November might not seem like the ideal time to kayak the Charles River: The foliage and flowers are pretty much gone, the air and water temperatures are cold, and there are fewer critters skittering within and around the river. But as one of the remaining outdoor refuges from crowds during the pandemic, the Charles called us to take one last 2020 trip, and we chose the six-plus mile route from Medfield to the South Natick Dam.
The excursion, aided by a mild current, took about 2.5 hours in all (yeah, I billed it to Deborah as maybe a 1.5 hour paddle…it had been a while since I’d made this passage). We stretched the adventure out a bit with several scavenging and photography stops along the way under a gray-to-light blue sky. We put our double kayak in just upriver of the Rte. 27 bridge in Medfield, easily accessed on Rte. 27 south from Natick (the parking pull-over is just past the bridge). It’s a short and slightly steep path to the water, but once you get to the bottom there’s a flat, sandy area for putting in.
The action started early, as a big heron swooped past us before we even got paddling. During our trip, we didn’t see some of the usual river suspects such as turtles and fish. Even the muskrats kept themselves scarce, although we could see the doorways leading into their muddy burrows. Beavers had been busy based on their fresh tree gnawings but they, too, were laying low during our trip. We did, however, view mallard ducks, a swan, Canada geese, blue jays, cardinals, hawks and kestrels, as well as the highlight: a black mink loping along the river bank near Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary. You’ll just have to believe us on the mink: We weren’t quick enough to capture a photo of it. But its lope and body-type were unmistakably that of the fur-bearing carnivore. After passing under the Rte. 27 bridge, the next landmark was a railroad bridge that we imagine attracts river jumpers when the weather’s warm, assuming the water is deep enough. Steep walls of pines and other trees greeted us on the left, where Rocky Narrows Reservation stands, and marshier stands full of now cottony cattails waved to us from our right. Up a green hill we could see what we believe were Medfield State Hospital buildings. With the trees, aside from laggard oaks, largely bare, we could spy treasures along the river bank that might be obscured during other seasons. These included myriad bird nests, including those of orioles and robins, as well as wasp nests closer to the water than you might expect.
One curious marker on the south bank in Medfield lured us to disembark, as a large model airplane buzzed overhead at property operated by a model aircraft club. As it turns out, this was a heartbreaking monument to a man named Thomas Galloway, an Upton resident who was found dead at the age of 71 in the Charles River during the summer of 2011 after he went missing while searching for a model airplane. Our trip turned more lighthearted from there. We ran across a fellow kayaker who alerted us to a rope strewn across the river’s surface connected to another kayak. It was being hoisted up a steep embankment as part of a local Amazing Race type of event. Further along the river we passed Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, which we’ve experienced more often from land. It came up on us shortly after passing under the nondescript Farm Road bridge on the Sherborn/Dover line. We ogled houses small and large, some with spectacular party decks and fun boats/docks on properties sited on Glen Road’s offshoots, such as Yorkshire and Indian Ridge, and Eliot Street/Rte. 16.
The trip ends dramatically with a close-up view of a statue of the Virgin Mary, situated on the south river bank perched atop a rocky formation. A little further down we passed under a picturesque red wooden bridge, which is private property. Kayaking up to and under it is the best way to view it if you’re not privy to walking it. Natick Historical Society has a good write-up the statue and bridge. The abbreviated version is that South Natick resident Daniel Sargent, a poet-author-historian, placed the Indiana limestone statue there in 1929. “The words carved at the base of the statue are ‘Apparverunt in terra nostra flores.’ This can be translated as ‘flowers shall appear on our earth,'” according to the Society, which notes that Sargent planted rhododendron along the river bank. Those 100+ year plants look to still be going strong. Sargent and his wife Louise originally bought their river house as a summer home, but then bought property across the river from it. The red bridge was bequeathed to Sargent in the will of a friend, and he used it to connected the two properties, according to the Historical Society. The bridge is a sign that the South Natick Dam and spillway are coming up shortly. This is where knowing the river is important, as it’s easy to imagine someone just boating right down the waterfall. There’s no real sign it is coming other than the Pleasant Street bridge, and by then it could be too late. Head to the south river bank where the tall pine of pine trees stand and pull out of the water. If you seek to continue down river, just drag your boat down a short path below the spillway and keep going through the arches toward Elm Bank Reservation. More: Kayaking Lake Cochituate in (mostly) NatickKayaking at Natick’s Fisk Pond: Not what I expected