Exploration in August (Part II)
We continued westward. A beautiful cottonwood tree towered above us, leaves shining in the morning sun. A birch tree mingled with it, growing up between branches of the cottonwood. A dead snag leaned into the water, one end dipping beneath the water’s surface. I’m not sure why it appealed to me but I loved it. Another snag stuck up out of the water, two branches breaking off from the main limb right away, one on either side, and then another smaller branch off to the left. The main limb split in a “Y”, and each of those limbs also split, more into a “V” then a “Y”. A shadow was cast in the water by the “V” on the right side. Simply lovely. Like antlers of a mythical deer. Wild rice was thick directly ahead of us, with trees beyond it. There were a few dead trees standing among the living ones. Again, I noticed some of the trees were beginning to change color – yellow and orange. A large bird, possibly a goose flew over, far in the distance. Large mystery snails floated at the water’s surface, half submerged like a boat.
We were back on the main channel, now a tiny stream; I think the canoe was almost as long as the channel was wide, a wall of tall wild rice on either side of us. It felt very secluded, the rice towering over us. The bluffs appeared to be peeking above it. Trees could be seen over the top of the rice directly ahead and ahead to our right. At times the channel width seemed to shrink even more, smaller than the length of the canoe. We were lost in a world of blue sky and wispy clouds, towering green wild rice, trees and bluffs peeking above. It no longer seemed vast with the wild rice almost closing us off from all else and yet I still felt very small, in the best of way. An experience I was glad to have. The heads of the rice plants were really cool looking. I reached out to touch the plants to get a feel for them, careful not to touch the heads. In some places the wild rice all but obscured the trees ahead to the right. We startled a rail, with a ruckus it flew off, above the rice and disappeared.
We were approaching the second “island”, with the trees more in a clump. A dead tree stood off to the left of them, where I had seen the kingfisher fly when we first put in. The channel had opened up more, the nearer we got to that island of trees, though still a fraction of its size this spring. The channel also turned slightly right, to the northeast. The lovely clump of trees was reflected on the water’s surface – finally a wide enough pool of water to perfectly mirror the trees. Absent were the honking geese of May. Past the trees the channel shrunk considerably in size again as the channel was filled in thickly with wild rice again. The very last of the trees was much shorter than the others and stood a little apart from them, the wild rice was already growing thickly, reducing the channel to a small stream again before we passed that little maple tree, its leaves beginning to blush. We startled another wood duck; she flew northwest of that tree. Larry closed the distance between us and the next “island” of trees where we’d observed the muskrat. I continued to watch the wood duck until it disappeared.
Past the last island of trees, we started seeing a few yellow water lilies. The wall of wild rice on either side backed away, widening the channel for a little bit. It didn’t last long however, before we were plunged back into crowding wild rice – more of these plants were in bloom, again I marveled at their beauty. The wild rice opened up again only to be replaced by a very thick patch of yellow water lilies. Larry marveled at their thickness. They were now past their glory, some of the bright green leaves were turning brown and curling up. They no longer floated on the water’s surface like pads, but stood up above the water, furled. It was amazing just how large the lily “patch” was. Wild rice didn’t grow up in the middle of the patch either though it grew thickly along the edges all the way along. I examined one of the wild rice heads more closely, like a lot of tiny trees sticking up going every which way. I reveled in the beauty of the lily leaves still alive, so green and smooth. Trees rimmed the “lake” to the northeast, still some distance away. Looking closely at the water surface, coontail grew closely filling the gaps between lily pads. It did look like an animal tail but I wondered if it more resembled a fox tail than a coon tail. The bluffs, framing in the west side of the lake, appeared much larger now that we were closer. None of those trees had begun to change color though there were various shades of green. However, trees in the marsh, across the way, were beginning to change, and some already mostly orange. Larry explained, “These trees are really stressed. Water levels have been too high for too long. Probably a lot that’s left will die, not all though.” We canoed among the lilies, turning the canoe westward. My attention was snatched by a blue damselfly hovering over a lily pad. It didn’t stay in one place for long. We continued westward through the lilies, Larry having to push us forward, until we reached the wild rice. Larry paused and stood up, searching southwest of us for water. He decided there wasn’t enough water that way to attempt to keep the canoe moving. Sitting back down, he pushed the canoe backwards turning the bow ever so slightly to the southeast. Until we reached the spot in which we’d entered the lily patch and were facing south, the direction we had come. Then back along the way we had come, seeing it all from a different perspective.
Near the bridge, instead of landing and ending our canoe adventure, Larry took us up the side channel on the left. Past the beaver lodge we couldn’t see, we heard rustling in the vegetation along the bank to our left, Larry said, “probably a muskrat.” A lovely snag, still standing tall, hung over the channel as it curved gently to the right. In one of the branches extending over, high above the water sat a kingfisher. This time we were much closer so I got a better look at it. It had a patch of russet feathers near its tail, a band of white across its breast. A cape of bluish gray fastened around its shoulders, flung across its back, a white band around its neck a tie or scarf of some sort, a white dot between its dark, almost black beak and its tiny black eyes. Its belly was white with a sliver of russet along its side like a sheath. The bird did look like a king of old out on a hunting party. I was thrilled to have an opportunity to observe it before it dove off the branch with a laugh. Another one flew off in the distance too making the noise as it took flight, Larry asked, “Does the noise help it fly I wonder?” Like a human grunts and groans while doing heavy lifting.
The trees to our right tapered out, while those on the left continued on a little longer. The channel wasn’t very small, wider than most of the other one we’d just traversed. Again the wild rice closed in around us, and it became narrower and narrower, until you couldn’t fit two of the canoe side by side. Then the water almost seemed to disappear entirely. Larry said, “If we could have kept going through over there, this is where we would’ve come through.” He expertly backed the canoe up and turned us around. The channel opened up to the size of a small river again. Dead snags grew up above the trees to our right. Small birds perched on the uppermost branches, female or juvenile red wing black birds. They appeared unbothered by our passing. Cattails grew among the wild rice. We observed a few more kingfishers flying about in the distance. As we neared the landing, I marveled at the sagittaria which was still blossoming. We landed the canoe; I climbed out first, and pulled the canoe up further on to the bank, then Larry stepped out to. As he was backing the truck up, I took note of a flowering turtlehead near an elm tree. We loaded up the canoe and decided to drive along 84 one more time checking for hatchlings.
Larry spotted one, stopped, and moved it off the road. He repeated the procedure a couple more times. Then I spotted some before Larry did, and then he had me get out and move them off the road. We rescued another six turtles and found one dead one. Larry moved it off the road too. We also saw a dead fox squirrel on the road. With that we headed home, back to work. Larry said, “We should get out again soon.”