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September Canoeing

September 29, 2016

It was a beautiful autumn day, a little chilly, only forty five degrees around 8:00 am, and there was a slight breeze. It was about 8:12 am when Larry put the canoe in McCarthy Lake. With one hand he held the canoe steady, and offered the other to me to help me steady myself while I stepped into the canoe. Once I was settled in the seat in the bow, he handed a paddle to me, “In case you need it.” Then he pushed the canoe further into the water. “Get in, Hank.” Hank jumped in. Larry stepped in and sat down and pushed us off. We were heading up McCarthy Lake again – Larry wanted me to catch the change in the vegetation – witnessing the marsh go from bursting at the seams with life to that life dwindling until it appears to be barren of life. The trees had progressed more, their autumn colors deepening and more of them dressed in their autumn colors– a beautiful sight. Some trees had already shed their leaves completely.

I became more and more chilled the longer we were out but I didn’t mind too much – the beauty of the marsh in autumn was relaxing and refreshing. The chilling morning and heavily overcast sky did not diminish my enjoyment of being in a canoe on the marsh with someone who enjoyed it as much as I did. I was still reveling in the beauty of the trees reflected in the water. Larry glided the canoe effortlessly up the channel on the right (the “main” channel) following our previous course. The width and lay of the channel toward the beginning seemed slightly different from two weeks ago, but I may have been imagining it.

“The water clarity is better,” remarked Larry. I peered down in to the water, enjoying the strange but fantastic shapes of the aquatic vegetation below the water’s surface. A kingfisher flew across the marsh in front of us, cackling as it went, landing in a tree ahead and to the right of us. They are such awesome looking birds; their white neck tie very prominent, the feathers on the back of their head stick out a little, but not messy looking, rather like it was styled. Larry thought it amusing that they seemed to need to make noise to be able to fly. My heart was thrilled to see them flying about the marsh – there seemed to be less of them though.

Larry didn’t halt, we continued gliding, taking in everything as we glided past. The wild rice had senesced quite rapidly – very little of it was still green; it had turned brown. In many places it appeared black toward the bottom of the plant, at the water’s surface. The wild rice plants didn’t seem quite as tall, their presence and energy had diminished. The large flocks of black birds had moved on, none flew up as we passed through the small passages in the wild rice. Larry pointed out three teal that flew away and two lone mallards. I still admired the stately dead snags rising up out of the patches of wild rice – they have so much character about them – something about those lovely snags always stirs my heart, in an unexplainable way. The wild rice plants were wet, dripping water; when we passed close enough it slid across my face, it wasn’t a pleasant tickle, though it didn’t hurt. Sometimes I grabbed hold of a plant and held it away from my face as the canoe moved me past it. Beyond a bend, around some still towering wild rice plants, the channel went from a tiny stream to a wide, slow moving river. We glided past the island of trees where we’d seen the muskrat in May – we were further away from the trees, the vegetation had grown up thickly and far out into the channel, wild rice and cattails, the cattails had more green to them than the wild rice. We glided past some lily pads that lay flat on top of the water’s surface.

A little further along, we came to the large patch of yellow water lilies. The leaves drooped even more than they had two weeks ago, brown and shriveled, bent over, so sad looking. Very few leaves were still green, some almost appeared black. Larry glided the canoe forward into the lily patch. Myriads of insects (in the fly order) were buzzing around just above the water surface and on and among the lily plants. The look of the lily patch wasn’t the only thing that changed. It was so quiet, too quiet; there was no meowing of sora rails. “The rails must have migrated already,” observed Larry. Their absence could be felt. I was a little disappointed that they were gone. Most of the red wing black birds were gone too. I observed one male on top of a tall plant – his singing sounded so lonely. In the trees lining the bank ahead and northeast of us, Larry spotted a pileated woodpecker. I saw its shape as it was flying away. Larry exchanged the paddle for the pole at some point to pole us through the lily patch. We didn’t pause until we were on the other side of it. I took in the beautiful trees on the bank ahead and to the right of us. Larry pushed us through some wild rice – the open water available had shrunk. Larry paused, wondering if we should continue forward or turn back. He decided to keep going forward, there was more open water ahead. He poled us through thick vegetation where it seemed like there was hardly any water. Then suddenly there was water again. Cattails grew more abundantly among the wild rice here. The tips of some of the plants appeared almost blackish purple – varying the color scheme and thereby enhancing the beauty. Larry switched again, putting the pole back in the canoe and taking up the paddle again. We paddled around a bend, a jut in the bank, keeping near the east bank. Larry was saying we weren’t seeing much for muskrat activity – a lot less houses and no signs of them grazing the wild rice. Then he spotted what was probably one ahead of us swimming in the water, “That’s probably a muskrat up ahead of us,” even with some direction from Larry it took me a few moments to see the v-shape in the water. But then it must have noticed us and dived before I was really able to catch a glimpse of it. Larry paddled us to where it had disappeared and we paused there for a few moments – peering into the water and looking around us. “The disappearing act,” commented Larry after seeing no sign of it. He started to paddle the canoe forward again.

We didn’t get much further when the open water again began to shrink and the vegetation became very thick in front of us. “And I think this is all the further we should try to go, “Larry said. He stopped paddling – we sat there taking in the marsh. Hank was whining almost nonstop. We chatted about random things and also quietly sat in the canoe.

“I wish the highway noise wasn’t so loud,” said Larry.

“Yeah.” We talked about why it seemed louder today than it does some other days.

After a while, Larry turned the canoe around and we began making our way back. I admired the beauty of the trees reflected in the water on the jut of land we had to go around and the bluffs ahead cradling us and the marsh. Back into the lily patch Larry took us up close to the western wall of wild rice, on our right. There were small sparrows hopping about on the broken and bent, dried wild rice plants. “They’re such a cute little bird. “Let’s get close enough so you can see one,” said Larry. They were busy birds, not staying in one place very long so it was hard to do. We lingered there along the wild rice plants trying to get a look at the birds for a few minutes. Then we continued on through the lily patch. “I can’t tell if someone else was through here and made that path or if it was us,” wondered Larry. There seemed to be a pathway through the lily pads, we followed it. Not following our usual course through McCarthy anymore but going through a narrow opening in the wild rice near the island of trees to the other channel, which opened up more into an actual water channel. The water was deeper here. I continued to enjoy the lovely wild rice plants on both side of us, and the vegetation beneath the water surface. And of course, I loved the trees and marveled in their elegance. The channel curved ever so gently to our left. It was amazing how some trees were still as green as can be, others blazing orange or yellow, and yet others had already lost all their leaves. A kingfisher sat in a branch extending out, far above the water. I watched the awesome bird as we drew closer and closer – wondering just how close we could get before it would take off. And then with a call it flew off. Larry said, “Getting the motor started.” The channel curved a little more sharply left around that tree until it was going east instead of south. I scanned the vegetation on our left hoping to see a muskrat but there wasn’t one. Larry mentioned we should be seeing more signs of muskrats – though a lodge we passed seemed to have some fresh stuff added to it. We were back at the bridge and landed the canoe. As always I got out first and pulled it a little on to the bank. While Larry was finishing up securing the canoe in the back of the truck, I pointed to a tree far off in the distance, “is there something in that tree?” Larry got his binoculars out and I looked through the long lens of my camera, at about the same time we said, “It’s a bald eagle.” With that we got into the truck.

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