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Walking Halfmoon Lake

December 30, 2016

Larry and I pulled into the canoe landing parking space at Halfmoon around 8:50 am. Instead of walking out on to the ice at the landing, we went the opposite direction. Larry led us on a small trail through the trees. The snow was packed down and hard, the path seemed well traveled, probably more by animals than humans. We had to duck under tree branches. Hank wandered a little from the path, cataloging the various scents.

The trees halted, a small lake opened up before us. Larry and I have peered through those trees looking at waterfowl on this small lake, which was far more extensive then I’d realized. Looking left, in the distance, I could see the tree with the eagle nest in it that we’d observed on our last canoe outing. A wall or fence of vegetation stretched all the way across the water, now ice, so it reached from one island of trees to another cutting the water off from the “lake” we canoed in October, passing by the eagle nest and before it turned and we came upon the beaver lodge.

We stepped out on to the ice; despite its textured appearance it was smooth and extremely slippery. There were thin patches of snow here and there. I shuffled my feet, almost sliding to keep from slipping and falling down, which I almost did a couple of times. Hank ran ahead, having a blast. I trailed behind Larry, the gap between us growing wider as I took in the scenery. The lake was long but narrow. We were soon passing an island of trees on our left (probably part of the same one with the large beaver lodge, where we saw the mink). Really tall cattails stood between the trees and the ice. The brown seed heads were completely unraveled, golden fluffy cotton stuck on the top of the long stems. I picked up my pace to catch up with Larry, almost losing my balance in the process.

We continued to slip and slide across the ice. Trees rimmed the ice on all sides, it felt secluded; it was so peaceful. The island that had been ahead on the left was no longer ahead but on our left, as we walked along it. Near the edge was a thin spot in the ice with some open water. We walked around that spot. Larry had his walking stick and was tapping the ice as we walked. I didn’t realize there was so much water back there. It seemed like as we came upon the island and alongside it, we’d come on to another small lake. A beautiful tree and snow covered hill rose up ahead of us. The trees were now completely bare; their leaves had long since fallen.

The island on our left gave way. A large patch of aquatic vegetation took its place. I realized on the other side of the vegetation was where I’d seen the first mink, that I’d watch swim away. We’d turned ever so slightly to our left. I also realized the hill was the same one we’d climbed in October. Between forests of trees on the left and right, ahead (slightly to the left) were the great bluffs that surround the Mississippi River Valley. Taking in the closer scenery, I caught a glimpse of the boat I’d seen in October. We veered slightly more to the left, past the vegetation patch on our left and the peninsula of trees on our right. The boat was now directly in front of us with a small island between. I mentioned the boat to Larry. He said something about it being stranded there and left; and joked about a hurricane. So it was indeed randomly there. But that just added to my curiosity about it.

Larry was telling me fishing stories as we neared the small channel along the hill. He was fishing with some friends near that spot. They had a hut. Larry sat outside a few feet away. He wasn’t catching anything. However, his friends were having great luck. He looked under the ice around their hole and saw lots of fish going by but none where he had been fishing. He was just amazed that there could be such a difference in a distance of only a few feet.

At the mouth of the small channel, we left the ice to climb up the hill. Our feet crunched on the snow. Branches scratched against our coats, brambles tried tripping us and we had to duck to avoid hitting our heads on branches every now and then. I was pretty winded before we’d even made it three quarters of the way up. At the top, on the ridge we passed under oak trees and then the prairie stretched before us, rolling sand dunes. Cedars, pines and oaks were encroaching on the prairie. Again, Larry mentioned the importance of burning it with more frequency. We stayed along the fringes of the prairie. Under a cedar we saw a broken turtle shell, one half in many fragments. Larry said, “The map turtles are hit hard here [by predators]; we need to back the tree line up.” The prairie wasn’t as golden anymore but gray. I observed deer tracks as we walked along.

We walked by some fallen oak trees, Larry said, “This was probably caused by a disease. Looks like oak wilt.” We stepped over and around the mass of branches.

We didn’t linger long on the prairie. Soon we were making our way back down the hill. We stepped back on to the ice near a fallen tree, some of its branches under the ice. Near the branches we noticed mink tracks in the thin layer of snow. We walked out of the channel, toward the island between us and the boat, walking straight head. We walked to the left of the island, skirting a patch of open water. Hank, not exactly following our route, almost went swimming in the water but Larry firmly instructed him not to go in it. We continued around the island and were soon passing by the boat. How long had it been sitting there? What was the story behind it? As we walked behind it, several yards away, I noticed a no trespassing sign posted by it. The hill continued on and rose up in front of the boat. Nearly hidden in the trees were a couple of houses/cabins. Somewhere up there a dog barked loudly.

Another island laid ahead, the distant bluffs behind in the background. The water stretched around the island. On our left was a jut of tree covered land too. We followed along this and around it, turning left, making a u-turn. (We were going south, then east for a bit and then turned left again, back north/west.) Past some lovely aquatic vegetation – golden, tall, fluffy seed heads, beautiful. A patch of cattails, the brown seed heads still tightly intact. We walked on some snow and then were back on the ice, another small lake. Hank had found a stick; he wanted Larry to throw it. After some whining from Hank, Larry gave in and threw it. Watching Hank run at top speed across the slippery ice and stop before he passed the stick was quite amusing. Larry told me he had just learned to stop before the stick. Far across the ice, off to our right, I spotted a few muskrat lodges. Farther off to the right, the water stretched onward, covering a vast area, broken up here and there by large patches of vegetation and islands of trees. The blue bluffs loomed above it.

We had walked about to the middle of the lake where there was a small channel on our left, we turned left and up the channel (now going north). Trees were close on either side. I noticed straight line tracks cut in the ice, filled in with snow. I was curious what they were. Farther up the channel, Larry pointed them out, “Mouse tunnels. There’s a mouse.” Larry followed it. The tiny creature had disappeared into a mass of tangled plants before I could see it. We continued walking. Hank still had his stick. He ran a little ways ahead of Larry and dropped the stick, begging for it to be thrown. But Larry didn’t give in this time.

Shortly, we came to the end of the channel. A high bump of vegetation lay across it and then more ice. Directly ahead of us was the large beaver lodge, the one where we’d seen the mink. Its covering of snow made it look smaller than it had last fall. The cache of branches stretched out a ways from it, sticking up through the ice. To the left and behind it was the hill we’d climbed to the prairie.

We were no longer walking on ice but on snow as we turned to our right to follow along where we had canoed. A little ahead across the ice, on the bend, was the magnificent willow tree. One limb stretched over the ice not quite touching it. Again, I noticed mink tracks in the snow and pointed them out to Larry.

“Do you think it’s the same mink?” Larry asked.

“Maybe.”

“It is quite possible.”

Larry told me a story about bringing some people ice fishing, pulling a shack and crossing rotten ice – in water up to his waist. He put his arm around my shoulders and asked, “But we’ve never broken through the ice have we?” I replied that we hadn’t.

We stepped back on to the ice. We headed for the tree with the eagle nest. Larry wanted to get a better look at it. As we stood beneath it, Larry described how they build the nest (and add to it) – when they’ve been working on it there are a lot of sticks on the ground around the tree. But it hadn’t been worked on in awhile. Larry said soon though it might be. We crossed along the opening of another small side channel. An elegant snag stuck up out of the ice. A little blue diamond sign with two figures canoeing indicated the canoe trail. We were around the bend, opposite the channel from the lovely willow tree. Near the bank below it was an open patch of water.

Near the open water was the beaver bank lodge. The other beaver lodge was on our right; we walked a few feet away from it. We passed the cattails, veering to our left again as we neared the canoe landing. There was several people ice fishing near the landing. An hour after we set out, we were back in the truck heading back to Larry’s. As we drove away, he said, “Your assignment for next time is to decide where you’d like to go.”

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