I would dress softly so as not to wake the others, and sneak out into the sweet outdoors and start out in the canoe, keeping close along the shore in the long shadows of the pines. I remembered being very careful never to rub my paddle against the gunwale for fear of disturbing the stillness of the cathedral. —E. B. White, Once More to the Lake
The final morning after breakfast I took the canoe out.
The wind was up. It took some purchase with each paddle stroke to propel it halfway to the far shore. More than once, despite my efforts, the wind took the bow. Finally, I decided to head up into it, cutting directly through the small waves that slapped against the boat.
Earlier that morning as I stood on the dock watching the mist roll off the smooth surface of the water, a beaver swam by, carrying a small fresh sapling in its mouth, ripples from its nose forming a V-shaped wake. Now the heavy waves on the open water obliterated the canoe’s wake immediately after each paddle stroke.
Eventually, with considerable effort, I approached a small cove on the northwestern shore, where I rested in the break afforded by the pines. I paddled past the Lake Labelle portage to the beaver dam, then turned and headed back down the lake.
A big hawk circled above one of the small islands in the center before disappearing over the tops of the pines. I looked up to find a cache of sticks near the top of a dead tree on the northern point. I estimated the nest to be two and a half feet in diameter.
I let the wind take the canoe, using the blade of the paddle as a rudder to navigate along the far shore. Here quartzite cliffs, perhaps 80 feet high, bounded the eastern shore. The morning sun reflecting off the water shot dancing bands of light up the face of the grey colored rock, like scores of luminous gulls flying in formation.
One section of these massive giants had broken off, leaving a narrow channel of water between it and the cliff. I maneuvered the canoe into it and threaded the needle into a quiet cove on the other side.
Shortly, I touched the dock. Out in the center of the lake a lone loon taunted me with his morning cry. A gull dropped down to rest on the rocky outcrop directly off the dock.
I drew in a deep breath of morning air and surveyed the panorama one last time.
Big Clear Lake will always be one, but never the same.