Thursday, September 08, 2005


My good friend and sometimes paddling and drinking partner, Gordon, sent me this. I made him share. Enjoy,


I went for a paddle yesterday evening. I haven't had a chance to take my new canoe out for much of a trip yet, but an hour or so was a fine start.
I went to the closest big lake, H. Neely Henry. It is pretty typical of our "Toehill" area manmade lakes, heavily forested hills all around, plenty of houses dotting the shore, and a few anglers in fast bass boats, chasing fast bass.
I carried my boat down to a convenient spot to put in, passing an angler on the shore as I did. He was friendly, just standing there watching a Heron stalk dinner. He ruefully pointed out that the bird was way more successful than he was at their mutual pastime. We both commented on how unusual it was for the Great Heron to allow people to be so close, especially me, with a big black boat on my shoulder, trying not to bang paddle, life jacket, and water bottle, but failing mostly. The bird just kept looking. There is a big rookery nearby, at least I see more of these big birds here than anywhere else that I paddle.

I took off, enjoying the glide, the cool air flowing over me as I tore across the water (not!) and the view. There was a little wind, enough to push up some six inch swells, and enough to make me modify my technique so as to hold a fairly straight course. I passed a couple of fishing boats, giving them a wide berth so as not to annoy. As I approached my intended turn around point, I saw a large flock of white birds about the size of pigeons. Probably twenty or so rather chunky birds, I guess some sort of gull, I couldn't identify 'em. But the flock was graceful, flying "nap of the earth," following the contours, dips and rises, all the while in close formation. As I turned in the boat to watch them fly away, I saw a fox, sleeping on a sunny rock on shore. The fox was only about eighty feet away, and seemed to notice me, but was not too concerned. It rearranged itself, tucked it's head under a paw, and appeared to doze off again. I went on down the lake for a while, to see a rock formation that sticks out into the water and looks like a good place to bring the kids for swimming, diving, and the all-important cooling that Alabama in the summer dictates. I don't know about Global Warming, but Alabama is already well above "warm."

I doubled back, and snuck up on the fox. For once it worked, the canoe allowing me to quietly glide up within twenty feet or so, straight out from the sleeping critter. It stretched, eyes slotted, and generally looked like it was struggling to wake up and get ready for the next "shift," hunting for the family.
The dog was bigger than any fox I've seen, red, with a huge tail. Its legs were so long, and the torso seems long too, so maybe it was a half breed, crossed with a coyote. The snout was fox-like, the tail was enormous, and all in all, it looked more foxy than dumpster doggy. But I'm no expert, just an interested observer. The animal finally noticed me, and took off. It's eyes were still squinched shut, and it looked pretty mangy. It may have been sick, distressed somehow, and that is probably the only way I was able to get so close. But it was a great sight, and reminded me of how cool paddling can be, even on a well populated lake. Even in sultry Alabama in the summer.

I continued back, seeing several more flocks of the heavy white birds, all heading for a cove near my intended take-out. I decided not to get too close, it would have been neat to see a really large number suddenly take to the air when I entered the flock's "personal space," but it was off course, and I was ready to get out. And I don't need to scare the birds, the bass boats probably do enough of that.
I returned to the put-in cove, and the angler was still there. I tried to be quiet as I clambered out, not an easy feat for a chubby old white guy. I thought about my impression of the heavy white birds I had seen, and had to laugh at myself. The angler put his finger to his lips, and pointed to a Barred Owl on a branch, only about fifty feet away. It was watching us calmly, and like the Heron, seemingly put up with my stumbling, clattering, louder-than-I-wished progress. I stopped by the fellow and watched the owl. I told him about the fox. We agreed there were lots of worse places to be at 7:00 in the evening. The owl flew closer to us, higher in a tree, but only about thirty feet away now. No sound.

I gotta get out more!


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