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Evening at French Creek

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Paddling French Creek, I had a wildlife show unfolding all the time.

A little yellow-rumped warbler dawdled around on a black willow overhead, showing me its buttery badonkadonk. Also puttering around in the gallery forest: bay-breasted and magnolia warblers, white-eyed vireos, Carolina wrens, blue jays, flickers and robins.

I found a lovely painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) who seemed not to fear me at all

and a musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) who was so alarmed at my approach that he tipped off his basking perch on a dead tulip limb, landed on his back and scrabbled frantically over and into the water. See that pointy nose and rounded dome of a shell? That's a stinkpot. I like them. I'm sure that in Buck's book they're good for nothing (see below).

When I'd done the entire perimeter of the embayment, almost a three-hour paddle, I was about to turn for the boatlaunch when I saw some animals on the shore. The cutest little grulla pony with a smeared strip of a blaze came up to check me out. I don't think she'd seen a one-man canoe before, and the waving paddles intrigued her. She blew and stamped like a deer. The cow with the moon and stars on her flank was less intrigued, and turned her back on me.

Finally it was time to turn for home. There was a man fishing on the boat launch, and he moved his lines so I could cruise in. When I finally came close enough to see, his face broke into a smile. "Oh! A pretty woman!" he said. He grabbed the bow of my canoe and pulled me in so I wouldn't get my feet wet getting out. What a nice man. We talked for a bit and he said, "I like to come down here. It's peaceful. I lost my wife exactly four years and nine months ago today."

"Not that you're counting, huh?"


"I said, you're still counting, huh?"

"Yeah. You count for awhile."

His name was Buck and he quickly added that he felt lucky because he had two grown children and two grandchildren living nearby, and they were "the light of my life."

He seemed lonely and he knew a lot about this place so I decided to hang out with him for awhile. I learned from him that there are both soft-shelled (Good for nothing! Can't even eat 'em!) and hard-shelled (snapping) turtles in the embayment. That there are channel cats upward of 40 lb. here. Muskellunge too. He showed me a lure he'd had for 30 years, all beat up, almost broken, that's been his best muskie lure. I told him I'd hit three huge carp with the canoe in the shallowest part of the embayment, and they were big enough to rock the boat. Durn carp. I told him about the drake wood duck I'd heard stumbling through the leaves on a steep slope above the water. I figured he had been looking for acorns and beechnuts until I scared him into flight. I had thought I was hearing a turkey because it sounded like a biped, but it sounded too clumsy for a turkey, so I waited on it and darned if it wasn't a duck walking through the leaves!

Buck said he always brings an extra rod and reel in case someone comes down and feels like fishing for awhile with him. And there it lay, ready to go. I felt bad leaving him, he was interesting and sweet and I didn't even mind his cigarette smoke that much. He asked me why I was carrying my stuff and canoe way up to the car, why didn't I just back the car down the ramp and pick it up? I told him I don't like backing down a steep ramp when I can't see what's behind me and I don't mind carrying everything because it was only two trips and the canoe only weighs 28 pounds and could he tell me why a man always needs to tell a woman a better way to do things? At that he laughed and said "I guess we do, don't we?"

I told him I'd be back again, and that I'd be glad to see him, and I think he'll be glad to see me, too.
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