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Canoeing Halfmoon Landing (Part IV)

Back under the trees, leaves crunched under our feet. We’d walked for ten minutes and stood upon the ridge, looking down on the channel we’d canoed up. The canoe was some distance up the channel from us. Larry sat down again to take in and enjoy the beauty of the trees and water. I took a few photos and then sat down beside him, our feet on the decline. The hill rolled down before us. The woods marched down the slope toward the water, at its edge in some places. The trees were of various kind and size. Some, though tall, were very thin, like twigs stuck in the ground. Beyond the channel was the narrow, tree covered peninsula. Patches of pale blue lake and the bluffs in the distance, could be see through tree branches.

“This is a beautiful stand of trees.” He paused a moment. “Just beautiful, isn’t it?” asked Larry.

“Yeah!” I replied, awed by the view. I could feel stress and worry seeping out of my body and feel relaxation and rest spread through every part of my body. It wasn’t just that the trees were lovely, the water beautiful, and the bluffs grand, it was all these things together that left us wonderstruck, filled with a desire, a need to sit down and linger, to revel in it, to soak in its awe-inspiring beauty. It was so quiet too. I could have stayed there for hours.

Larry enjoyed it as much as I did. “How many people between here and Winona, do you think, are just sitting over the river and taking in its beauty?”

“Probably just you and me. If there is anyone out sitting, they’re hunting and not really thinking about the beauty. Very few people just sit and take in the beauty. Which is too bad, between here and Winona is really beautiful. Just sit at the top of John Latsch and take in the beauty.” I replied.

“Yeah, it is beautiful.” We sat there for thirty four minutes enjoying the view. Larry threw a stick down the hill again and again for Hank to chase, hoping to wear him out. After awhile, Larry decided it was time to keep moving.

Looking down the hill, Larry said, “Instead of plunging straight down the hill from here, let’s walk across the ridge and then go down.”

We stood up; I stepped aside to let Larry lead the way. We walked around a big oak tree and pushed past brambles trying to trip us up. A dead oak tree lay on its side; it seemed to have tipped at the roots ripping them out of the ground as it fell. By way of explanation Larry said, “An oak wilt.” We walked around its roots, as we did I paused to observe them – they shot out from the trunk radially, not quite a circle, each one was broken. A few feet away we walked in to a tangle of branches and stepped on to a dead tree trunk. Larry offered his hand to help me jump down. Once through that tangled mess which tried to trip us both, I paused to admire a dead oak tree that still stood. Then down the hill, avoiding tree branches and still pushing through brambles, thankful for the layer of clothes protecting legs and arms against the thorns. Hank raced down the hill ahead of us. We left the prairie plants and oak trees behind us on top of the hill. A floodplain ecosystem took over, a forest that doesn’t mind getting its feet wet. Stepping over fallen branches and fallen trees, we made our way back to the green, lush grass covered bank, studded by trees.

Larry stepped into the canoe, walked back to the stern and took his seat. “Hank, get in.” He had to tell Hank a couple of times before he leaped into the canoe. Once Larry and Hank were situated, it was my turn. I pushed the canoe off, Larry held on to the tree, then I stepped in and sat down. With my paddle on the right side of the canoe, I pushed the blade against the canoe, shoving out and to our left. Larry helped push it and turn it so we were going back downstream the way we came. Larry took over the paddling. I set down my paddle and took up my camera. It was such a beautiful place, with the trees on the bank and some reaching out over the water.

“Those are really nice oysters. On your left.” Larry commented as we passed a tree with mushroom stairs going up its trunk.

“Yeah, they are nice.” I replied. I continued to enjoy and take in the dead snags in the water, the trees on the banks and hills, and the russet covered hill blanketed by oak leaves.

Going back was a totally different experience; though we followed along the same way and saw the same things, they appeared different. As we left the small side channel, the boat I saw earlier was in front of us, with the small island of trees and vegetation between us. Then Larry turned the canoe slowly to our left as we continued back along the way we came. We passed the snag that appeared like bone or perhaps a caribou antler, a clump of grass growing around it. With the odd shape of Halfmoon Lake, I thought when Larry paddled the canoe to the side of an “island” that we were going a new route but when I saw that snag I realized it was the same route.

Within a few minutes of leaving the smaller channel, we could see the big beaver lodge and drew near to it. The lodge was so fascinating, a masterpiece to be marveled at. I am awestruck by the abilities of beavers. A pile of branches seemingly at random actually placed strategically and held together with mud. Willow trees looked to be growing out of it, around three sides of it. Grass and reeds were growing near the bottom of it by the water. A fresh mud slide on the side, traversing it from top to bottom, was the beaver’s path from the water to the top for making repairs. It was the slide that intrigued me, for it spoke of recent beaver activity.

As I was marveling at the lodge, and taking a photo, Larry said, “There’s a mink on the house. Do you see it?”

Scanning the lodge, it took only a moment for me to spot the brown object among the green plants. “I see it!” I replied in an excited but hushed tone.

“I wonder if it’s the same one.”

“That’d be interesting.” As we drew a little closer, I was able to get a good look at it with the aid of my long camera lens. I was thrilled to have this chance to look at the amazing creature. The mink was a beautiful shade of brown, actually several shades of brown; cat like in shape; brown nose with whiskers; little bear-like ears; small, round black eyes; round head; a white chin –  just adorable. It looked so soft, and indeed it is; the desirability of its fur meant it was exploited by humans. The creature was alert, watching us, caught between alarm and curiosity – studying us. For a moment, it was just us, gazing upon each other, a connection formed. How can I describe such feelings? Elated. An energy passed between us, I was walking in the clouds. As we drew just a little closer, it ducked its head down so that part of its face was hidden behind the grass, but it still watched us. Then the spell was broken. It ducked beneath a log, and yet it wasn’t completely over. The mink was still weighing us, it came back out, nose in the air, chin patch easier to see, ears alert, taking one final assessment. And then back under the log it went, this time it didn’t come back out. Though it would have been nice to watch it longer and get even closer to it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, I wouldn’t want it to become habituated to people and trust people because others may cause it harm – better for it to remain timid and elusive, and alive and wild.

“It might pop up again somewhere else,” said Larry.

We continued on, going around the beaver’s cache of sticks. “This is fresh.” I said seeing ends recently chewed by beavers.

“Yep,” replied Larry.

The tree with the large eagle nest was before us. Lovely cattails on our left, which I admired again as we passed them. A tree ahead stretched out high above the water. “There’s a kingfisher.” I pointed to the proud bird sitting on a branch.

“Yep.”

We heard the loud whine and wail of a motor boat, breaking our peace. We saw it head down one of the side channels by the other beaver lodge, possibly going to the main channel of the Mississippi River. “A hideous noise.” Larry said in disgust.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

We’d come again to the magnificent willow standing on the bank that creates a bend in the “lake”. The willow tree seemed to be calling to me; I desired to climb in its branches and sit for a long while and get to know each other and feel its healing touch. It was grandparent-like. As we were rounding the bend and beneath its majestic limbs, I said, “I really like willow trees; they have a lot of character.”

Larry replied, “That one sure has a lot of character.” It sure did; spunky but not obnoxiously so, with a great sense of humor, and very loving. I could feel it without touching its powerful limbs. I kept my eye on it until we were completely past it.

We were on the final stretch, past the beaver lodge on the bank, the big lodge across the way, the wall of cattails with the high water mark, along the tree covered bank, past a snag in the water, drawing closer and closer to the landing. Past the group of maple trees still holding on to their leaves, past the small basswood tree getting its feet wet. Then Larry landed the canoe. I stepped out and pulled it further on land. Larry said that was good, walked to the front of the canoe and stepped out. Hank leaped out. We picked the canoe up and carried it to the truck and loaded it. We left Halfmoon landing, drove back along the prairie road, back to daily life.

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