Walking on Water
There was a bit of a breeze today, cold, but fully sunny. Larry and I headed out on the marsh again. It was the first time we went out on a sunny day, the other two days were completely overcast. The sun glared off the snow. We were still exploring McCarthy Lake, this time we stepped onto the marsh from the bridge on 84. This area was wide, more like a pond. For awhile, we walked in the snow on top the ice. I could see further ahead there were spots clear of snow. We walked north from the bridge. To our left were trees, fairly thick, and to our right were more bulrushes and rice with trees here and there. At first there weren’t many tracks, though we did see an otter hole. I tried to soak the place in, really feel it.
After awhile, we came to a spot that was clear of snow, the ice was clearly visible; some places the ice was white, other places it was clear and we could see down into it, even see several layers of ice where it had thawed and refroze. Even where the ice was clear, it was different colors and there were patterns in the ice, some had been bubbles that froze, it was absolutely beautiful. In these places we could see how thick the ice was. Seeing the ice and looking down into it made it even more real that we were indeed walking on water, it was utterly thrilling. This was our last chance to walk on the marsh before everything begins to thaw in the next week.
Larry said, “Next time we’ll be in a canoe and we can go to Weaver.”
It was so remarkable looking into the ice, almost like a museum.
“Look at that big, old stump under there,” Larry said pointing it out. We observed a piece of its bark floating, dancing in the current below the ice.
It was so amazing, I exclaimed, “That is so cool, I can see part of it moving.” I perhaps amused Larry with my child like delight, but I know he enjoyed it. I had never observed objects moving with the current under the ice before so I was very ecstatic indeed and found the whole thing to be awesome. We continued walking, across another snow covered area; Larry tapped the iced with his stick.
Larry pointed out a crayfish arm/claw on top the ice and explained, “When it was warmer the ice melted and the otter fed on the crayfish.” It was fascinating. We also saw shells on top the ice, Larry didn’t tell me what they were other than an invasive species.
Shortly, we paused. Larry began talking to me about the hydrology of this place. He kneeled down as he was talking, I followed. On our knees we were closer to the ice; it gave us a different perspective. Larry explained the currents, the ice makes it more channelized but in summer, even though there may be less volume of water, it disperses, becomes wider and not so channelized. We were observing the lay of the ice following the current; Larry explained the movement with his hands. I believe what he was saying is that the freeze-thaw effects of the ice creates the more channel like waterway. I marveled while I was kneeling there at how huge the area is.
We wandered around checking out the cleared ice. Larry walked ahead of me. I walked looking down at the ice, peering in whenever it was clear. Suddenly, I noticed a large snapping turtle, right there below the ice. A little surprised and extremely excited I almost yelled to Larry, “There’s a turtle under the ice!” He turned and walked back several steps to where I stood, pointing down at the mud covered turtle, big enough I could have sat on the shell. Larry said something like, “It IS a turtle.” We both studied it for a few minutes, circling around to get a better view. Larry thought he saw it moving a little in the current. Larry said, “Good eye for noticing it.” It was awe-inspiring to have been standing above the snapping turtle like that, again it felt like a museum, except this was real, alive turtle below the ice in the wild and we got this rare glimpse of it from that perspective. It was breathtaking. A few steps further, Larry saw another turtle. Again we marveled. We talked about the snapping turtles, the blandings and painted turtles; they will be basking in the sun soon.
The snow free ice was extremely slippery; I had to walk carefully sometimes steadying myself when I started to slip. One time, I was unable to keep my balance. My feet began to slide again, my arms were out to steady myself, then down I went with my feet out in front of me, landing hard on my backside. (Larry recounted it with quite bit of embellishment). In the falling, I became even more intimate with the landscape, but not exactly how I intended. My body hurt from the fall for a few days. Larry asked, “Are you ok?” I told him, “I’m fine,” not letting on how much it hurt.
We continued walking. Larry said, “It’s going to get harder to tell where the ice is safe.” So we veered off the channel. Shortly thereafter, we were able to look down into the ice again. There were mud minnows swimming in the water below us. Thrilled, I watched them dart around for a couple minutes.
It was around here we started to loop back to the bridge, we had veered off to our left for a ways before going left again, heading south. My feet slid in the snow a little with each step I took, and crunched through bulrushes, nearly getting tangled in them sometimes. Of course, Larry had no trouble. The bend and fold of the rushes and cattails was very beautiful, seemingly woven together. Trees appeared to be rising up out of the marsh, it was a spectacular affect.
We saw a muskrat track. I had never seen their tracks before, it was really interesting looking. Larry wondered what it was doing, and wished it hadn’t ventured out. Nearby we observed mink tracks in the snow. Further on, we saw more mink tracks, possibly dragging a “rat”. Perhaps the rat was stuck out (iced out) and the mink got it. We found tracks that seemed to circle a clump of vegetation. Larry studied it intently trying to figure it out. Not far from here we found a muskrat lodge; it had a hole in it. It was interesting watching Larry try to read the story of the tracks. He also wondered and worried about the lack of coyote tracks. We also saw possible raccoon tracks or opossum tracks, but Larry couldn’t figure out what actually made the track. Larry was pointing out all the old tree stumps. We came across another neat set of tracks; Larry thought they were probably opossum.
A little further, we saw a magnificent lodge. Larry praised the architect because of the way it was built between trees. This was the largest beaver lodge I have seen yet.
As we were walking, Larry marveled at how much life is out here- frogs, salamanders, turtles, fish (if there is enough water, northern pike), plethora of insects – it’s truly stunning. When we got back to the bridge, we walked underneath it. Lots of bird nests were attached to the underside. Larry said, “Think about how many trips with dabs of mud it took.” After pondering that, we climbed up the small bank, leaving the marsh behind, for another day of exploring.