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Quiet Water
by Duane Behrens

It was almost time to put it all away for the season.  But on this relatively balmy morning in mid-October, we managed to get the canoe out for one last day trip. 


The previous month I'd put together a small, four-by-eight-foot brush trailer as a tool to help in clearing the front woods.  Today, the same trailer would perform reasonably well as a canoe caddy.  The rack is more than sturdy enough to support that heavy old Grumman - and loading a canoe onto a four-foot high trailer rack is much easier than wrestling it onto the top of the pickup/camper shell as we used to do.  Ahhhhh!  Recreation is much more fun when it's easy.  Jane swears much less these days, she comes out with us more often, and I think her cooking has improved.

Today, it was my son-in-law Eric and O.C. (my own eleven-year old son) who were eager for a final chance to put a line in the water, and we had the canoe lashed down to the trailer in minutes. 

Part of the fun in living here is observing the myriad of ways in which canoes can be attached to trailers, pickups, cars, horses, and maybe big dogs.  In our case, a red flag tied on the back makes us legal - if a bit odd in appearance - with almost six feet of canoe extending past the rear trailer gate.  It's probably not a rig you'd want to haul to California and back, but it's absolutely fine for getting to any launch point on the Farm Lakes.

Today, we chose Low Lake, north of Bass.  I hadn't been there since June, when friends introduced us to its vertical cliffs and scenic beauty.  We'd been lucky on that summer day; a road grader had recently passed through, making the miles-long journey smooth and enjoyable.  Today was different.  Today, our road speed was often less than 10mph as we skirted deep potholes and battled the "washboards" that had formed after recent rains.  But never mind...understood the reason for this lack of maintenance when we arrived at the launch.  We were the only ones there.

Eric and I unloaded the canoe, threw in fishing gear and lunch, while O.C. conveniently disappeared, playing along a nearby creek bed.  Surveying the loaded canoe, I realized what an inexpensive hobby this can be.  We were about to embark on a morning of fun - on a sturdy, lakeworthy craft costing less than $400 and still looking and performing like a brand new model.  Oh, sure. We'll own a new Souris River some day.  I can't wait, and I know I'll enjoy it immensely.  But in the meantime, paddling an old Grumman is like playing racquetball with a gas can.  A little heavy, a little noisy - but still heaps of fun.

And today. . . today would be rather special.  I've been on the water a hundred times at dozens of locations, but have never experienced the water like this.  It was absolutely, completely, unchangingly calm; a glassy mirrored surface that stretched to the horizon in a stunning reflection of  tree-lined cliffs, cotton candy clouds and an achingly blue sky.   

As we moved south, conversation ceased involuntarily, and from the pilot seat in the rear I could see both young men concentrating on inserting and extracting their paddles as quietly as possible.   There is an illusion of solidity to perfectly calm water.  Today, it seemed as if you could step off the canoe and walk to shore.  Finally, O.C. looked around and said quietly, "Dad.  This is WEIRD."

"I know," I replied.  "Do you like it?"  He looked up at a deer observing us from the cliffs on the right, and a pair of mergansers sharing a meal to our left.  "Well,, DUH..."   I smiled - he and I often have such deep and meaningful conversations.  We had the lake to ourselves this day.  The rest of the 20-minute cruise to the south shore was spent in comfortable silence on this eerily calm, beautiful, liquid highway.

As feared, the fishing was far less productive today than in June, often forcing us to imagine that a snagged rock or water grass might have been a nibble.  No matter.  A beaver moved across the water in front of us, the popple and birch were splendid in their fall dresses, and the baloney sandwiches were some of the best I've ever had.

We made a short hike along the sand bar to say a quick hello to Bass Lake (which I'd previously always reached from the south via Bass Lake trail), and then headed back.  Despite the lack of fish, the boys were celebrating on the return trip by rowing in unison -and rowing for speed.

 Mark my words - 3 strong paddlers, rowing in unison and moving in a straight line on a quiet lake, will cause a canoe to actually lift slightly with each stroke, providing a unique sensation of speed that is unmatched in the motoring world, and I'm beginning to understand the concept of team rowing.

"How was the fishing?" Jane asked as we pulled into the driveway.  "Horrible!" both boys responded in unison.  "Well, then, why the smiles?" she asked.  O.C. shrugged.  "I don't know," he replied.  "I mean, it's like...well, DUH..."

Okay, okay.  We'll work on that. 


About the Author

Duane Behrens grew up in a small village in southern Minnesota. When he's not mowing the lawn or shoveling snow in Ely, he owns and manages an environmental testing firm in Southern California. He and his wife Jane, an English citizen, divide their time between their two homes along with their eleven year old son, "O.C." and, of course, Muttley.

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