Canoeing Schmoker’s Channel (Part IV)
We went around a bend in the channel. The bridge, normally our stopping point, was within sight. The beaver lodge, piled up sticks in a dome shape, stood near the bank between us and the bridge.
“How deep is this water?”
“Start out about breast height, then sink to your chin, then sink until you’re under the water.”
“How about I just stay in the canoe?”
“That’d be a good idea.”
The beaver scent mounds, tucked along the bank on our left, had come into view again. The lodge and scent mounds weren’t the only signs of beaver; a tree had been chewed on, sporting a ring around its trunk.
“See that fence? They used to graze this.”
Larry joked, “Water buffalo.” He eased us around a tree sticking out over the water.
“Let’s get you up close to those scent mounds so you can smell them.” We pulled right up close to two. “Can you smell it?” Get a handful close to your nose.” I leaned over and grabbed a handful of dirt and vegetation as he instructed. “Do you smell it?”
“I’m not sure; it’s earthy.”
“You’d know; it’s quite strong and distinctive.” We pulled up to a couple more mounds. Larry passed some on to me placing it on the blade of the paddle. I put it close under my nose; I could smell it then. A strong, musky smell that was very good too. I described this to Larry. He replied, “It does smell really good. Castor is a base for a lot of perfumes.” I set the wad of dead vegetation and dirt back on the mound. Larry began to paddle again, toward the bridge.
We neared the bridge; Larry gracefully steered us through the passage between the pilings. Instead of landing the canoe, we continued on into McCarthy Lake. It was so peaceful. We didn’t talk much and when we did, we kept our voices very low. There was another beaver lodge built against the bank near the northwest end of the bridge. Was this lodge another house of the family in the lodge below the bridge? Was it even being lived in right now? Were there beaver pups inside with the mother? My attention was drawn to a clump of alder trees on our right, I thought I saw or heard a creature jump in the water. My eyes scanned the alder clump, near the water’s surface. I hoped to see whatever creature it was that had drawn my attention, but there was nothing. My attention was grabbed by the reflections, images of the above world mirrored by the water. I was still reveling in the symmetrical reflections of the trees. They seemed to entice me.
Larry steered the canoe into a small nook to our right, a smaller pond, bordered by trees and rushes. As we entered the pond, I observed a painted turtle slide off a log, among rushes near the bank. A small ploop reached me as it hit the water. In quiet excitement, “Larry, a turtle slid of that log!” barely more than a whisper.
“Here’s a turtle, too.” He must have seen it swimming in the water and scooped it on to his paddle blade. I turned around to look, but I only caught a flash of its very dark carapace before it slipped off into the water.
We circled around the pond, along the west side, heading north first. We saw something, most likely a turtle, dive into the water among rushes near the north bank. Gently, Larry paddled us along the north side, turned us to head south along the east side. We heard a commotion in the rushes further down near the east bank – loud rustling and splashing. As quickly as could be done, Larry eased the canoe straight toward the sound. (We had been more toward the center of the pond instead of tight against the bank.) Closer and closer. We seemed to be holding our breaths waiting; hoping to see whatever was making such a racket. It stopped for a moment. We moved in even closer, until with almost a cringe and shudder for making such a noise, the canoe collided with the rushes, getting hung up on the vegetation. Then all was quiet. We sat in silence for several minutes, waiting and hoping to see the source of the loud splashing, to no avail. After a few minutes, without the splashing resuming, Larry quietly backed up the canoe, barely making a sound with the blade in the water. Heading south again, near the middle of the pond, we continued on in silence.
A round, brownish object in a clump of alder and dogwood caught my eye. At first, I thought it was a log or a growth of some sort. Then I thought perhaps it’s an animal, and then no, it’s probably just a log or something. I continued to scrutinize it as we drew near, lifted my camera, and peered through my viewfinder. It no longer looked like a log, the shape and character wasn’t quite right. We drew just a little closer. There was a face – eyes and ears – it was an animal! I whispered, my voice barely audible, “Larry,” I said no more but pointed to the creature in the alders. Larry saw it too, bringing us closer to it as confirmation rather than saying anything. It was a beaver. So exciting! We drew nearer, the whole time I peered through my viewfinder. Then it saw us, as Larry continued to paddle us closer. Its eyes were on me. We held eye contact for a few moments. Those eyes didn’t look scared but mistrustful. Being eyed up, having eye contact with a beaver was incredible; an awesome feeling of connectedness. It felt like a privilege. Did the beaver feel it to? It stayed still, watching me for a few minutes instead of dashing away. Then it turned away, no longer facing me but not in a hurry to escape either, for it paused a moment before continuing to turn completely around. Slowly it walked down to the water’s edge and slipped in, I saw it for a moment before it disappeared behind the alders. Wow! The experience was so stunning, I was wonderstruck. Amazing. Beautiful. Peaceful. The beaver couldn’t have been too bothered by us; it slipped away quietly without slapping its tail in alarm and warning on the water surface. The experience had seemed to happen outside of time. Another gift I will always carry with me.
We continued along, turning the canoe back to the west and out of the little pond to the bigger channel coming down McCarthy. The water level had risen significantly in a few weeks time; however the tangle of bent-over wild rice was still very thick, nearly covering the water surface. Dip the paddle in and lift it out, wild rice would be tangled around it. Large mystery snail shells, floated on top of some nearly submerged wild rice.
I admired the vegetation, curled rushes, folded over to make an arch in the water, the density of the golden wild rice, and the exquisite, intricate design of rushes standing upright, out of the water. Red bark of dog wood clumped with alders, golden rushes, reflected in the water. Cattail seed head fluffy, coming unraveled.
We were approaching the bridge again, this time we were landing the canoe; my heart sank a little with the thought of leaving the water, going back to everyday life. However, I was eager to tell of our canoe adventure and look at and share the photos. Larry paddled the canoe back to where we put in, running it onto the bank so I could step out. Once out of the canoe, I pulled it further up onto the bank so it wouldn’t float away and for Larry and Hank to get out. Hank again wanted to plunge into the water. Larry and I each picked up an end of the canoe, and carried it around to the back of the truck. I lifted it up onto the bed and Larry pushed the canoe in. While Larry fastened down the canoe, I studied catkins on an alder that grew on the edge of the parking lot. We looked out at the water above the bridge again, before leaving, a muskrat or beaver was swimming across, a wide “V” behind it. At that distance and without seeing the tail we were unable to identify it. We pulled out of the parking lot, ending one adventure with talk of another.