Thursday, October 30, 2008

Day 80: The birth of sand

I saw a snapping turtle sitting high on some island bar, and unlike the turtles I had been seeing on the river he didn't flee at my approach - didn't jump into the water and trade precious solar heat for increased safety.

I supposed he was dead, like the motionless beaver I had photographed on the Qu'Appelle. Out of perhaps a morbid curiousity I paddled over to take a closer look at him.

He had an enormous shell, larger around than my pith helmet, and extending from it were those fearsome, armored, bear-like claws. His tail had plates sticking up like a stegosaurus, and his little yellow eyes were motionless over the monstrous beak.

I reached in front of him with my paddle, luring him to snap, but got nothing. When I tapped the top of his shell the head retracted an inch and the tail flinched. He was fearless. His armor had gotten him through so many years, it would be a worthwhile surprise to him if there was any predator capable of finishing him off.

He was sitting high on a patch of sand a couple feet triangular. It was the first sand I'd seen on the Assiniboine since that misleading initial island at the Qu'Appelle confluence.

Not much further the river cut out into a sandstone bank, a nearly vertical cliff sixty feet high. Atop the cliff were spruce, a pleasant change from the still green deciduous trees dominating the river. Of course, most of the spruce were green as well, but one in twenty were grey, corpses standing among the living before being laid out over the river.

I was becoming an island snob. I dismissed many nice gravel islands for the usual trivial reasons: it's too early, too small, too noisy, too grassy. The sun made a blessed appearance, early, giving a warmth that lasted the day. The sun draped itself in clouds as it fell towards the horizon, reminding me it would not light my night as well.

That is when the islands gave out. I thought it was going to be another "Casey-at-the-canoe" story, where I'd reject several decent sites only to end up camping on mud. I saw a bank that looked gravelly, but the approach was predictably shallow and muddy. I would have needed to drag the canoe through twenty feet of mud to get to the cramped dirty shore. I relieved myself and moved on.

The wind temporarily with me, I let it push me backwards over the water. I looked up from my book and saw a long gravel bar. I had to paddle hard against the wind, against the current to get back to it. The filling between the gravel rocks was brown. I dreaded the thought of another of these muddy gravel campsites. It may be better than pure mud, but it disappoints when I was expecting gravel's cleanliness.

I dug my paddle into it and it was sand. I stepped my foot out and it was real sand. Real real, real sand.

Day 80 ended: 49*36.824N, 099*22.492W (?)

1 comment:

John said...

Was it dry sand?

Man, may the Good Lord provide for me like he provides for the turtle and the cockroach, happily ignorant to the peak carbon summer or the nuclear winter.