July 14, 2007
In the marsh
Paddling a canoe through a marsh means gliding over floating mats of weeds and through masses of green lily pads. The white water lilies will disappear under the canoe and then pop up again, unharmed. If I peer into the water, I see mostly dark brown – layers and layers of decayed organic material. If I stop paddling and drift along, I can hear the call of the osprey, the indignant chirping of the red-wing blackbird, and the plopping splash of a turtle dropping from a sunny clump of cattails into the water, disappearing at my approach. We have some snapping turtles, but mostly they are painted turtles, the dark turtles that have bits of red and yellow on their heads, as if they'd been painting a mural of wildflowers and dripped bits of paint onto themselves.
When I stick my paddle down to see how deep the water is, the wooden tip stirs all kinds of muck to the surface, that rich marsh smell. We have common water snakes in the marsh, who swim along the surface but hide under the murky water when they don't want to be seen. They are harmless – well, to humans, at least. I've sat on the dock and watched a water snake eat a small frog, striking quick to grab it and then pulling it inside its own body in an awkward gulping motion that always reminds me of a teenage boy learning how to dance. It's only when they are eating that I've glimpsed that moment of awkwardness; mostly the snakes are graceful as they swim, that long body curling and uncurling, slipping through reflections of sky.
Sometimes in the evening, I'll see a beaver or a muskrat, especially if I paddle near the fork in the creek where the beaver lodge is. These kind of creatures make swimming look so fun and easy as they dive under and disappear into the mucky water. Great blue herons build nests at the edge of the marsh; with their long legs and big wings, they look like they've flown out of a Steven Spielberg movie. Yes, this marsh has great special effects.
When I get near our dock, Blond Dog will swim out eagerly to greet me. Almost always, I can find creatures of the human sort hanging out near the dock. My father is often in his boat, making little changes to the rigging, bailing out a little water, or just relaxing. Family members come to the end of dock to wash their hair. My mother will bring her chair down to sit at the edge and read a book. When Urban Sophisticate, who is often training for a marathon, returns from a long run along sunny country roads, her tradition is to leap right into the water, splashing in amongst the water lilies and weeds until she's cooled off.
Posted by jo(e)