It’s spring in Wisconsin and as is typical this time of year, we’re all complaining about the weather. Me too. Not because I think spring is late or that winter is clinging on too long. I know it’s not. In fact, it’s a pretty average Wisconsin spring. No, I can happily complain about an average Wisconsin spring, just because it feels like I’ve waited forever to get back outside in my kayak. So yesterday, it really didn’t matter that the rain was coming down in mats or that the air temperature was clinging somewhere just above freezing. I’d found some open water and I was going kayaking…. dammit!
After spending the last few weeks plying the rectangle sea of the local indoor pool, it was nice to break free of those boundaries. The spring thaw and recent heavy rains had a little creek just west of us also happily slipping free of its boundaries as well. An old mill pond on a tiny stream called, “Seeley” had pushed far beyond its standard course. What is normally a smallish lake at the tail of a mucky, fetid swamp with a small stream running through it, had now expanded into a good sized body of water. The rain and melt had the old dam roaring and brought the muddy banks right up to the parking lot. Which by the way, made for an easy launch.
It’s worth a mention here that April is the silly season for many kayakers. In a rush to get out on the water we often forget the real risk we’re taking out there, especially on those blue-sky days under the warm spring sun. This time of year, when the water temperature is near freezing on any day, it’s a good idea to wear a drysuit or at the very least a wetsuit regardless of air temperature. Of course, we were slipping out into the freshly thawed water under a cold rain with a bracing north wind.. we had on our drysuits!
What is truly wonderful this time of year (And in this kind of weather!), is that you often have the world all to yourself. (What sort of fool would be out paddling in these conditions anyway? ) The lakes and rivers are quiet except for the sounds of the water, the wind and the wildlife.
As we paddled out into the swollen lake, we were surrounded by flying critters of every size and every sort. Along the way, my nature-nerdy companion pointed to and named the various birds that buzzed around our kayaks. There were Loons keeping distance off our bows, Canada Geese, Kingfishers, Buffleheads & Common Mergansers. There were a few that would stay just far enough away to make themselves hard to identify. We found Sandhills cranes walking through islands of muck and even a pair of Mute Swans. We’re not supposed to love Mute Swans of course, they are invasive here in Wisconsin and tend to push out our native Trumpeters. Still, coming across swans in your kayak, any swan, is an amazing sight! We were thrilled by the loud sound created by the Mute Swan’s wings as they took flight when we approached. It is said that you can hear the sound of a Mute Swan’s wing beats up to a mile away!
We also snuck up on some unsuspecting muskrats who were working on their homes and scrounging for food among the yellow mix of mud, tall grass and last season’s cattails. We were able to get quite close before they realized that humans had arrived. It’s no surprise that we were the last thing they expected to see on this cold rainy day. On spying us, they would scamper into the water and disappear below the wavy surface.
We couldn’t stay out for long. After all, we hadn’t planned on paddling at all. It was just our desperation to get back into the kayaks and the fact that I’d discovered some open water earlier in the day, that had forced the issue. Soon we had to turn back into the stiff wind and head back to shore. With frozen faces and numb fingers we loaded the kayaks back onto the jeep and took off for home. We had barely enough time to feed the dogs and thaw out before we were on our way again. After all, we had a fencing class to attend to…