December 1, 2017
The morning was a little colder than we had anticipated the other day when we made our plans to get the canoe out this morning. However, it was forecasted to be a nice day. I was excited we were going to canoe on December first. I can’t remember what the temperature was when we set out but I think it was twenty eight degrees with the promise it would warm to almost forty degrees today. I waited until I arrived at Larry’s to add my layers. As I pulled my coveralls on, Larry laughingly asked, “Will you be able to move?”
“Yeah, I can still move but it will take more effort.” We headed out. Larry drove slowly along Highway 84, observing the marsh areas and the rolling prairie. I took in the landscape as we drove to Halfmoon Landing. Larry backed the truck up close to the narrow foot path leading to the water. I helped him unload the canoe and then patiently waited while he moved the truck. Hank explored with his nose to the ground traveling at a fast pace, zigzagging here and there. We carried the canoe to the water and set it in. A thin layer of ice topped the water.
“I thought this would be more open,” commented Larry. “We’ll just have to push through.”
I didn’t mind the ice at all. I found it thrilling that we’d be canoeing through ice; a whole new experience for me. I was excited for the adventure. I stepped into the canoe first. Then Hank leaped in, rocking it in the process. Last, Larry stepped in. He didn’t even bother handing me the other paddle. Expertly he pushed the canoe forward. A loud screeching noise echoed around the channel as the canoe collided with the ice and then pressed into it, not quite as cringingly as nails on a chalkboard but close to that pitch. The ice cracked with a loud but dull sound. With that kind of noise I’m not sure we had any hope of seeing an aquatic mammal. The ice broke into rectangular tile pieces. Sitting in the bow, I could feel the canoe breaking the ice. I don’t know which adjective to use to describe the way I felt – thrilled, elated, child-like glee. There’s just something about taking a canoe through ice that makes it adventurous and therefore awe-inspiring. Of course there is an element of danger in taking a canoe through ice – but not here, today. This ice was thin, broke easily and the current was slow – and Larry knew what he was doing. There was no danger for us.
Being December, the landscape was subdued; various shades of gray and brown, with a brush of white from the morning frost and a bit of blue sky reflecting in the water, but not brilliant blue because of mostly cloudy skies. The ice gave way to open water near the large beaver lodge situated on a side channel flowing to the Mississippi River. Now that we were in open, ice free water the canoe glided easily and quietly along. On the edges of the open channel reflections of trees were broken by spider web cracks in the ice. There was some gold left in the long grasses on the bank. The now naked trees, the fading grass, and lack of bird song lent to the appearance of barrenness. And yet there was beauty in the starkness. The dusting of frost highlighted the beauty. I said a silent hello to the willow tree that touches my heart like a dear friend. It glowed in the little bit of sunshine glimmering through the clouds. The snags mostly immersed in the water were another source of beauty and delight. I took in the many beaver scent mounds on the opposite bank, I could see at least ten. Seeing all those scent mounds thrilled me for it indicated the presence of resident beavers. Perhaps if I sat long enough under the willow I would see one of these industrious locals. Four gulls flew overhead, high up in the sky. We passed near the tree with the eagle’s nest as we went around the bend.
The even larger beaver lodge loomed up ahead of us. Oak trees on the hill beyond, still held on to their russet leaves. In this part of the channel there wasn’t any ice on the water at all. The beauty of Halfmoon, the seclusion, and floating on the water was so relaxing and refreshing. I cherished this outing, knowing that it would be a few months before we’d take the canoe out again. I took in the loveliness of the snags in the water, each having a different character, though their branches all seemed to remind me of bones. Three branches on one snag were thin and curved just a little, reaching upwards like the bones of fingers, from a hand reaching out of the water perhaps trying to grasp something, anything on the shore. Another was a fallen antler. The golden cattails curving at the top, tipped with dark brown, in thickets, added contrast and texture to the painting, touched with frost – yes, there’s beauty here.
We drew nearer and nearer to the grand beaver lodge. I scanned it as we approached, as silently as a canoe can, searching ever hopeful for a sight of a beaver. But alas, there wasn’t an animal to be seen on or near the lodge. I marveled at the size of the wood cache, which was the best way to tell this lodge is occupied. Larry was also awed by the size of the wood cache.
“That’s a big wood cache,” I marveled.
“Yeah. I’ve never seen one so big. Makes you wonder if the beaver know something about the severity of the coming winter that we don’t,” replied Larry. (Note: as it turned out the winter of 2017 – 2018 was especially long.)
We could clearly see fresh cuts on the ends of the branches in the pile. The cache extended into the channel many yards, almost blocking it. It looked almost like a dam but it wasn’t tightly woven together and packed with mud. It was quite impressive. Larry steered the canoe around the end of it. Just beyond the cache, Larry said, “Kingfisher over there on the right.” It only took me a moment to spot the bird perched atop a snag in the water. White breast toward us, cape tied across his neck, blue grey head turned away. A kingfisher is not a large bird by any means but nor is it small; bigger than a pigeon but smaller than a duck. I watched the kingfisher as we drew closer and closer until suddenly it decided we had come too close, and with great speed it took off, disappearing.
Halfmoon Lake is an odd shape with turns and many outlets; it’s hard to keep track of when we turned. Looking at a map doesn’t help because the map doesn’t show all of the wet areas. We went around the point with the willow, turning right, then the channel curved ever so slightly that when we came upon the beaver lodge we had turned to the left, but with the shape of the channel it was as if we hadn’t turned at all. I could see the top of the stranded boat ahead and a little to the left. We passed a canoe trail sign.
October 11, 2017
With the passing of about two and a half months, Larry and I decided it was time to get out in the canoe together. We had every intention to canoe in August and September but those two months expired quickly and without us paying much attention; being farmers/gardeners with time sensitive tasks, time has a way of slipping by without our noticing until it’s already past. So with very little wind and a break in the rain we headed out this morning. We pulled off Highway 84, alongside the bridge to explore our usual spot of McCarthy and Schmoker’s. The sky was heavily overcast and there was a bit of a chill in the air. I didn’t actually look at the temperature but it probably was around 40 degrees. Before we left Larry’s he said it wasn’t too cold, I mentioned I thought about wearing my insulated boots but he said I wouldn’t need them, I should be just fine. However, it didn’t take very long before I was quite cold, my nose became runny and I wore gloves even while taking photos. As usual we took Hank, the black lab, with us. It was around 8:00 am when we put in. Usually Larry gives me a paddle in case we’d both need to paddle but this time he didn’t. Larry guided the canoe around, back under the bridge we went, heading up McCarthy. While we were still in the truck, Larry said the Mississippi was full enough again it is backing up, raising the water level after last week’s rain. He also told me he went wild ricing on McCarthy with a buddy just for fun – it was a lot of work but they harvested a lot.
There’s a lot of wild rice growing in McCarthy Lake now. It amazes me how filled in it gets. What was open water all the way out to the island in May is now mostly wild rice. There’s only a small pool of open water near the bridge. Larry had to steer the canoe in a very small channel of water that wound through the wild rice. A lot of the rice had fallen down, lying prostrate. There was no green left in the plants – all completely golden brown. Thoughts were far from me, my brain seemed to be temporarily disconnected – I was in full relaxation mood. For the most part we went along in silence. We were somewhat following the route we took in May – but had no choice in where to go because we had to go where the water was. I absentmindedly held wild rice plants away from my face as we slid past them, trying to keep from being slapped in the face. One of the trees on the island was robed in yellow orange leaves. It seemed so still, quiet, I thought.
“It’s quiet, peaceful.”
“No birds. There aren’t any ducks,” he explained. It hadn’t even sunk in that we hadn’t seen or disturbed any ducks so far in until Larry pointed out their absence. Of course, the silence was from the lack of birds. Larry said there haven’t been very many ducks in here this fall. There should have been lots migrating through.
“Why aren’t there ducks?” I asked. He didn’t know the reason. Now that I realized they weren’t here, I felt their absence and was saddened by it. Larry continued to paddle the canoe through the tangle of wild rice plants. Finally, we came to more open water where we came upon the huge lily patch. The lily leaves were now shriveled and beginning to decay. We spotted Canada geese but that was it. We hardly even saw any red wing black birds; I maybe saw one or two.
Larry took the canoe to the far side of the lily patch. He paused, thinking about whether or not we should try to go further – the vegetation was extremely thick ahead. He stood up to get a better view – looking for water. He decided there wasn’t enough water to try to keep going forward. (We’d said at the beginning we’d only go as far up as we could, not wanting to get stuck.) So Larry sat back down and turned the canoe around, a somewhat clumsy action with just one person paddling. We went back across the lily patch but rather going back down the channel we came up on, Larry steered the canoe southwestward to the other channel which took us on the other side of the island. This channel was quite narrow too, also filled in with rice. I could glimpse the top of the bridge in the distance. Some trees were completely naked. One had a few red orange leaves left. There were a few green cattails left. The channel widened a little bit, in most places it was wider than the other channel. We went around the bend and continued under the bridge. Schmoker’s also had a different shape to it than this spring but was less filled in than McCarthy. The trees on either side were stunning in their autumn dress. A few had yellow leaves which contrasted attractively from the dark bark of the trees. We passed the willow tree and went down the channel until it began to turn left. Then Larry turned for me to photograph the duck hunter cabins on the east bank because he liked the look of them reflecting in the water. I was sad that the canoe outing was at an end, I would have liked to keep going down Schmoker’s channel. I hoped we’d get out yet again this autumn.