A Canoeing Adventure (Part I)

October 5, 2015

Larry and I had planned back in March to canoe down McCarthy Lake in May so I could get a feel for the lake in the spring, not just in winter. But when May came, we weren’t able to canoe. So we tried again for the middle of June, last minute that fell through too. Towards the end of July, we talked about going, Larry said, “we’ll have to change our route a bit; McCarthy Lake is too thick with wild rice for us to be able to canoe through.” July ended, August came and went. September was fading fast when I finally had time to go canoeing. I called Larry and we made plans for the following week. Our route changed again because of duck season “We’ll put in at the Whitewater and canoe to Minneiska.”

Finally, on the first day of October, Larry and I went canoeing. I arrived at Larry’s place at three o’clock in the afternoon. “Are you ready to canoe? We’re going to go in a different spot. We’ll put in at Prichard’s and canoe up Schmoker’s,” Larry described our change in route, which had to do with the direction of the wind.

Canoeing with Larry 001We promptly left Larry’s, each driving our own vehicles. Larry passed me shortly after we turned on highway 84. He slowed by Schmoker’s bridge and pointed for me to park the van there. Leaving the van behind, we took the truck to Prichard’s (Goose Lake) Landing. Larry backed the truck down to the water’s edge, along a dock, for us to unload the canoe into the water. I took an end and walked on the dock and set it down in the water. Larry held on to the other end and lifted it out of the truck and set it down. Sitting on the dock, perpendicular to the middle of the canoe, my feet in the canoe holding it in place, I waited for Larry to park his tuck. I reveled in the view.

A couple minutes later, Larry returned, walking out on to the dock. We were ready to get into the canoe and set out. Larry stepped into the stern and I into the bow. (The canoe was backwards so we had to back into Goose Lake and turn.)The water near the landing was murky from boats stirring up the sediment. Larry commented, “The water’s turbid from boating activity. Sediment becomes suspended – settles – fine stuff – easily resuspended in the water interface. Any disturbance in the water can stir up sediment including animal activity.” As we left the dock Larry asked, “Have we ever canoed together before?”

“No, we haven’t. So you’ll have to instruct me on what to do,” I replied, eager to learn the proper way to paddle a canoe.

“This kind of paddle is called a bent shaft paddle. It’s counterintuitive, used like a scoop, drive the paddle in perpendicular and pushing backwards provides good leverage,” Larry instructed me on the paddle and how to use it to back up the canoe, and how to hold it. Once the canoe was turned around we set off on our adventure.

Further from the dock, out on the water, I suddenly felt my whole body relax – as if I had been holding my breath for months and finally let out a long exhale. It really didn’t matter if we were moving or not, I desired to just sit in the water relaxing, at peace, cradled in the tall bluffs that held the wide river valley, gentle ripples from the easterly wind tenderly rocking the canoe. Yes, I felt truly relaxed, filled with internal peace. Worries, cares and stress, and even sadness of the past year fell away, like a great cloak of darkness had been removed from me. It had something to do with the stillness, my stillness, not striving to accomplish something. “Be still and know I am God,” that was it, stillness of body and of mind, in a stunningly beautiful place that is quiet, peaceful and refreshing and therefore restorative. I felt all of this in a moment, Larry’s presence didn’t disrupt my connectedness to this awe-inspiring landscape, in fact, his presence in fact was part of it. With Larry, I can relax, be me, so it is easy to set aside what has been stressing me – it’s his fatherly hug, listening and the seeking these refreshing places in nature, which our love for it is something we share and enjoy together. We were both soaking in and connecting to this place, observing and marveling at what we saw.

Canoeing with Larry 002It was indeed very quiet, duck season had started a week ago, but there was no sign of hunters. No shots rang out over the backwaters, and no boats in this lake except our nearly silent canoe. Larry was surprised by the lack of hunters, and we both enjoyed the peace it brought to the water. We also marveled at how clear the water was away from the landing. Larry described it as “nice transparency.”

“There used to be really good fishing here. Now there isn’t any.” Larry was telling me about this lake.

Curious, I asked, “What happened?” My eyes searched the tangled vegetation beneath the water’s surface. I turned my head to the side to listen.

Larry explained, “It’s too shallow, see how there isn’t much water beneath us. With the locks and dams in place, the river dumps sediment that fills these lakes up. When water elevation is up, the river is moving lots of sand which fills in off of side channels at the rate of an inch per year. As water volume diminishes vegetation traps sediment. The breakdown of the vegetation as it decays fills in these backwaters even more. The channelization of the Zumbro increased velocity of river – cut a lot of sand.  So there are big deltas from rivers and creeks, filling it in incredibly fast. The runoff erosion is lot higher which took out natural vegetation.”

“So would it fill with sediment if there’re weren’t locks and dams?”

Larry explained, “The river would move, wander, fill in some places and set a new course, it would constantly be changing, though it would still have channels deep enough for boats, the locations would constantly be on the move. Change to an ecosystem over time is natural, part of succession.” As Larry gave his explanation, my eyes focused on the shallow, clear water beneath us and the mess of vegetation. Larry and I were silent once again. I wondered if there were any turtles hiding under the vegetation below the water’s surface. I also thought the canoeing was too easy and we’d be done too soon.


Note: This is a long story so it will be done in at least five posts. Also, the dialogue from Larry though it sounds incomplete it’s the way Larry explains things to me. 


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