An autumn afternoon paddle

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You could tell that the level of the river had dropped appreciably by looking at the bank opposite the big bend; even the beaver dam at the entrance to Pickerel Cove appeared higher than it had been the previous day. It was too high to force the canoe over the top, and the mud flats were too soft to portage. We headed upstream instead, digging deep with our paddles as the boat slid silently through the clear water.

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The overcast skies had melted away by noon, leaving a few puffy cumulus clouds pasted on the backdrop of blue. The trees were beginning to turn their autumn colors, and you could see them reflected in the surface of the water against the blue sky.

“This is where I fish,” my friend said, pointing to the tangled limbs on downed tree trunks lying in the water close to the bank. “Lots of bass down deep, smallmouth mostly.”

Up ahead a phoebe bobbed her tail, perched on a scoured fallen limb. As we swung into the cove, a great blue heron rose up from the shallows and took flight. A cormorant dove repeatedly through the duckweed and brought up a fish in its gullet. Off to the right a wood duck drummed its wings into the forest.

“You would think this place would be loaded with fish,” my friend said. “They do take a good many yellow perch from here through the ice in winter.”

We turned around at the far end of the cove, retraced our course back to the main channel and proceeded to paddle upstream past the park to the new bridge and the state game lands beyond.

“Look, another cormorant — off to the left!”

The large brown bird stood pigeon-toed, it’s wide webbed feet touching slightly as it careened its long neck to stare at us out of its left eye. You could see the hook at the end of its serrated beak. Silently, it watched as we drifted nearer. Then it lifted its wings and ran across the surface of the water to take flight.

We resumed our paddle, sliding into a long, deep pool littered with autumn leaves. Silhouettes of big fish hovered against the rippled sandy bars near the bottom.

“My buddy used to fish this stretch years ago,” my friend said. “He called it the horseshoe. By the looks of it, it’s a good spot. I’ll have to try to get back here before the season closes out.”

I looked at my watch. We had been paddling upstream for two hours. “I suppose we might head back. It should be half the time running with the river.”

We swung the canoe around and the bow fell off as it caught the current. We pulled our paddles deep and feathered them forward in the late afternoon air.

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