I’ve seen more wildlife while paddling than I ever have on foot.
Last evening, I paddled over two-foot waves against the wind on West Branch’s west end toward my dad’s old “fishing hole.” The water was rough, and as the waves splashed up over the hull and onto me, I smiled, already feeling the stress of the corporate day dissipate. The sun settled close to the horizon, and I cast out, watching the “rooster tail” fly land with a “plop” in the dark water. It was quiet except for the sound of songbirds and the occasional fish jumping from the water.
It was then I noticed a small, dark head bobbing along the surface of the water within five feet of my boat. Silently, the beaver paddled along, leaving a small wake behind her. Her dark eyes focused on her den and her thick brown coat clung to her skin. Suddenly, she disappeared under the water with a small splash. I paddled silently over to the den where I heard the muffled whines of her pups. Quieted, then, by their mother’s appearance in the den, my attention was drawn to the Great Blue Heron sitting hunched on a felled tree. He watched me in the hushed evening, and I realized how many eyes were on me.
A family of ducks emerged; then a raccoon waddled along the shoreline with two youngsters following. I paddled closer, trying to be as quiet as possible, but their eyes followed me nervously before they all shuffled off into the brush. I saw, then, the skull of a doe just on the shoreline. The pointed nostrils and hollow eye sockets were bleached gray from the sun; I wondered how long it had been there and what caused the doe’s demise.
The one night I didn’t bring my camera!
As the sun sunk into the west, it smeared a pink and orange glow over the sky. Steam rose from the water - the same water that two hours previously had been churning and choppy now shone like glass, lulled, too, from the gorgeous sunset. The rudder of my boat cut cleanly through the water, and I looked back, watching the small ripples wave behind me. I paddled slowly now, not wanting to leave and end this bliss. I thought about the power of water, how something so liquid and simple - three simple molecules of two simple substances - can hold up ships, erode mountains into sand, give life.
I am a fan of water in all its forms and am most at home when I’m out in it. Whether floating in the easy summertime of a July evening or gliding through the tundra of an Upper Peninsula winter, I’ll take water anyway, anyway.