Iowa Writes

EMILY DYKSTRA
Nature Float


A red Old Town canoe is our vehicle, the Winnebago River is our wilderness on this splendid afternoon. Dad and I realize that we are enjoying what promises to be the last of the perfect fall days—a clear blue sky, light southerly breeze at our faces, warm sun on our backs. A few remaining leaves rattle in the tops of the trees, and light gusts of wind send drifts of yellow maple leaves alight on the water around us.

The object of today's float is not speed or destination, but observation. We know that Dad's truck is waiting for us four miles downstream at Lyle's bridge, but we're content to take our time getting there. Despite the balmy October sun, the river gives the impression that its residents and patrons are preparing for winter.

We haven't seen a heron yet and suspect that most have already flown south. Flocks of Canada geese that raised their goslings on the river are flying high overhead, honking goodbyes to their summer homes in the cattails and mud. Rocks and logs where we'd seen turtles sunning in July lie bare and blanched.

For all of the desertion that the bare tree branches and browning grasses imply, the river banks are still alive with signs of activity. We see squirrels romping, crashing through the drying grass and weeds with the noise of much larger animals. Freshly gnawed maple saplings indicate beavers at work on recent nights, and a muddy trail descending from a cornfield shows their partiality for a quick snack and a more pliable building material.

A red Old Town canoe is our vehicle, the Winnebago River is our wilderness on this splendid afternoon. Dad and I realize that we are enjoying what promises to be the last of the perfect fall days—a clear blue sky, light southerly breeze at our faces, warm sun on our backs. A few remaining leaves rattle in the tops of the trees, and light gusts of wind send drifts of yellow maple leaves alight on the water around us.

The object of today's float is not speed or destination, but observation. We know that Dad's truck is waiting for us four miles downstream at Lyle's bridge, but we're content to take our time getting there. Despite the balmy October sun, the river gives the impression that its residents and patrons are preparing for winter.

We haven't seen a heron yet and suspect that most have already flown south. Flocks of Canada geese that raised their goslings on the river are flying high overhead, honking goodbyes to their summer homes in the cattails and mud. Rocks and logs where we'd seen turtles sunning in July lie bare and blanched.

For all of the desertion that the bare tree branches and browning grasses imply, the river banks are still alive with signs of activity. We see squirrels romping, crashing through the drying grass and weeds with the noise of much larger animals. Freshly gnawed maple saplings indicate beavers at work on recent nights, and a muddy trail descending from a cornfield shows their partiality for a quick snack and a more pliable building material.

The river itself is also alive. Ahead of us, a carp flips itself above the surface of the water, an activity that carp seem to enjoy at this time of day. I imagine that afternoon flipping for river carp is akin to the human sport of diving—both creatures flinging themselves into an inhospitable environment, for the sheer pleasure and art of doing so. The carp flips itself into the sunshine again, his body shimmering as he crashes back into the water. The clear water allows us to see that the river bottom is littered with freshwater clams. The abandoned shells of dead clams lie partially buried in sand and moss, some broken in fragments by otters seeking dinner.

We spend time enjoying the noise of nature: the wind in the tree tops, the gurgle of a drainage tile, the trill of a pheasant in the brush. A sudden rustle on the left bank seizes our attention, and we look in time to see a Great Horned owl rise from the
grass and perch on a branch.

He is watching us. I marvel at the effectiveness of his camouflage, his tawny brown body nearly invisible in the tangle of dry branches. Had we not seen him land, we would have floated by, completely unaware. The owl swivels his head, following our bright red boat as we quietly maneuver around for a better look. The tufts of feathers above his ears give him his sinister "horned" appearance. We whisper excitedly to each other. It looks like he is still holding something in his talons. The owl decides that we're too close for comfort and takes to the air. His wings pumping with great effort, he falls nearly to the bank before gaining enough momentum to fly upstream away from us. Dad and I gasp at the reason for his awkward takeoff. As the owl retreats, we see a rabbit hanging limply from its talons.

We will spend the rest of the day exulting in the rarity of that moment—of the day, of the owl, of the brief glimpse we were allowed into the world of what happens when we're inside. Of the opportunity we were given to allow something outside of ourselves to give us a glimpse of what goes on inside of ourselves. Of God's miraculous provision for His creation, and the sense of comfort that ensues from the knowledge that because God provides clams for the otters, grass for the rabbit, rabbit for the owl, he will certainly provide what we need—including situations for us to realize just that.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


EMILY DYKSTRA

Emily Dykstra is a human services professional in the Mason City area. Her previous publications include short fiction in The North American Review and several essays for Mason City's Globe Gazette and the Des Moines Register's Young Adult Contributor's Board.

This page was first displayed
on March 04, 2007

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