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Canoeing with Sora Rails

September 14, 2016

Around 8:00 am, Larry backed the truck up to the landing and we unloaded the canoe. Hank, the young black lab, jumped into the water for an early morning swim, having a great time. Larry scolded him multiple times and told him to get out of the water. It took several commands before Hank listened and came out. Larry moved the truck. Hank jumped back in the water, Larry scolded him again and told him to get out. Larry pulled the canoe forward in the long vegetation, sliding it into the water. Larry, bending over, maneuvered the canoe so it was parallel to the bank, bow pointing northward, “Bethany first.” Hank was about to get in or jump in the water ahead of me, so Larry repeated, “Bethany first.” I stepped into the canoe; it rocked back and forth a bit as I did so. Then Larry said, “Hank’s turn.” The overgrown puppy hopped into the canoe, rocking it a little. Then Larry got in. He had to command Hank to sit down several times before he listened.

It was a beautiful morning; not much of a breeze, partly sunny, cool – around fifty degrees, which actually felt colder than around thirty five degrees in May – the sunshine was warm but the air had a slight chill, striking a perfect balance. And there isn’t a better way to start off the day than a peaceful canoe trip with a dear friend. The birds were busy, singing and chattering as they went about their morning. We heard and saw a couple kingfishers fly by ahead of us. Near the bank a film of green duckweed coated the top of the water’s surface, but dispersed before the main channel, which was clear with amazing clarity. Wild rice and cattails grew along the bank – the wild rice towered above us. Larry observed, “The wild rice has senesced so quickly, the stems are turning brown already – and there’s some kernels.” We glided past the plants on to the “main” channel.  Larry said, “Ducks will start returning soon.” Not a moment later, “There’s a wood duck flying by.” I saw its dark silhouette as it flew off. The trees ahead on our left had senesced further in the past three weeks; they had been mostly green at the end of August with their tips just beginning to fade to pale green with a hint of yellow. Now they were all pale green or light fiery orange. It was amazing to watch it progress. Now even trees on the bluff were starting to senesce too. I still marveled at the reflections on the water’s surface particularly of the bluff and clouds.

The wild rice was tall on either side of us as the channel got smaller and smaller. Larry said he’d get some of the rice for me. He was amazed at how fast it had progressed – the plants were beginning to brown and there was hardly any rice left on the plants. As we went through a really narrow spot, hitting rice plants as we went by some rice fell into my lap. Plants tickled my chin, neck and cheeks as they slipped by my face. I didn’t mind – it helped me become a part of the marsh. Larry said, “There’s a rail.” I didn’t even catch a glimpse of it before the bird had totally disappeared. Every time Larry spotted a rail it would fly away before I could take a picture or even get a good look at them. Perhaps at some point I’ll see and photograph one.

We rounded a bend in the wild rice wall, red wing black birds were everywhere on the wild rice plants, males and females. They were eating the remaining rice and any rice worms. There were just so many black birds. Their wings whirred as they scattered when we drew near – loud in the otherwise peaceful morning. If we’d been any closer, we probably would have felt a breeze. The further in we went the more birds flew up until a large flock darkened the sky above us. Very likely hundreds of red wing black birds. Complaining loudly as they flew off – upset to have their breakfast disturbed. The number of black birds was incredible. I just loved the wall of wild rice on either side of us – it felt more magical and allowed us to easily become one with the marsh. It was also very beautiful. I think the height of wild rice plants will never cease to amaze me. Being on the water, immersed in the marsh refreshed my heart. I don’t know why the wild rice plants affected me so but they did.

We passed the clump of trees where we’d seen the muskrat a few months ago – there was no sign of the small furry creature this time. The channel widened considerably by the trees. Another noisy kingfisher flew by above us. A pair of ducks flew up out of the vegetation to our left. We continued along enjoying the morning and being on the water. Another duck flew away as we approached – funny, we didn’t even see them until they flew. The wild rice plants on either side began to hedge us in again, the channel getting smaller. Then it opened up again, we’d come to the large yellow water lily patch. Larry pushed us into the lily patch, we moved along slowly. It looked so different from just a few weeks ago – the lilies had senesced a lot. The leaves were brown and shriveled. Very few were still green and even those that were still green were less vibrant. The lily plants grew densely; there were only a few wild rice plants that grew here and there throughout the lily patch. The marsh, even just the large patch of lilies felt vast – some of the bordering bluffs seemed a great distance away. Tiny fly-like insects, possibly midges were thick just above the water’s surface – incredible numbers of them. A lot of the lily pads were folded and bent on stalks that stood above the water’s surface – they looked sad as they drooped like a dog hanging his head after being scolded. Some lily pads laid flat on top of the water’s surface. Some stuck out of the water at an angle, like a tongue sticking out. Being a tactile person, I reached out and touched one of the green pads sticking out of the water – such on interesting texture, smooth, waxy, which is an adaptation for living in the water, and it felt thicker than it looked. It looked like a frog actually; I could imagine they were large frogs. The pads had a center stripe, lighter in color running down its middle, with radiant lines, parallel to one another leaving the center line and going to the very edge of the leaf. The decaying leaves were fading from green to grayish, yellow edging, with brown spots along the edges and throughout the leaf. I was intrigued by the various patterns of the brown spots. Coon tail, which actually does look like a tail though perhaps a little more like a fox’s tail, grew thickly in an enlarged mass below the lilies. Were there fish or turtles hiding out in those forests beneath the water’s surface? I wish I could explore those secret and exclusive forests for a bit as a turtle sees it. What would I discover?

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