Tuesday, June 7, 2011

School time

I'm playing guide today in the marsh. S and I portage the canoe down the hill to the east end of the ancient portage. It is windy and before the class of 7th graders arrives, we head up north a 1/4 mile to the marsh wren nesting at number two island. It is stiff work coming back, so I change the route to avoid a long paddle into a stiff headwind with beginner paddlers.

We have ten canoes (mine is eleven), each with an adult and two kids. S. has to leave my canoe to substitute for a missing chaperone. The kids have paddled before, but not in a while. In calm weather it would be much easier, but the wind, in the upper teens, redirects them. There is a subtleness to paddling in wind and current that only comes with time, the catching of the canoe just as it goes awry, the little twist of the paddle that keeps the corrections minor and gentle. If you sense the motion at the first instant, it looks effortless. If you don't detect the yaw as it starts, you play catch up. The kids zigzag wildly, as they should in such difficult conditions. There's not much I can do except keep them out of trouble. A sense of control will come with time.

They are having fun.

We stop at a spot of beaver felled trees where I explain and point out that every piece of wood in sight has been gnawed off by beaver. I tell them that the trees have fallen into the water, stabilizing the bank and in time adding land. I point out that all of the branches from the downed trees have been dragged away to a safe spot where the beaver can eat the inner bark. Next we stop at the workbench lodge to discuss the colony. Even here, the wind blows us around. I find it a bit hard to control my own canoe in this breeze.

Herons stand and let us come pretty close today. They are plentiful and busy walking and hunting in the shallows.

We stop for lunch at the west end of the burial island channel. A large tree has fallen across the channel and blocks passage, which turns out to be okay as it is time to return after the break. By foot, I take a few parties over to the bank to show them the territorial scent mounds that the beaver make, explaining that there is a big powerful lodge a quarter mile east that enforces its boundaries. A northern flicker drills away at the big dead snag in the south lagoon.

As we head back, I hear, "help!" I turn and after a second or two figure out that the last canoe must be about half full of water. It is. I join another canoe and we stabilize it while the passenger in the middle bails and bails and bails with my bailing scoop ( a bottomless bleach bottle). They're wet, but not too wet.

The rest of the trip back is uneventful. They are beginning to get it.

I take no photos. There was never a moment.

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