Canoeing Schmoker’s Channel (Part I)
March 22, 2016
Larry pulled off highway 84 on the northeast side of Schmoker’s bridge into the small, graveled parking lot. McCarthy Lake stretched before us to the north and Schmoker’s channel flowed on the south side. He parked the truck parallel to the bridge, facing the water (west). Hank, the black lab, sat whining in the back seat, eager to be let out. Larry hopped out of the truck and while he let Hank out, I slid out the other side. Larry untied the festoons that held the canoe in place and began pulling the canoe out, “Bethany, want to help with this, grab the other end?”
“Sure!” I looped my camera around my neck, walked to the back of the truck, and grabbed onto the end of the canoe. We set it in the water near the bridge, the bow pointed south, toward the bridge. (When Larry called around noon asking, “So what do you want to do? Go on a hike or get the canoe out?” I eagerly replied, “We could go canoeing!”)
“Get in, Hank. Hank, get in.” Hank was uncertain about getting in the canoe, hanging back a bit. “Hank, get in. Kennel, Hank. Hank, kennel.” Larry commanded snapping his fingers over the middle of the canoe. Instead of hopping into the canoe, Hank stepped into the water. “No, Hank. Get in.” Finally, Hank jumped into the canoe. “Sit, Hank. Hank, sit. Sit down, Hank!”Getting Hank to sit also took several commands before he listened. Once Hank was finally in and sitting. Larry teased, “Bethany, get in and sit down.”
“OK, I’m a better listener than Hank,” I teased back, while carefully stepping in and sitting down in my spot in the bow.
“Good, then I won’t have to tell you more than once,” replied Larry, still teasing. He pushed the canoe further in the water and then gingerly stepped in and sat down in the stern.
“So we’re going under the bridge?”
“Yep, just don’t hit it.” I think he may have been still getting situated as we drew near the bridge. The bow of the canoe was heading straight for the piling. In the nick of time, I steered the canoe so it glided around the piling and out on the other side of the bridge. It was a perfect day to be out on the water. Though it was mostly cloudy and became increasingly more overcast as the afternoon went on, it was pleasantly warm, above fifty degrees and there was only the slightest breeze. Immediately, I felt relaxed, there’s just something about drifting along with the water in a canoe that has that effect. The trees compounded that feeling of peace and restoration.
I commented, “Canoeing, and just being on the water is so relaxing.”
Larry murmured in agreement, “Yes, it is.” For a few moments we just sat there enjoying the beauty and peace. I took my paddle out of the water and carefully set it in the canoe alongside me, then raised my camera, which hung around my neck, to attempt to capture the beauty. Red splash of blazing dogwood among the oak, silver maple, black willow and alders looming above the stream, mirrored in the translucent water, reflections squiggly in the water current. Golden patches of wild rice bent and tangled on either side of us.
“I can do the paddling so your hands are free,” said Larry as I was taking a few photos.
“Alright.” I wanted to do some paddling too but I enjoyed having my hands free to snap photos.
The canoe rocked back and forth, not for the first time as Hank stood up and shifted. “Hank, sit down. Sit down, Hank!” Larry commanded. The canoe rocked a few more times and then stopped when Hank finally sat. (He also whined frequently throughout the voyage.)
“See those big mounds of dirt and debris pushed up along the bank?” Larry gestured toward mounds to our right.
“Those are beaver scent mounds.”
“Wow! That’s cool!” It was indeed fascinating.
“They smell strongly of castor. We’ll get up close to them so you can smell it.” He paused, then added, “They’re really advertising.”
I dipped a finger in the water; surprisingly the water temperature wasn’t all that cold. I peered into the water, it was so clear, I could see beyond its surface. I could see a tangled mess of vegetation, sticks and larger branches. We had walked along almost the same route not even two months before – oh, how it had changed! It was beginning to come alive, to wake up; watching it unfold was awesome.
Larry must have peered into the water too, “Northerns [pike] will be coming in here soon to spawn.”
The channel ahead curved a little to our left. It moved lazily, not in a hurry to reach the lake. With the easy canoeing, Larry only used his oar to keep us on course. I continued to be mesmerized by the trees reflecting in the water. A heart stirring landscape painting by the Master himself, and the awesome thing was, he wasn’t done – there was more to this exhibit to replenish my soul and allow my spirit to soar – with the added bonus of being able to take pictures. The gifts to fill my soul were still coming.
Far up ahead, a flashy northern shoveler and his less conspicuous mate floated on the water’s surface. They weren’t alone, a couple of female mallards floated behind them. As we neared, they took to the sky and flew away with splashing and loud complaints. One of the mallards stayed behind. Had she not noticed us? Larry saw wood ducks too, they were nearly concealed in the vegetation and I wasn’t able to see them. (I could later, in the photos.) Larry identified the birds as he spotted them. A wood duck and the female mallard also took flight, just a few moments later. The wetlands were filled with the sounds of birds.
A little further ahead, “A pair of mallards on your left.” I turned my head to look left, searching through the view finder of my camera. And there they were, the resplendent emerald head of the male stuck out above the vegetation, followed his sleek neck with a white band down and out along his boat like body, wings folded over his back. The female was almost completely concealed by a snag, only her brown head and orange beak could be seen. Without the aid of the long lens on my camera, they were just a dash of color against the golden vegetation.
“Wood ducks.” Larry saw all the birds before I did, telling me where to look. I could just barely make out the wood ducks with my camera, dark heads, backs, and tails, lighter breasts, bobbing among the vegetation.
Again, I gazed at the reflection of trees on the water, in awe. The limbs and branches of the trees graceful lines etched into the reflecting water. The branches appeared delicate, instead of hard; an exquisite pattern on the water’s surface, in which I reveled.
The canoe swayed, blurring the mirrored images. “Hank, sit down. Sit down, Hank!” With Hank sitting again the swaying stopped. More ducks took flight as we passed; they left in a flurry of wings, voicing their annoyance with us. “Gadwalls,” said Larry. A small channel split from the main one, going off to our left, around a group of trees. A snag lay across the wild rice, its crown stretching to reach the side channel. Beyond that was the woodlot that we hiked in and alongside when we hiked the channel in January. We could again see where we had to portage the canoe last October because there wasn’t enough water.
There was just so much beauty around me, I continued to be captivated and refreshed by it. Never tiring but always fascinated and awed by the exquisite reflections of trees. The water brought fluidity as if the trees had spirits and were dancing.