The perfect weather came last Saturday for our Kingston River paddle. For an optimal trip, you need sunny weather, a slight breeze, and comfortable temperatures hovering around 80 or less. Any hotter, and you find yourself roasting on the long open stretches between the marsh grasses, a similar feel to if you have driven through the corn fields of Kansas or the meadows of Texas. Pretty, but oppressively hot! A slight wind of a few knots is good to cool you off, any more than that and you are fighting for your life around the turns. What you are looking for on this particular paddle is not excitement, but an immersion into the beauty of the Chesapeake. A deep dive into the past but also the present, a romantic journey that you will mostly take alone. My advice is not to rush it, but to ease your way into the creek, stopping wherever you please to take it all in.
Leaving out of Kingston Landing in a remote part of Talbot County, you immediately row to your right down the Choptank, headed toward the town of Cambridge. As you leave the landing, you look back over your shoulder at the haunting old historic home that is under renovation right by the landing. What are its stories? What has it seen come up the river? Time seems to stop as you paddle out into the Choptank, nothing but blue sky and greyish-green water lapping at your kayak. There might be a few roars of a jetski or a power boat out in the “big water” but those signs of civilization will soon be just a memory, because you are headed to a more tranquil space.
Just about five minutes down the river, you are going to take the first right turn and head up the more gentle waters of Kingston Creek. Simply put, your heart will skip a beat at the remarkable untouched beauty of this area. Take a few minutes to just listen to the birds and the wind blowing through the grasses before you begin in earnest up the creek, it is worth it. You might hear the screech of an osprey, the gentle buzzing of the bees in the marshmallows, or the almost prehistoric screech of the herons protecting their turf.
We were trying to count the number of bends in this twisty little creek, but I got lost at around ten or so. The switchbacks would be dizzying if you were in a car. Thankfully, we are not. At first, you are surrounded by cattails and in some places, the pesky invasive phragmites. It is sometimes hard to tell which is which unless someone has tried to burn or cut down the grass, however, up here in Kingston you won’t see many signs of human activity. Today the gorgeous mallow flowers, sometimes called marsh hibiscus, are in full bloom. Dark pink, light pink, and white flowers wave among the reeds, sometimes seeming to be on the same plant. If you paddle up close you can see the many insects fluttering and landing on them, a perfect sunny little perch for bees and butterflies.
About forty five minutes into our journey, the landscape starts to change. Hardwoods start to dot the left bank and tower over you. Purple and red flowers, tightly knit, join the mallows. You see the shadows of the bald eagle before you see the bird itself, swooping high over the trees. On our trip, a blue heron glided to and from each side of the bank, seemingly inviting us along through his kingdom. If you paddle a lot, you begin to learn that there generally there is a grandaddy heron protecting his turf at the head of the river, and he usually make sure you know he is there and certainly not scared of you. These graceful birds tippy toe when they walk over mud and logs, a mesmerizing sight. We also spotted green herons darting from a clump of trees to another, a more furtive approach than his giant cousin.
Deep into the creek, the marshy grasses start to take backstage as the hardwoods approach from both sides of the bank. Here you will start to see the tumbled down docks, a few abandoned hunting shacks, and trees toppled by long-ago storms. We even spied a huge tree with a fantastic swing, and contemplated for a moment how the kids that must have placed it there felt like kings high above the sparkling water. The tree itself was wide enough for a nice nap, or maybe a secret club meeting or two. Below, sticks and pointy branches pop up through the water.
These hazards are treacherous for stand-up paddleboarders, but fantastic for turtle-watching! On a nice summer day the terrapins will climb up and sunbathe, so many sometimes on one log that it is comical. As you approach, you will hear a plunk as they dive down to avoid you getting too close. Looking back, you can see them come up to see when it is safe to come up again on their perches. With a few minutes patience, you can count dozens of the little heads breaking the surface and see their teeny little eyes watching you glide away.
About an hour and thirty minutes in and just after paddling under the kingston bridge, we decide to stop for a little rest and some water. The wind has picked up a little, and going back may be a bit harder paddle than going in, so we make the decision to turn around. The first few turns are easy, but as predicted, the wider stretches in the marshy areas can test you with the wind and current seeming to push you back from where you came, no matter which way you are going! The swirling schools of bait fish tease you as they glide in circles just beneath the surface, easily outpacing humans in their clumsy boats. The dragonflies flutter by, easily buzzing effortlessly and leisurely toward their next delicate landing on a leaf or blade of glass.
As you paddle back, you start to see glimpses of the landmarks you passed on the way in over the top of the grasses. What seems to be a mere five minute flight by a busy kingfisher or swallow will turn into a thirty minute paddle for you! The twists and turns of the river can be deceiving. This is when you have to remember you aren’t running a race, but trying to get out of the one we live in day-to-day. Paddle a bit slower. Make it last. While it seems like you won’t come to the end, you will soon enough. Breaking back through the head of the creek into the Choptank again, we find that the waves have indeed picked up. With the extra effort needed, we put our heads down and there is not a lot of conversation as we make our way back toward the landing, civilization, and the week ahead. As you end the paddle, you try to cement all the gorgeous peaceful moments in your brain.
I find throughout the week at work and in life’s more annoying times, closing my eyes and thinking back to the peace on the river can take you away for just a minute. Soon enough, the opportunity will come again to take a watery journey down another creek or river nearby and I will be ready to fill up my brain again with restful and beautiful memories.
Deena Kilmon is an artist and writer based in Easton, Maryland. She serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives Easton Economic Development Corporation. Deena is a 2021 Leadership Maryland alumna and a graduate of The University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.
Total trip 3.5 hours
Length : 4.88 miles
Level of paddle: Intermediate to pro depending on the wind on the Choptank
Tips: take two liters of water per person, a big hat for sun protection and a long-sleeved shirt! Bug spray is handy different times of the year.
Kayaks: we use NuCanoes that are fairly large (can seat two people) but are super stable, you can stand on them and catch fun sights from a higher angle like you are on a paddleboard.