Canoeing Schmoker’s Channel (Part II)
So much to see and soak in, to revel in – my attention shifted to our right. A good sized tree had been felled by a beaver. How awesome it would have been to watch him chew around the base of the tree with his mighty teeth, and to have heard the tree fall as the two foot tall, saw-less logger watched it topple. If only I could have witnessed that. Much smaller trees around that one had met the same fate, chewed stumps were all that remained. The trees were either floated down to repair the dam or taken upstream to patch the lodge or be added to the winter cache. All was taken in, in only a moment, for my attention was again captured by ducks on our left disturbed by our passing. Like all the others, they flew off with a string of angry words aimed at us. They were females with no males around to simplify identification. Their flight path took them by a silver maple in full bloom, red dots decorating the branches; a sure sign spring was beginning to burst forth.
My eyes came back down to the water’s surface. Tucked among wild rice and rushes, a muskrat lodge cleverly built from parts of those plants and held together by mud, stuck out of the water, smaller than a beaver’s but perhaps just as ingeniously constructed. Did a family reside there? Or had they fallen prey to foraging otters and coyotes during the winter? Startled ducks again flew away, distracting me from the muskrat home, as did the mirrored image of a sliver maple in bloom, shimmering on the water’s surface. However, my thoughts were soon pulled back by another muskrat lodge. Further away, it had been constructed quite close to the wooded bank, beneath red oak.
Elegant snags rose above the water adding to the character of these wetlands. I love snags – they’re mythical, full of stories and memories, though dead they’re still giving life, a living spirit seems to continue to flow through them. They’ll continue to provide a home and food to many creatures. Snags almost have an immortal feel to them.
I noticed a large bird perched in a tree to our right, “Look, there’s a hawk or something in that tree.”
“A hawk? That’s a juvenile bald eagle.” Larry gently corrected me.
As we came up alongside the tree and able to see it better, I replied, “Oh yeah, it is an eagle.”
To our right, several trees lay toppled, the tangled mass of roots exposed. The distant bluffs seemed to hold it all together. It was so peaceful. We drifted along enjoying the wondrous place. We were delighted to see the place waking up and coming to life.
A little channel diverged from the main channel on our right. Larry steered us to this narrow opening in the wild rice. I picked up my paddle and dipped it in the water helping him out. As we pulled into the little channel, Larry said, “Have your camera at the ready.” I laid my paddle back down in the canoe and raised my camera. The wild rice on our left towered over us. The narrow channel opened up to a big lake. Something swam loudly, splashing and rustling in the rushes to our right. We sat quietly, just listening for a few moments. When the rustling and splashing seemed to move further away and then dissipate, Larry said softly, “Beaver, muskrat or otter.”
Larry had also stopped paddling. On the edge of the lake (Weaver Bottoms), we paused to gaze upon the scene before us, to listen to the cacophony of bird calls, just reveling in the arrival of life. Ducks jabbered to one another, talking over each other. Red-wing black birds perched in the trees singing a spring tune. Wild rice, rushes, and cattails rose above the water, bent and folded. Small, shimmering mallard heads stuck up above the morass of golden vegetation, along with the less conspicuous heads of many other waterfowl. Only a few birds had been startled by our approach. There were so many, I gazed upon the flocks with awe. The canoe rocked ever so gently with the movement of the water. We were closer, more in touch with the beauty of creation by using the canoe. It was easy to become a part of it, everything else fades away as you become attuned to life unfolding all around you; noisy ducks and song birds, buzz of the first insects, splash of a mammal playing in the water possibly feet from us. We’re on the same level with it all, bobbing in the middle of it, enjoying every moment. All else, worry and stress, disappear for awhile as we lose ourselves in the beauty, washing over us, bringing peace, restoration and joy. Such joy! – The quiet kind.
The peace and quiet was rudely shattered by the roar of an air boat and the extremely loud talking of the three or four people onboard. With loud splashing, large flocks of ducks, coots, and other waterfowl leapt out of the water and into the sky. So many waterfowl in the air, they circled around the lake and surrounding area, grumbling and squawking the whole time.
To say Larry was angry would be putting it very mildly. He referred to the air boat with a string of swear words, beginning with “F”. “Just look at all the birds they’re putting in the air. F***ing a******s. Probably conservation officers, game warden, trying out a new toy.” (We had scared a few birds on the water while canoeing but nothing like the quantity stirred up by the air boat.)
After sitting awhile, watching the birds take flight, Larry turned around the canoe with graceful movements. We glided back through the wild rice. I helped paddle for little bit, enjoying the movement of the blade through the water. Placing the paddle back in the canoe, I lifted my camera again, the exquisite habitat, water, trees, rice… beckoned to the photographer in me, I had to attempt to capture it.
I was about to pick up the paddle again, Larry stopped me, “I’ll do the paddling now. You just take pictures.” I wanted to feel like I was contributing but I appreciated the freedom to just take photos as we glided down the channel.
After going back through the small passage to the big lake, we were back to following our previous route down the channel, following where we had walked down the ice. There was the beaver dam in disrepair before us. The pile of sticks, rushes, and mud didn’t look like much, in fact it was easy to overlook and miss as a dam entirely. The middle had been broken apart; the beavers hadn’t fixed it yet. It was just wide enough for the canoe to pass through. Squiggly yet graceful, the reflections of the trees and even the bluffs continued to intrigue me, filling me with awe and wonder.
“Remember how we were talking about it seeming dead and barren? Now it has come alive!” Larry was just as excited as I was to take it in. Flies buzzed around us, not annoying, but testing the air, eager to be out after so many months of dormancy. Spiders walked across the water. Whirligig beetles played on the water surface. Red-wing black birds sang loudly, competing for attention. Alder and silver maple were beginning to flower. Ripples, outward moving rings in the water an animal, possibly a fish had poked its head up and we missed it, but those rings told of the life beneath. Wild rice bordered the channel with a few trees here and there. Then there was a stretch with no trees directly to our left. A small nest sat in a tree to our right. Geese, swans, ducks, coots and others were all speaking, trying to be heard over one another. A train whistle blew adding to the noise.
“Busy place,” said Larry meaning all of what we saw and heard. We could also still hear the roar of the air boat though it was more distant. Oddly, the sound of the train wasn’t disturbing at all; it didn’t take away from the feel of the place like the air boat did.