OK, I could have, should have perhaps, gone farther today, but look at the experiences I wouldn’t have experienced. Chase Rapids is fast approaching and must be run in the morning between 8 and noon, the hours that water is released from Churchill Dam to create a five-mile run of Class I and II whitewater. Instead of trying to make it that far, I set up camp by late morning just short of Heron Lake and Churchill Dam, poised to be first in line tomorrow.
The morning began well. Rounding Priestly Point, the urgent call of a loon greeted me, then echoed back with intensity and precision from the darkly wooded shore. Again and again the male called with gusto, his mate nearby. Always the answering voice quickly responded. I was so enjoying the wing stretching, the closeness, the echoes, that I didn’t give thought to the why of the scene. Until I spotted a small dot near the mother – a chick, of course. I angled away to leave the little family in peace, the calls and their echoes immediately fading into memory.
After my loons, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker, and Moose #4, I arrived in camp and was all settled in well before noon. I love looking at maps…today I just stared for a while at Map #12 as it dried, seeing how one body of water flowed into another and trying out the Abenaki names.
By mid-afternoon, I’d had my fill of reading, snacks, and gathering firewood, and decided to paddle over to the Churchill Depot History Center at Churchill Dam. Leaving a note for my Vermont friends welcoming them to camp with me, I spent a full hour at the museum reading about Paleoindians, examining artifacts, and trying to imagine the historic photos bringing life and people to the places that are now so wild. On the way home, paddling in the lee of the west shore, I spotted a cascade of water. A bull moose, just raising his antlers, still in velvet. The reward of Moose #5 for not lazing around camp!
My inner self is relaxing. There are so many layers of civilization and responsibility to peel away, to quiet the mind. I rose willingly and ventured forth into a day of clouds and sun, clouds and sun. Just me beneath the ever-changing sky, able to cross the tranquil waters on a straight course, a gift for rising early. To me, Lock Dam is the logical portage, just a quick carry over the hump of the dam, although I paused and actually got out my stove to make a second breakfast of potato soup with bacon, my tent drying while the sun was out.
The rushing stream into Martin’s Cove is a manageable and picturesque half mile of fun and the entrance into Eagle Lake. I paddled along by Pillsbury Island, where Thoreau once camped, under a steel-gray cloud, hopefully watching the sun shine on distant Farm Island. Well, the cloud won this time. The skies opened, with gusty winds, an instant drop in temperature and a crazy pummeling of rain on all the world. Committed at that point to bathing suit and shorts, it was a little late for a rain jacket. I simply kept my speed up, burning calories and racing toward that distant sun, still there. As the squall passed, I watched the sun move along the shore, rippling toward me tree by tree, until we met, all my bare skin instantly warming. Heavenly!