Yesterday we celebrated Danny’s tenth birthday by taking canoes and kayaks down the Au Sable River. We live in the Au Sable River basin, just a stone’s throw from the river itself, though there is no direct path from our farm to the river.
The Au Sable is a premier trout river which runs 129 miles through the Huron National Forest across the northern part of the lower peninsula. It winds its way from the central part of the state toward the east, where it empties into Lake Huron. It’s a different sort of river than what I have been used to. We lived along the wide Maumee in Ohio for much of my life, and along the swift, enormous Ohio river in Cincinnati in early adulthood. This river is comparatively narrow, clear, cold, and rocky, with dense vegetation growing along the banks.
Yesterday morning was drizzly, cool, and gray. We wondered if we’d be able to go on the river after all. So we opened birthday presents first thing, then packed our gear in the truck so we would be ready to leave for a business seminar right after lunch in hopes that the wait would allow the weather to clear.
Eventually the drizzle did stop and we headed to the canoe livery, where owner Barb, our farrier’s aunt, gifted Danny with a complimentary birthday “Au Sable River” tee-shirt and his very first kayak rental. I mention that Barb is Tucker’s aunt because in our sparsely populated county, we get much amusement that the locals are so intricately interwoven. Coming from the city, we were much bemused if we ran into a friend or acquaintance at the store or at some event. But here, you walk into the grocery store and the conversation goes something like this:
“How have you been? Oooo – hotdogs. Are you guys having a cookout?” the clerk asks.
“Hi Diane. Kind of. The kids like to do hotdogs around the bonfire and I thought that sounded like fun for tonight.”
Behind me, in the checkout line, Miss Amy, the librarian says, “By the way … we got a book in for you today. Diane, will you tell Jaleesa that we got one in for her Dad, too?”
“Sure,” Diane replies. “And let Vi know that I’m bringing coleslaw to the church picnic.”
… And on it goes. Then the UPS guy walks in and knows everyone, of course. He helps you find a buyer for your used horse trailer, and he hands you your neighbor’s packages and asks you to drop them off at the neighbor’s house on your way home. But I have digressed.
Back at the river we made our way over to the put-in point with two canoes, a kayak and all the appropriate paraphernalia. Danny was thrilled. He’s had one brief encounter with a kayak before, and he is smitten. He’s been looking forward to this for months.
It was really a beautiful morning. It was still mostly overcast and occasionally drizzly. The water was churned up by the wind, and altogether it was an amazing spot of serenity. God is so good.
As we floated downriver among the trees and rushes, we were joined first by a few Water Thrushes darting from one side of the river to the other, a clacking Kingfisher, several families of Canada Geese with young of varying ages, and perhaps most interesting to me, a male Redhead duck resting on one of a sunken stump. I’ve never encountered a Redhead before, nor even heard much about them except in passing. But it turns out that the northeast tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula encompasses part of their breeding ground. And this particular fellow was very handsome to look at.
Cecily and I were sharing a canoe. We love to point things out to each other, and guess as to the identifiction of whatever it is we’re looking at. She pointed out a patch of yellow flags along the northern shore, and many little spots laden with blue forget-me-nots all along the way. I spotted a small white flower growing in profusion on the banks which we know also grows along our dirt road. We keep guessing at what it could be … the plant looks like a small mayapple and the flowers like starflowers. But I’ll bet it’s bloodroot. We still have to do a little detective work to find out.
Perhaps the most charming diversion along the way were dozens of barnswallows darting here and there, coming out from the rushes, where we presume they have either nests or their pantry, perhaps … full of tasty insects. I reminded Cecily that some good friends of ours in Ohio own an organic flower farm called “Barnswallow Farm.” She’d forgotten. She was delighted with the name and I could see the wheels in her mind turning. She’s determined to have her own working hobby farm when she’s grown, and already she’s picking out every minute detail that goes into making it the ideal spot … including the right name.
All told, in spite of getting lodged on some sunken logs for an alarming, but brief period, and losing Danny when he got stuck in some rushes as the current carried us along out of sight around the bend, it was a wonderful way to spend the morning. We eventually rejoined the crew and paddled across the backwaters to the takeout. Danny never tired of paddling himself along, and had gotten a better hang of how to steer and maneuver by the end of the trip, though the gentle lapping of the water and the trill of the birds was occasionally punctuated by a squeaky, ten-year-old cry of “wait!” whenever he’d get turned around or realize he’d somehow drifted to the back of the pack.
All told, it was a delightful way to celebrate this sweet, happy, mystifying boy who has been part of our lives for more than ten years now. Happy birthday, my dear Danny Boy.