My website

My website

Friday, September 14, 2012

We canoed around the whole lake!

Pauline & me at an event a couple of years ago
Pauline and I talked about it for two years: we were going to canoe the whole perimeter of Little Green Lake.

Every summer for four years, I suggested this endeavor to my husband, Mike, but he said we couldn't do it.

Pauline and I plotched our paddles around just a little, two summers ago.

Then last summer we waited too long and the season got away from us.

This summer we re-scheduled three or four times.

But we finally did it.

On Labor Day evening, Pauline drove up to the lake at the same time that Mike drove away from it and back home to Menomonee Falls. Also at the same time, our son Charlie and his wife and their boys were driving back to Milwaukee from the lake.

When Pauline arrived, darkness had just fallen. She and I launched immediately into training for the canoe event. This involved us donning tennis shoes and walking to Vandy's bar, where we touched the dumpster (to make the walk count. You must always touch the dumpster to make the walk count). Then we walked back to the trailer.  Time: 40 minutes. Training fuel: two beers, Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy I believe.

After a brief talk fest (to keep the jaws limber; athletes must keep limber), Pauline and I repaired to our beds. We slept.

In the morning, we omitted breakfast because I am paranoid about having to pee. Athletes make sacrifices. (I had considered wearing Depends, but I nixed that idea.)

We doused ourselves in sunscreen and walked to the point, a natural area just past the house trailer campground and the grassy boat yard.

"Pauline!" I said. Very quietly.

We stopped.

There was a bald eagle sitting in a willow just ahead. We crept silently and slowly, hugging our paddles and life jackets close to our bodies.

The eagle had great shoulders. His big white head was a beacon. As we got closer, he seemed to get bigger and bigger. We got closer than I thought I would when he finally swooped away. When he swooped, we saw the great white area on his back and tail.

Image of bald eagle from the Web
We walked to where the canoe was hidden in the bushes. It's an old canoe, probably 40 years old. It belonged to my mom and dad, and they died back in 1978. Pop ordered it from L. L. Bean and paid extra for a bow decal of an Indian in a headdress. The canoe is an Old Town "Chippewayan," if I remember right. Pop was so proud of that canoe. He and Mum took me out for a ride in it when I was eight months pregnant with Charlie, my first child. We canoed through a dawn mist on Pewaukee Lake. There was nothing but mist and our canoe. Afterward we went fishing from shore. My Uncle Jerry loves to tell the story of when Pop fished from that canoe and hooked a lunker. The canoe went over and Pop lost his fishing gear and a brand-new reel. Uncle Jerry still laughs his head off at that memory. Pop never fished from that canoe again, as far as I know.

Image of L.L. Bean canoes from the Web - ours is red like these.
"We should stretch," I told Pauline. An athlete can't be in a hurry. We moved our arms up and around. We stooped over. We probably looked like two goofs there on the point, but no one was around to see.

By 8:35, we dipped our paddles into the water - Pauline steering in back, I paddling in front. The water was green and scummy, the result of a too-hot summer where the water temperature approached 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

We got as close to the marsh as we could, but because of the scum, we couln't get near enough to be able to hunt for the amazing emerald-green bullfrog I spied last summer. We did see a couple of turtle heads pokin' out.

"There's where we usually paddle into the marsh," I told Pauline, pointing to an opening in the tall reeds. That's when I realized that our usual watery opening was mud. I knew the lake was down about a foot after the drought summer, but seeing this was still a shock... like losing a road I've driven many times.

We paddled into clearer water. The sun was already hot and we were glad we started as early as we had. We had postponed this outing from a day the week before, when the weatherman predicted 95 degrees. Today was "only" supposed to get into the 80s.

Pauline pointed out a double image - the beautiful shore and sky, then another beautiful shore and sky reflected perfectly in the water. It was a phenomenon that kept repeating itself throughout our tour. We took time to notice when we weren't talking too much.

A picture Pauline took in 2010 - that's me in front and my grandson, Oliver, in the middle.
I warned Pauline that I was going to paddle slowly, to save myself and my poor old fused neck. An athlete must know her limits. That was fine with Pauline. We didn't promise ourselves anything. What would be would be.

We decided to bypass the little bays, to make it more likely that we could get around the lake.

We saw great blue heron after great blue heron - swooping, fishing, watching. That made me happy. For years, I have considered the great blue to be my personal nature symbol. My friend Arleen told me that some Indian tribe calls them the "sha-sha-ga." Probably the sound of their wings in flight, certainly not the sound of their guttural cry.

Image of great blue heron from the Web
We saw - and heard - kingfishers. They sounded like nattering squirrels.

Image of kingfisher from the Web
We had no conception of the geography of the lake. We had no idea of how far was a third of the way, or a half. I haven't traveled the lake enough in any kind of boat to know.

The first part of our trip was the wild part: sandstone cliffs and forest, cottages high on top with trams to the lake. The sun was hot, and getting hotter. But the dipping of my paddle into the water was becoming hypnotic - in a good way. I always feel like I'm in heaven when I'm canoeing.

This picture is from 2010. Pauline is steering in back, I'm in front, and that's my grandson Oliver, 5. We're right near the "dalles" of the island near our campground on Little Green Lake in this photo.

Pauline took this shot in 2010 - a good photo of one of the trams leading down from a lake home to the water, on the bluffs side of the lake

Then we came to a landing and (glory be) a port-a-potty. We pulled to shore and we each took a preventative leak. As General Wellington said, "The first rule of war is to pee when you can." (Or something like that.)

Back in the water, we went past a bunch of beautiful lake homes. We saw the eagle (the same one?) again a couple of times, and as many great blue herons as I've ever seen in the Everglades.

Finally we started on the southern shore and we could paddle in shade. A mercy.

Suddenly, it seemed, we canoed past Vandy's bar. Now I knew where I was: very close to the house trailer campground.  Mike and I have canoed the short way to Vandy's, many times. Occasionally he and I even stop for a beer. Athletes must remain hydrated. But on this day, Pauline and I pressed onward.

She and I made it back to our launch point at 10:20. Our trip had taken one hour and 45 minutes. Had we canoed the three little bays, it probably would have added a half-hour to our trip.

The whole time we paddled, we talked. (Keeping all parts limber.) Pauline told me that she's going to turn 60 in a couple of weeks. She added that she's not going to have a party.

"This is your party," I said. "You canoed a whole lake for your 60th birthday!"

She liked that.

I've got almost two years on Pauline. I felt pretty proud. I called Mike to tell him that canoeing around the whole lake could be done, even by geezers.

After Pauline and I parked the canoe in the bushes, we stretched some more. An athlete must release the built-up lactic acid from the muscles (or something like that). I took some Advil when we got back in the trailer - just for prevention.

Later, Pauline found something online that said Little Green Lake has about four miles of shoreline. An athlete must check stats. "We canoed four miles!" she said.

We did it.

Pauline canoes in honor of the fun she had canoeing for years with her sister Barb, who is now canoeing in heaven.

        That's Pauline on the left, with brown hair, and Barb on the right - blowing bubbles - years ago.

Our trailer on Little Green Lake - where Pauline & I enjoyed a post-canoe trip nap. Athletes must get their required rest.


  1. Now that the winter wind is breathing down our necks, I look at these sunny photos and read the account of our paddling...and vow to do this every summer until we drop! And Barb will be urging us on! -- Pauline