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Canoeing Halfmoon Lake (Part II)

On our right a tree leaned into the water, its crown buried beneath the surface. It had been cut by a beaver and was still resting somewhat on the chewed stump. Grass draped over the tree’s middle. Green grass encircled the stump. The tree behind it may have welcomed the extra space. The standing tree still held on to a considerable amount of its leaves. As we glided past the beaver lodge I marveled at its size. Again though, I looked to the bank on our right – another beaver lodge, this one built on the bank and looking even more like just another pile of sticks falling into the water. The cozy hole the beavers actually live in is more than likely inside the bank. A tree loomed up out of the water beside it. The “lake” went around a bend ahead of us. Across the way, sat an eagle’s nest braced among thick branches of a tall tree. The tree’s trunk wasn’t straight, but rather leaned to one side, giving the appearance it was leaning due to the great weight of the nest. It grew on the edge of a forest, covering an island. A few oak trees clung to the remainder of their russet leaves behind it. Just beyond the mound that the beaver lodge stood against was another channel splitting off from the main body, grassy islands on either side and in the middle, the channel split to the right and a very narrow one going to the left. Ahead of it was trees all the way across – only the oak trees had some leaves remaining. There was a blue sign with a canoe marking a state canoe trail. Of course, I wanted to go exploring down that channel too but it wasn’t our course for the day. Past the channel the bank was covered with green grass, trees behind, cattails, and more signs.

On our right, a glorious willow tree stood upon the bank where the “lake” went around a bend. That willow spoke to my heart – I just wanted to climb up on to one of its branches and nestle against it. I loved that tree and desired very much to spend time with it, get to know it. It wasn’t just its beauty and loveliness though there was that too, but its character. What wisdom and stories would it impart if it could speak? It reached out a large limb over the water, an arm extended, hand held out over the water, fingers stretched trying to touch it, one branch succeed in stirring the water with dead vegetation clinging and wrapped around its tip. I was so focused on the eagle’s nest and fantastic willow tree I almost missed the great blue heron that had been in the water in the bend just beyond the willow tree. It burst out of the water with a cry and flew across the way – its voice a reminder of the wild, a stirring in my heart that there is still such a thing as wild. Though we only got a glimpse of it, I was elated at the sighting, cheered just to know it was here. On the bank across the water were clumps of young trees still clothed with leaves, smudges of green and yellow from an impressionist’s brush. Larry gracefully paddled the canoe into the bend. We were closer to the eagle’s nest; built with sticks and mud, even bigger than it appeared from our position; it was a thing of wonder, almost mystical. If we returned here in March we’d probably see at least one large, majestic bird sitting in it – white head feathers a striking contrast to the still barren trees. Again so much to look at, my eyes were drawn to the cattails on our right. The brown, cylindrical seed head had exploded into a light brown white fluffy cotton ball on all of the cattail plants. Some long green grass grew among the cattails.

Behind the wall of cattails was another small lake almost completely cut off by vegetation from the “lake” we were in – from the parking lot there is a small foot path through the trees to view it, Larry and I saw ducks there in the spring. We glided along, enjoying the refreshing beauty around us; as always being on the water was incredibly relaxing.

The channel curved lazily to the left again. The water reflected the trees by broad brush strokes of color. Situated up against the right bank ahead, rose a large beaver lodge. My excitement from spotting it was like that of a child, filled with awe and thrilled that beavers were inside at this very moment. Small trees set ablaze like a climbing fire, rose up on the bank behind the lodge. Most of the trees in the woodlands behind and ahead of the lodge were still dressed in their autumn finery – orange, russet, and yellow green. However, the trees on the left bank had shed their autumn clothes and now stood naked, each individual branch now clearly seen. The grass was still green though the other plants growing along the water’s edge had turned brown. Only a few leaves hung on here and there. There were some much smaller trees still holding on to their leaves, fading from green to yellow.

As we came up alongside the beaver lodge, I noted, “This is lived in.”

“Yeah, a good stock pile of food. Rearranged by the high water,” Larry replied. There were several branches that had been freshly gnawed from trees and placed in the food cache and even some of the branches on top of the lodge had been freshly gnawed. I wish we would have seen even one of the busy workers.There were probably hundreds of little trees growing on the bank behind the lodge – spindly little things, hardly more than sticks in the ground covered with leaves. They crowded the left bank too and continued further down the channel a ways on both sides. “Are those young willows?”

“Yeah, they’re clones from the ones behind.”

I enjoyed the trees on either side of the channel making it feel closed off, a place of solitude. The cattails along the edge of the water, tips turning dark brown were lovely. I marveled at the elegant snags sticking up out of the water, smoothed by the water’s caress. There were so many side channels and “lakes” going off here and there, I wanted to explore them all. Alongside some of the channels were little blue diamond signs with a canoe on them marking a state canoe trail. I was amazed to see an old barbed wire fence in this wetland. A narrow channel split off just slightly to our left winding around mounds of vegetation. Ahead, some distance away, I could see two house boats. From that vantage point they looked random, stranded in the back water in the middle of nowhere – a source of curiosity that could inspire a fun tale. I could see the outline of the bluffs in the distance.

Larry smoothly turned the canoe to our right. Another small channel cut its way through small islands of vegetation on our left. Lovely snags lay up against the cattails and rushes on either side of the channel. Looming behind and a little to the right rose a tree covered hill. As we completed the turn, the hill was directly before us, studded predominately with oak tree which still held on to their orange and russet leaves, although the hillside was carpeted with leaves. Another channel followed along the bank going left and right. A partly submerged pile of branches, perhaps escapees from the beaver cache, and a partial limb of a completely submerged snag divided the water ahead of us. Larry glided the canoe past on the right. It was just so quiet and excluded and incredibly beautiful.

The vegetation on the right opened up to another large pond. I was taking in the vegetation when suddenly I noticed a little critter sitting there. Its dark brown coat blended in with the brown cattails. “Look!”

“Yeah.” The sleek, furry critter skittered across the decaying vegetation, elongate, belly slithering against the surface as it slinked away. Crawling on its belly across the decaying vegetation, then it smoothly transitioned to swimming in the open water without dropping in or making a splash. I watched it swim away, going towards the island we’d just past, head and back above the water. It swam into the morass of cattails and disappeared without a sound, an incredibly stealthy animal. “Was that a mink?”

“Yeah, that was a mink.” Larry had stopped paddling so we could observe the mink. In less than a minute from spotting the mink and watching it disappear, we were on the move again.

“It didn’t seem very scared.”

Larry replied, “I think we took it by surprise.”

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