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— During the time I spent in northern Minnesota - now many years ago - I gained a love for canoeing, though I must admit that I haven't had the opportunity much since leaving Minnesota because I don't own a canoe. If I ever did buy a water craft, though, it would be a canoe. As it is now, I sometimes rent or borrow one just to bring back those old memories of gliding softly across the glass-like waters of a clear lake.

In Minnesota, I canoed on a number of lakes and often cast in a lure to engage a northern pike. I took my kids for canoe ride across Lake Itaska - the headwaters of the Mississippi - with the wind stirring up the waters a bit so that keeping the bow into the waves was pretty important. I also took a two-day canoe trip down a river with a church youth group - which added a new element to the challenge of not tipping my canoe.

But though I was on the water during daylight hours, I never tried it after dark on a moonlit night, though I've always wanted to. Why? Have you ever been in the north woods after dark? There's a roar in the woods, and it's not the bears or wolverines. It's mosquitoes in size and number enough to carry away even a fellow of my weight if caught canoeing too close to the shoreline.

Well, I've always wanted to try a late night canoe trip under moonlight, and Arkansas seemed a better place to do it. It's not something I'd recommend to everyone. There are risks involved, especially with the cooler nighttime temperatures near the freezing mark - freezing temperatures may reduce the chance of encountering snakes in the dark but taking a spill can bring on hypothermia a lot quicker than a fellow might think.

Anyway, the opportunity came. It was a cold, still night. The moon was almost full.

“It would be perfect,” I thought. I’ll invite Mrs. Griz to go with me. It’ll be romantic. How could she resist?"

Well, she did. The thought of the cold air and the possibility of a dip in a cold lake didn't seem romantic to her at all. Sometimes, she's just hard to understand.

There are some things a fellow's just got to do alone, so I loaded up the canoe, headed off to the lake and set off across the water.

It was beautiful. The air was brisk but still. The moon was shining brightly in the sky above, and the waters were like glass with steam rising and resting on the surface.

The whole experience gave me time to think. With no one else at the lake or on the water, it was like going back in timeto another era when the land was not settled but still wilderness and the hunting grounds of the Osage. I wondered if this was what it was like for the French trappers who explored and trapped in the area during the 1700s.

As I moved quietly across the waters, it was surprising how much wildlife came down along the banks at night. Some of it I could only hear, and some I could faintly see in the moon's light. A doe and a pair of fawns came to the water's edge for a drink. They didn't see me at first - probably because of the steam rising from the water in the cold night air. Then they realized I was there but didn't know what I was until I drew closer. Then came the warning cough and the sound of the deer running through the woods on fallen leaves in the night.

"It's a shame," I thought, "that everything has changed so much. With all the settlement and development, nothing's the same. A fellow has to take a lonely canoe trip in the middle of the night to catch a glimpse of what things might have been like."

But then, as I continued to glide quietly across the waters, I realized I wasn't alone. It was hard to make it out with the steam and fog on the water's surface, but it looked like another canoe on the water. It wasn't an aluminum craft like the one I was in, but dark colored like it was made of wood.

"What are the chances of meeting another canoe on the water in the middle of a cold fall night?" I wondered.

I don't know why, but I followed the canoe, paddling softly as I went so as not to be heard. It was hard to tell because of the rising steam from the waters, but it appeared as though the other late-night visitor was a tall, thin man. He sat high in the canoe. As I drew closer, I could see, silhouetted by the moon's light, that his head appeared to be shaven, except for a longer strip down the middle, and there appeared to be something toward the back of his head - either a longer tuft of hair or ... could it be feathers? I stopped paddling and dropped back so as not to make my presence known.

With a little more distance between us, I paddled softly again, glad the waters were quiet and no waves or ripples were slapping against the side of my vessel. At times the fog hid the presence of the second canoe, but then the moonlight would reveal it again, moving along softly in the distance ahead of me.

Why I followed, I'm not sure. I had not intended to stay out so long, but I was curious now. What I hoped to learn about the mysterious man, I don't know.

But then it happened. I could see the glow of a fire along the shore in the distance, and a small column of smoke was barely visible rising into the night sky. I paddled even more softly and drifted along, trying to see the distant shore. I lost sight of the other canoe as I strained my eyes to see through the rising steam. I had to get closer, so I paddled on.

As I neared the distant shore and the light of the fire, I could see this was no normal campground. There were numerous huts around the fire. They were made of sticks and tree branches. And there were other people walking around, but their dress was different and their language unfamiliar to my ears. Could this be a camp of the Wah' Sha-She - the Water People?

Just then I heard someone yell close by me. It was the man in the other canoe. I had gotten to close and he saw me there in the moonlight. What he yelled, I couldn't understand, but other men in the camp ran toward the lake and to other canoes hidden in the darkness along the shore.

I was discovered. I wasted no time in turning my canoe around and heading back across the lake and along the shoreline toward my car. The fog was getting thicker on the water as the temperatures fell. I couldn't see my pursuers but could hear them paddling and talking in a strange tongue. It sounded like they were getting closer. I paddled harder but to no avail. I knew they were closing the gap.

"What could I do," I wondered.

Finally I gave up. I knew I couldn't get away. I would just have to meet these strange late-night lake people face to face and hope they didn't take offense to my excursion into their territory and next to their village camp. I stopped paddling and sat there quietly, waiting for my pursuers to catch up.

I could hear their canoes draw closer and I heard the men's voices, but I couldn't see them in the fog. Then the sound of their paddling and voices faded into the distance. They had passed me by!

Sitting there motionless and frozen in time, I finally came to my senses and began paddling softly toward my car, stopping every few minutes to glide along quietly and listen. It took some time, and some direction from the moon and constellations above, but I finally found my way back to where I had entered the water.

Again, I stopped and listened. Nothing but quietness and the occasional movement of some animal on the wooded bank.

Quickly I paddled to shore, trying to be quiet as I stepped into the shallow water and pulled my canoe up onto the land.

I heard nothing, so I loaded up the canoe and tied it down, trying my best to make no noise.

Once inside the car, I started it up and began to drive away. I turned on the headlights as I entered the road along the lake's shore.

I'm not entirely sure, but I thought I could see through the fog and into the darkness out on the lake. Other canoes were returning silently across the water and headed back toward the village on the other side. Steam continued to rise from the waters and the late-night visitors faded into the night.

(Editor’s note: Just in case anyone wondered, this story is entirely fictional - well, at least after the canoe entered the water.)

Opinion, Pages 5 on 10/28/2009

Print Headline: Griz Bear Comments Canoeining in the Moonlight: A Fall Story by Griz Bear

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