Story and Photos by Carolyn Rand.
We all met at Shoney’s for our usual before paddle buffet breakfast and then headed for the river. It rained on the way there, but by the time we left the restaurant, it had cleared out, and by the time we unloaded all the boats and gear at the put-in, it was already warm enough to shed the fleece and put on the sunscreen and t-shirts.
The water was higher than usual and there was evidence of a major release of water recently. The put-in and all the banks up and down the river were washed spotlessly clean for about 5 feet up the banks. That meant that it could either clear out a lot of downed trees that we usually have to paddle through, or it could have dumped a lot more to deal with. Luckily for us it had cleared out a lot of strainers that I had remembered on past trips.
The water was moving at a nice rate, so we made good time getting to the campsite. Usually there is a grassy area where we come on shore at Goat Island, but because of the previous high water, it was all washed clean. This was the first time it actually looked like a sand and rock bar to me. We unloaded all of our gear and started setting up camp on the island. I was amazed at how much room there is there. Usually the trip is in September and it is quite grown up at that time. Ben had brought his swing blade, but we didn’t have to use it. We spread out our tents, and had plenty of room for all of our “stuff” with the whole island so clear and clean.
After setting up my tent, I took a little dip in the crystal clear water to cool off. I quickly remembered that the river is dam fed and quite chilly. It felt good though. By the time I got up to the bonfire area, Dave Leigh had collected a huge pile of wood that was almost as tall as I was. Both morning and evening, we had a nice big campfire. Forget the old Indian saying… we snuggled up to the big fire and it felt really good once the sun went down. It didn’t take long before the temperature started dropping and we hung out at the fire side till late into the night.
We were graced by the presence of Lilly, Kyle Simpson’s 6 year old daughter. She kept us entertained most of the trip with her inquisitiveness and desire to explore and learn. Kyle is the person in charge of the Audubon Society’s sites, such as Audubon Acers and Maclellan Island. He’s been in charge there for a couple of years now, and It is obvious that he has done a wonderful job of taking Lilly into the outdoors and on rivers. He has taught her well to enjoy nature. This was her first overnighter trip, and she was a trouper. Even when it got to 38 degrees that night, she was up running around the campfire, long before I ever got up “playing with fire” LOL. But well chaperoned. It was a pleasure to not once hear her say she wanted a cell phone or that she was bored and wanted to go home. She loved every minute of the trip and we enjoyed having her.
The next day it was even warmer than the first, as the front had cleared out any remaining clouds. The sun was bright and the sky was a beautiful blue the whole day. That must have been the alarm clock that the animals on the river needed because they all came out to play. I asked Kyle to send me the names of all the birds and animals we saw because he is up on all that. Kyle said, “We saw dozens of muskrat and turtles, at least one beaver, a raccoon, a family of turkeys that flew down the river in front of us, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks, Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, and we heard Barred Owls at night. There was also a Gray Catbird at the put-in. That’s exciting because they’re migrating songbirds who are only just arriving from South America.” And last but not least, there was the biggest brown squirrel that I have ever seen. At first, I thought he was another muskrat whose body was well over a foot long and fat as could be, but then I saw his tail which was at least a foot and a half long. I was amazed. (And this is no fishing story.) I think the most amazing thing I saw though was a muskrat surface right in front of my boat and lye on his back in the water and just stare at me for an amazingly long time. Finally, the boat came too close for his comfort, and he dove down to safety, but he definitely was not very afraid of me. I wish I had had a camera out at the time. He just kept looking at me as if to say, “OK lady, I gave you plenty of time to take my picture, and now I’m out of here.” Where are all of my photo taking friends when I need them.
I got to visit with Carla Knight as we drifted down the river, and I am disappointed to learn that she will be moving to Washington State soon. If we get the permits for the Snake River in Montana this summer that Andrew has applied for, she promised to meet us there.
The take-out came way too soon. I really enjoyed the Elk River at this time of year, and I hope to put it on the schedule at about the same time next year.