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Canoeing Halfmoon Lake (Part III)

I continued to enjoy the stately snags as we passed them; one small one with thin limbs was bleached white like bone with such contrast from its surroundings that it really caught my eye. As the vegetation on our right cleared, I could see the water stretched far to the right, northwest, and far back behind the island to the north, like another small lake. A thick forest of trees stood on the edge of the northwest bank, stretching westward and northward as far as we could see and southward, climbing the ridge. Large patches of cattails grew here and there along the bank. I desired to explore every nook and cranny of Halfmoon Lake. On the south end of this small lake, the bank came to a point dipping southward, which was actually a peninsula because just on the other side of this narrow point was a narrow channel of water between the point and tree studded hill. An island separated the water flowing toward the boat – still covered in bright green grass; we were parallel to it as we passed by to the right of it, nearing the tree studded hill, flashing with brilliant colors. Into this little channel Larry steered the canoe. It was canopied by trees – I loved this beautiful, even more secluded place. On the hill, downed trees seemed to be sliding into the water, branches sticking up every which way out of the water. The channel widened considerably once we were in it, trees withdrew a little bit from the grassy banks. As always, I marveled at the almost naked trees reflected on the water’s surface. I reveled in a willow tree kneeling at the water’s edge, stretching its graceful limbs over it without touching it or dipping a finger in to it. The channel again narrowed and turned a bit on the left (like we’d been in a pond with a stream flowing into it in the west, left, corner); up this “stream” we went. Lovely, thin trees leaned over the water on both sides, some stretching far out over it.

“Look at the nice oysters on that tree,” observed Larry. “I didn’t bring a bag,” he mused almost to himself.

At a tree stretching out over the water, Larry turned the canoe so we were alongside it and pushed the canoe into the bank. “Ok, we can get out here. Hank, you can get out.” Hank eagerly jumped out of the canoe and leapt on to the bank and began trotting back and forth, exploring with his nose. I stepped out of the canoe, mindful of where I stepped to avoid getting my feet wet. I pulled the canoe further on to the bank to secure it. After Larry stepped out he walked back down the channel to look at the oyster mushrooms. I followed a little bit taking in the trees. Larry stopped me with, “We’re going to go up the hill, Bethany.” So I didn’t keep following but stopped and waited for Larry. I took in the hill we were going to climb, it was quite steep. Who knew how many fallen sticks the thick leaf litter concealed from view.  A fallen tree here and there. Long grass covering the bank didn’t make it very far up the hill. Larry joined me and we began the climb. Walking around trees, ducking under branches, scooting past brambles, pushing back limbs, feet slipping a little bit, we steadily made our way up the hill. I was short of breath and breathing heavily before we reached the top of the hill. The trees thickened at the top, mostly oak trees of various size, some were nothing more than saplings. We had to continue ducking and pushing our way through the oaks until they abruptly stopped.

“Here’s the prairie,” remarked Larry. We’d gone from a lake to a flood plain forest that changed into an oak forest as it climbed and crested the hill which then gave way to a rolling prairie in only four minutes of walking. It was remarkable. Sitting in the canoe in the water, looking ahead to the tree covered hill there was no indication, no hint that beyond that hill were many acres of rolling prairie – what a stunning surprise if one didn’t know the prairie was there. Random, lone cedar trees rose up on the prairie here and there. All the way around the edge of the prairie oak trees encroached, hoping to have the opportunity to turn the prairie into an oak savanna and then eventually into an oak forest – exactly what Larry and other conservationists trying to protect and restore the prairie on these sand dunes want to prevent from happening.

The prairie was about as colorful as its neighboring woodlands, though not as bright; swaths of pale green, dark orange flames, soft gray, sandy white/brown of the dying prairie plants; beautiful in its own unique way. As we stepped out on to the prairie, going a little toward our left, I enjoyed studying a couple prairie plants in turn. One orange and fluid, like dancing flames. One with long, skinny, wood stems that were red orange had a shrub like appearance. Oblong leaves, almost in star like formation, of a mint close to the ground were still green. Wispy thin stems, brown bowed and bent prairie grasses going dormant. I’d have to almost run to catch up with Larry. We were staying on the fringes of the prairie.

“White pines were removed but there were a few that dropped enough seed when they were mature, so there are a few small ones.” We paused by a little white pine tree while Larry explained. “Like this one here.” The little conifer tree seemed a bit out of place especially with its dark green needles. “Nice Christmas tree isn’t it?” asked Larry.

“Yeah,” I admired the tree, though it was out of place.

“Be a long ways to carry it out though.” Larry voiced what I had also been thinking.

We continued walking. Hank ran ahead, finding sticks he hoped Larry would throw. – If he wasn’t carting a stick around, he had his nose to the ground sniffing everything. His nonstop energy never ceases to amaze and at times amuses us. We came along a bare spot – I am still awed that the soil here is completely sand, not sandy loam but sand, like on a beach. An almost perfectly round hole in the sand caught my attention, perhaps it belonged to a small rodent. Larry came to look at the hole but didn’t linger, again I had to walk fast to keep up with him. There were tufts of grass breaking up the bare patches but the sand was still quite visible. A dead cedar tree lay on the ground – just the trunk and bare branches sticking out from it at odd angles, it was only a skeleton of the former tree but oh, ever so lovely, something about its shape, texture, and contrast intrigued me. The little bluestem also caught my attention, who knew grass could be so beautiful, amber and elegant stems contrasting nicely with fuzzy white seed heads on the tip. Another branch lying on the ground looked like an antler after the felt is all rubbed off. The grasses and other plants filled in, covering the sand again.

“Remove these oaks – needs to be burned with enough frequency. There’s not enough grass [growing under and around them] for it to burn hot enough. Have to remove them mechanically and treat the stumps. The map turtles come up that hill to nest, stop just beyond the tree line – great for predators (90% loss), so need to back up the tree line.”

I was excited to find a turkey feather as we walked along, laying upon a bed of oak leaves. A few paces away lay an old wooden fence post, pointed at one end, bearing witness to the farm that used to be here. We continued up and down dunes, and back up again.

On top of a dune, Larry halted and sat down. I took a few photos and then sat down to join him. Larry had chosen a spot to sit such that we could view the prairie. We were sitting next to a fascinating fungus, green tubules branching off every which way, topped with a bright red cap. I remarked to Larry, “I like the solider fungus.”

“The British soldiers, cute aren’t they?” Larry replied. Hank continued his crazy antics, wanting Larry to throw a stick for him and whining about it. Larry threw the stick a couple of times. Hank would sometimes have trouble finding the stick or get a little distracted, taking a few moments to return with the stick.

Looking out over the prairie, admiring it, Larry commented, “Think, when this stuff was seven, eight feet tall, walking through it when the wind was blowing – get seasick.”

“Yeah, it would have been unnerving walking through it when it was so tall, no landmarks.”

“Endless, you’d hope to go into a valley with trees or a river.” Larry paused and said, “Beautiful undulations, aren’t they?” referring to the roll of the dunes. I agreed. We lingered for a few moments longer. After sitting for sixteen minutes, Larry said, “well, time to keep moving,” with that he stood up and I followed suit. He called for Hank and we were on the move again. I had admired the various prairie plants while we had been resting.

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