August 23, 2007
The sky was cloudy, and the streets in the neighborhood quiet. A light rain was falling as we lifted the canoe into the creek and picked up our paddles. I'd driven to Gorgeous Town to spend the morning with Chip, a blogging friend who is more like a real life friend because he hardly ever blogs any more.
First we did what Chip called the urban part of the tour. As we paddled through water speckled with raindrops, we glimpsed parts of the town most people don't usually get to see. We passed marinas where boats huddled under rain covers, a university boathouse with bright red doors, restaurants with big windows that faced us, and the picnic tables of a state park. The docks and pavilions of the Farmer's Market were empty on this rainy day, but I could imagine what they must look like on a sunny Saturday morning, filled with local farmers and merchants and townspeople, with stands filled with apples, sweet corn, tomatoes, and big heads of leafy lettuce. We glided under bridges of all types: narrow pedestrian bridges, wider bridges humming with automobile traffic, sturdy train bridges, high bridges decorated with graffiti, and old rusted bridges clearly not in use any more.
During the second part of our tour, we paddled through creeks lined with big willow trees, clumps of ferns, and yellow wildflowers. We talked as we paddled, about our summer vacations, about our kids, about our plans for the year. An egret flew just ahead of us, flapping wings lazily. We wound around a narrow strip of land to enter the lake, following a breakwater covered with gulls. From the lake, we could look up into the hills above town. I could see the towers of the university and the highway that I'd driven in on.
In the last creek we explored, I could hear the roar of a waterfalls ahead. We'd come to the place where Chip had planned for us to take the canoe out, but the sound of rushing water was tempting, calling us to go farther. The creek was getting too shallow for the canoe, so I jumped out and started pulling it along. Chip hesitated, but soon realized that he had no choice but to join me. We pulled the canoe upstream, stumbling over rocks as we went.
In one clear spot, I almost stepped on some kind of creature that seemed to be just hanging out on the bottom: it was over a foot long, shaped like an eel, with a tail that fluttered in the moving water. Because it was the colour of rust, I'd mistaken it for a pipe of some sort.
"Hey, look at this," I said to Chip. I am used to being with wildlife biology students, who would pick such an eel up and identify it for me. He glanced at the creature, which I was now nudging with the wooden paddle. "Don't push it towards me."
We kept walking through water that was now rushing toward us, churning and white, with Chip pulling the canoe and me helping ineffectually because I had my camera in one hand. It was just like whitewater canoeing. Well, except that we weren't in the canoe and we were going upstream.
Ahead, the creek widened to an area of flat stones, paths, and a dramatic waterfall. The tall cliffs rose up on either side, and the sound of the churning water drowned any noise from the road I knew was nearby. I could just imagine kids jumping into the pools of water and scrambling about on the rocks on a hot summer day. A man and his very young son had walked down from the road and were standing near the edge of the water. I beckoned to the little boy and showed him how to find crayfish in still pools of water. I can remember how my own kids used to spend hours catching crayfish in a creek back at home.
The rain had stopped by the time we put the canoe on wheels and walked the couple of blocks back to Chip's house. "You're all wet," his son observed as we came into the house. After a hot summer, it felt good to be cold and shivering. I put on my dry fleece, and we retreated to a vegetarian restaurant in town where the hot lentil soup tasted great.
Posted by jo(e)