Saturday the temperatures had risen into the 60s, and I used the opportunity for a little local late December paddling. It had rained all night and so water was flowing over the tire. Mid-afternoon I hopped on Lawson’s Fork at Glendale with my friend Steve Patton. We floated down to Goldmine Road on the falling surge of the runoff.

Lawson’s Fork is my “home river,” but recently I’ve begun to call it my “paddleshed.” This term “paddleshed” is my own adaptation of “watershed,” a concept derived from German, “wassersheide,” or the line separating the waters flowing into different rivers.

Watershed has proven a very useful concept, but by replacing “water” with other nouns and verbs it’s also proven a creative lens through which to view local landscapes. I’m sure the Germans who coined watershed would have never imagined the ways in which it has been extended.

For decades we’ve now talked about our “foodshed” and understood this concept to describe how food flows from where it is grown to where it’s consumed. Lately that concept has become very popular when talking about eating locally. More recently “viewshed” has become a common concept for describing an area of land or water visible from a fixed vantage point, and “walkshed” has come to mean the area you can easily explore by foot around your residence.

So when I say “paddleshed” I’m talking about paddling whatever navigable river or stream is closest to your house. Downstream and up, that’s your paddleshed. It’s whatever body of moving water you can hop on near your house and float successfully.

I guess lakes have to count as well, but if you live on a lake, at some point you have to remove all that water in your mind and recover the river or stream that’s been impounded. You need to reclaim your original paddleshed even if it’s only in your mind as you float on a peaceful lake.

So what did we see in our paddleshed on Saturday?

We went about four miles and it took almost three hours. The winter woods were beautiful. Early on near our put-in we saw seven wood ducks. I joked with Steve that we’d see the same seven ducks all day, and if we counted them each time they took off we could claim to have seen 70 ducks.

We stayed alert the whole time down the river because our paddleshed is also a “huntshed,” and it’s still deer season. As a foil against hunters we wore brightly colored gear, but once a sharp rifle report got our attention and the rest of the way down we watched the shore for tree stands.

We saw a refrigerator that someone had thrown in the creek. It had floated down and lodged in a tree. I wish I could say the only tire I saw in the creek that day was the one behind our house.

What’s in your paddleshed? I once saw a bumper stick that said a bad day on the river is better than a good day at the office and I’d have to agree.

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