Hiking Schmoker’s Channel (Part II)
“There’s a duck hunting blind. This would be a difficult place to get ducks out of.” Larry pointed out the blind, explaining how they’d use it. Tiny trees, only a few inches in diameter were bent and broken over.
After lingering for only a few moments, we were on the move again. I continued to revel in the beauty of the channel, rimmed by trees, yellowish, brown rushes next, then various patterns and clarity of ice. Larry asked, “Don’t you wish there had been this much water when we tried canoeing this?”
“Otters were playing here,” Larry pointed out sliding marks on the ice and snow without stopping. “I think that’s where we walked through the woods – the log where we came out,” Larry indicated to the trees on our left. A few oak trees retained some rusty colored leaves. Wild rice and rushes bent and tangled in a mess of vegetation. Further on, there were tracks not in the snow but the ice itself. The bluffs appeared bluish, gray, and flat on top. Bare, skeletons of trees looked almost black against the cloudy sky. The channel continued to meander. I fell behind Larry many times, stopping to photograph the wonder around us.
“This is a beaver dam?” I asked incredulous; I had been expecting a larger structure.
“Yep, this is a small beaver dam.” We stood looking at it, taking it in. Larry said, “That air boat may have been trapping out the beavers. They don’t like the beavers building dams.” Hank sniffed around the beaver dam while Larry and I were talking. Larry leaned on his walking stick, studying the flow of the water as we spoke. Our pause by the beaver dam was very brief. We walked past a muskrat lodge without lingering; we noted some damage done to it by predators, most likely otters.
We came to a random spot with running water. “There’s a sound for you,” suggested Larry as we paused by the opening in the ice, water rushing, bubbling. Larry marveled at it, wondering why it was there. I stooped down by the hole. Listening and recording the gurgling water sound. Larry continued on, tapping the ice for a safe path. I stood up and followed him, almost running to keep up.
There were trees, a mixed silver maple community which includes elm, willow, and cottonwood, on either side of us and a tangled morass of rushes and wild rice, and bluffs in the distance. The trees become fewer, the wild rice taller. Wind swishing wild rice plants nearly masked all other sounds: the wind, bird calls, and distant train whistle were the only other sounds. I absorbed the sound and energy of the wind blowing through the wild rice, marveled at the height of the water grass as I walked through it.
“You could come back here, tuck yourself back in that vegetation, spend the night. Listening and experiencing. Looking up at the stars.” The idea sounded great, it would provide more experience and knowledge, but I’m not sure I’d have the courage to spend the night by myself and it could only be done in winter while the channel is frozen.
Our walking hadn’t halted. (Hank was far ahead of us.) The trees thinned even more, wild rice and rushes became thicker, the channel a little smaller, but not for long, because it soon widened into Goose Lake. We walked to the end of the channel. The landscape opened up in front of us. Leaving the channel, and stepping on to Goose Lake, we had to walk over an ice ridge. To say it was beautiful is far more than understatement. It was stunning, breathtaking, majestic, awesome beauty in color scheme and pattern, structure and formation. Like a wave frozen in time. Only it wasn’t a wave. Larry described its formation, “Ice heaves, freezes and expands – runs up against a hard spot – energy has to be spent – forms ice ridges. The channel and Weaver bottoms come against each other to form this ice ridge.” Amazingly the water flow in the ice was visible, as there seemed to be a line snaking across the channel. I stood in wonder of the ridge rising up a couple feet above the channel, walking carefully up and then down its gentle slope, and marveled at this landscape of blue and gray. The deep blue, purplish hues of the ridge, layered with dark gray topped with white, seemingly fluid though frozen. Combine this with the deep blue of the bluffs, ice blue frozen lake, and very pale, watery blue clouds above. The scene was a priceless water color painting. (Larry and Hank traversed the ice ridge before me, Larry tapping it with his walking stick. While I hung back taking it in and photographing it.) There were a few ice ridges together, I went up then down, and up again and down again. A beautiful experience.
Once over the ice ridges, we turned a little to our left, following a frozen water path through tall wild rice, tangled rushes, and trees here and there again. Pockets of snow were tucked in the bent and tangled vegetation. Open ice was again before us in a couple of minutes. The cold slowly seeping into my body from the wind became more apparent; however, I tried not to pay attention to it. Instead I surveyed the lake before me. The ice somewhere between white, gray and blue had been smoothed by the wind. Individual stems and small clusters of stems poked through here and there. Again, the majestic blue bluffs rimming the horizon, cradling us, gave the feeling of safety and comfort. The sky and ice seemed almost the same in color and texture, the sculpted bluffs delineated between the two, a phenomenon that could have driven early explorers crazy, but that I found incredible.
We continued to slowly turn to the left (no longer going east but more northwest, slowly more north). In some places the snow lightly dusted the ice. I started to trail behind Larry again, distracted by the beauty of the place, and reveling in it, feeling and experiencing it and trying to capture it.
(At some point along the way Larry leaned into me saying, “We’re so visually cued into things – unless we’re really looking – it looks barren, nothing here, no life. But there are signs of raccoons, coyotes, and small birds flying and singing, bald eagles busy on top their nests – but that’s not all, things underwater, fish, insects, turtles. So there is life here, if you look carefully for it. However, in the spring things erupt, get busy; fish and insects laying eggs, birds returning – eating for reproducing. Bountiful. – Now, everything’s sleeping in the background, it appears quite barren unless you know how to look. Small mammals busy under the snow’s surface – weasels and mink.” To add to his list, not just the animals but the plants are still full of life and will wake in spring, busting in color.
Larry halted gazing out over the vast lake in front of us. “There goes a coyote out on the ice. I wonder what it’s doing. What’s it got out there? There’s a cluster of birds too – crows and bald eagles.” He raised his binoculars for a better look. I switched the lens on my camera to extend my range, by then I didn’t see a coyote and could just barely make out the birds, they were just shapes nothing distinctive. Larry gave me the binoculars for a better look. The birds were sitting on top of something, eating. I’m not sure if I could have identified them as eagles and crows by sight alone without Larry saying so and the knowledge that they were the most likely candidates. We weren’t able to make out what they were sitting on but Larry guessed it was a deer that fell on the ice, he explained, “Deer on ice is similar to a cow on ice (You know what happens to a cow on ice) – legs spread out, they go down hard and have a difficult time getting up again. Splayed legs – could break the pelvis. Can’t defend itself – becomes an easy target for three to four coyotes.” He paused, looking across the expanse of ice,” I think that’s what happened.” We observed the scene with interest for a few more moments before continuing on our way.