The splash of canoe paddles lift and stroke the air as our guide expounds facts that float around me like duckweed. I am on a free paddle into the Great Swamp, an event that I attend for many years. I am filled with joy to be in such a Valhalla seeing birds, frogs, and turtles freely weaving through their busy lives. This year, a barred owl sleeps in a tree high above the river. I am amazed to be so close to its perch. I come to the Swamp as a guest, but the seed is planted – one day I will come back under my own power.
Finally, after many years, I do. This time, I’m free to explore! The only limit is my arm strength which I’ll admit is quite puny. I paddle and rest, paddle and rest. It’s all fine with me, after all, I’m finally a full-fledged Swamp Rat!
My first goal is to see all of the Great Swamp. I study maps, drive around on unfamiliar roads, and put into the Swamp wherever there is a hint of passage. I do sections at random as I balance on logs and practice my forward bends under fallen trees. I see great blue herons, king fishers, king birds, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, hawks, eagles, painted turtles, crayfish, ermine, mink, deer, fox, otter, and beaver. I see button bush, lizard tail, swamp marigold, flag, pickerelweed, ash, swamp maples, silver maples, alder, oaks, and gazillions of dragonflies and swallow tailed butterflies and that often adorned me and my kayak.
When the fall came around that year, I kept putting my kayak in the garage with the sad thought that this, this is my last paddle. Instead, I kept reloading it for my next, last paddle. Reluctantly, I put it away in November that year, thinking there must be some good reason that people don’t kayak in December. What foolishness!
Paddling in a gentle snowfall must be the quietest, most peaceful of all experiences watching as the world turns white, and the water moves sluggishly with the cold. I learned that ice was the enemy of the kayaker, but not always! An edge of ice was fine and can even treat you to astounding sights. Like the time I saw a silky mink dive through a hole in the ice, coming up with a floppy fish, a memory that frequently replays in my mind as I paddle past that very spot.
This is my twelfth summer paddling the Great Swamp as well as adding rivers and swamps in fourteen other states. I am now poised to begin a quest to kayak all fifty states – Kayak 50.
My partner, Peter and I will start and end our paddle in the Great Swamp – the birthplace of my love of kayaking. We are so excited to explore the many wild and breathtaking waters of the United States as well as take part in publicizing the need for their protection and preservation. We invite you to come along with us through our blog or join us – we’re bringing an extra kayak!