Pearl River A half-moon was peaking through the clouds as I walked the dog in the predawn, but they had become wispy as I left the dock to navigate my way up the bayou. The water had risen during the night, so it was easy to climb into the canoe. When it’s low, it’s more of a downward jump, as I try to plant my feet and grab the gunwales simultaneously. I’ve gotten pretty adept at the maneuver, but I still take an annual dip, either when the wind is blowing, or I’m not paying attention in class.
This morning is as near as it comes to perfection on the bayou. There’s no breeze, and the water is clear and calm. Paddling, as dawn breaks, you feel like you are moving through the water into the clouds since they are both above the bow and reflected in the water. It’s a picture book setting. The clouds are pink against the emerging blue, as the sun reflects up, while hiding still below the horizon. The purity of the scene is broken by the booms of shotguns in the blinds nearer the Pearl searching for ducks as the light breaks.
I keep my eyes open along the shore for either redfish fins breaking the water or alligators splashing their tails at me as I paddle by. To my surprise a big mullet literally jumps over the bow of the canoe in a first for me. I’ve had them jump so close to my stroke that if I hadn’t been firmly gripping the paddle, I imagined that I might have been able to grab one as it jumped. I had often wondered what the odds might be that one day some time a fish might miscalculate and literally land in the boat. Jumping over the bow seems even better. The giant blue heron is still roosting rather than feeding near the bridge near the white egret, both of whom see me as a regular visitor now.
As I near the second year of regularly paddling on this bayou only a mile or so from the Pearl River boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana, I’ve become a bit more of an expert on the water again. The dock is strewn with my collection of canoes, gathered hither and yon over the years, but now finding a homeplace together. Finally, I upgraded and ordered a solo Wenonah from Minnesota over a year ago that was delivered six months later in the late spring. It’s long and light and cuts the water like a knife, well, maybe not the sharpest knife, but still, we move through the water faster than ever before. Rushing through the water, the red-winged blackbirds rise to fly.
Coming back towards the dock, I see a nutria breaking the water and crossing towards the shore ahead of me. As the temperature drops, the alligators have become rarer, moving towards their dens for the winter. Nutria are now a huge part of their diet, so as the gators go to ground, the nutria reappear in the evenings and pre-dawn in recent weeks. Last winter my brother-in-laws outfitted me with some never used 22s from their youth, and from time to time I came close and pushed them farther into the marsh. We get along, but their overabundance erodes the marsh, and the cypress I’ve planted this year is not enough to offset that for the future unless we find a balance, the alligators, the nutria, and me.
Coming into the dock, my Australian Shepherd is waiting for me as usual. She knows a treat awaits her once I bring the boat up and lock it down to the pier.
I can’t help thinking at the beginning of a day in America when we celebrate Thanksgiving, that we have so much to be thankful for once again. Our work, our families, our health, and the beauty and peace we can still find in these quiet places around us, like this bayou at dawn.