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Hiking Schmoker’s Channel (Part IV)

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 196Larry walked ahead, I trailed behind, though I took fewer photos. Constantly looking around at my surroundings, including the ground, I spied a spider walking along (in January!). It was so unexpected. I called to Larry, “Look, there’s a live spider walking about!”

He turned around, walked back to where I stood, “Sure enough. Would you look at that! Amazing isn’t it? God, that’s a slow moving spider!” We observed the spider, amazed at its walk about in the middle of winter, below freezing weather. As we were still far from the bridge, Larry put his arm around my shoulders, “Have you seen all you want to see today? Are you satisfied? Are you content?”

“Yeah, I’m content,” I replied smiling.

Hank continued exploring far ahead of us, wandering further away than Larry wanted him to. The frozen channel was snow covered. We had come back to our original trail. Larry called Hank several times then crouched down, arms out spread and called again. With tongue hanging out and flopping, Hank came bounding back to Larry, tackling him in his excitement. Larry lay on the ground, arms encircling Hank who was trying to nuzzle his face. Larry laughed, enjoying the enthusiasm of his big puppy.

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 199Moments later, Larry was up again, continuing our hike. The bridge was in sight, but our trek was coming to an end. The clouds were thinning. I smiled at our prints in the snow, reminding me of a Winnie the Pooh story. It looked like a busy spot, well traveled.

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 201Hank was running ahead again. He reached the bridge while we were still several yards away from it. Again Larry called to him without getting a response. Hank was pretending to not hear him. Larry called a couple more times before he dropped to one knee, calling. Finally, Hank came running awkwardly, tongue hanging out, ears flying, to Larry. Earlier on our hike, Larry said, “Spring break up we should canoe this. When turtles and frogs are emerging.”

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 203We continued walking, Hank ahead of us though staying a little closer this time. Once at the bridge, we walked under it, looking up at McCarthy Lake. The wild rice and bulrushes bent and tangled were thicker than last winter, there appeared to be only pockets of ice instead of an actual channel. With a quick look at McCarthy, we walked back under the bridge and up the embankment.

As we got in to the truck, Larry asked, “Tired of walking or could you do more?”

Though I was cold and feeling completely worn out, I replied, “I could do more.”

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 210“Let’s check out what those animals were on.” We drove along highway 84 mostly in silence, both looking at the sand prairie around us. We turned on to Pritchard’s road, still observing the prairie around us, lost in thought. We went to Goose Lake Landing, parked the truck, and walked down to the edge of the frozen lake. Stepping out on to the ice, a gust of wind slapped me in the face, piercing the layers of clothing, chilling me even more. Out in the open with no protection, the ice was polished by the wind, making it much slipperier than the channel. The extremely slick ice, the gale force wind blowing against us made the trek more effort and difficult, added to my general fatigue, I fell far behind Larry (and Hank, who was busy exploring ahead of Larry). The clouds parted a bit, the sunlight streaming through bounced off the ice, creating a glare. The majestic landscape was awe-inspiringly beautiful, the ice, wild rice, bluish-gray bluffs.

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 211We walked through the remains of a large lotus bed. The large leaves were gone, the dark stems looming a couple feet off the ice. A few bell shaped seed heads remained attached to the stems. Once past the lotus bed, a couple bald eagles flew off the ice, soaring majestically to the trees on the eastern shore. Tall patches of wild rice ahead of us, bent in the wind.

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 213We had walked far out on to the ice. There were several muskrat lodges near tangled mass of rushes and wild rice. Halting past the lodges, we studied the ice, searching for the dead deer that we saw the eagles and crows feeding on. (Larry observed four different eagles flying off the ice.) There was another eagle sitting on the ice in the distance but there wasn’t a deer or mound of anything else nearby. Larry lifted the binoculars to his eyes, scanning the ice for a deer. I looked through my long lens and then through the binoculars. We couldn’t find the dead deer.

“Were we both hallucinating? We saw the birds on a mound right? A dead deer. Where’s the deer?” Larry was baffled. How could we not find it? We searched for several minutes before giving up and turning around.

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 220Before walking back we scanned the trees to the east. Bald eagles were beginning to nest. Not laying eggs yet, but just sitting on the nests. Their nests are huge, almost ball shaped masses at that distance, fairly easy to locate. Larry observed them, binoculars pressed to his eyes. I scanned the trees, looking through the viewfinder of my camera with the long lens, until I found the nesting eagles. “Do you see them? In those trees straight ahead?” Larry pointed to the distant nests.

“Yeah,” I took a few photos. Larry handed the binoculars to me so I could have a look. We observed the eagles for a few more minutes and then moved on, heading back across the ice to the truck.

The wind blew us back, then pushed  us forward. I stepped carefully, deliberately, not wanting to fall down. “If you had your skis on, the wind would just push you back,” Larry said. “I can’t believe we couldn’t find that deer.” By this time, I was quite cold and worn out. We walked reverently over another ice ridge, again I admired it. Then through a remnant lotus bed; Hank pulled off a seed head, playing with it and having a grand time. The trek back across the ice seemed much shorter, perhaps because of the wind at our backs. Before long we were back in the truck.

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 221Lost in thought as we drove through the sand prairie, I wondered about all we’d seen and talked about, how could I describe it? Capture it? Photography and words can’t adequately capture the beauty, the energy of the place. One has to just silently enjoy it in the moment. But as a writer, photographer, environmentalist/naturalist, with a passionate love for creation, I desire and try to capture the beauty and energy. I labor over trying to capture it, spend many hours doing so. Why? For my own memory and refreshment (writing and photography is medicine for my soul), yes, but even more than that. To share my experiences with others and extend joy, peace, and healing to them, and also to arouse their inner child, to love and care deeply for the natural world so they will care for it and enjoy it.

We met Dave Kennedy on the road. Larry chatted to him about our adventure down the channel and then across the ice to find the deer, that we were unable to do so. Dave asked, “Did you drive out there?”

“No, I walked. I like to walk.” I silently agreed, I love to walk.

When we got back to Larry’s, we talked about what we had seen, about the water and the otters. “With all the rain in November the ground water’s really charged, autumn was long and wet, evaporation – transpiration rate low. The water is percolating out along the banks, coming out at forty degrees. Seeping out. Discharge is still pretty high – even when frozen a foot higher than now. Open spots with flowing, bubbling water. – Not sure what’s going on. There are some spots that stay open every year. Upwelling groundwater.”

Books, skiing, Schmoker's 208“So are the otters really important to the ecosystem?”

“There was a time otters were uncommon; in the 1960s PBCs (transformers) – characteristics of oil intact – interfered with egg enzymes, lowered reproduction. They saw it in the mink first. Terrible time reproducing.  In the – 70s things started to come back. Seeing an otter was a big deal then – now they’re seen all the time.” I left Larry’s with more questions than answers, and hoping I could capture all we’d seen and talked about.

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