Friday, March 13, 2015

Over The Bow: The Otter Tail River

The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.  -- Lynn Noel

It was an uncommonly warm day in March of 2012. That year's winter was unfamiliar to begin with. It had been a snow less Christmas for the area for the first time in 50 years and only a few snowstorms followed into February.  The Red River Valley's rivers weren't on the rampage for the first time in years and their winter top coat of ice was being shed easily. Temperatures were racing into the 70s,  making it hard to resist my first trip kayaking that year. I ordinarily started in late April while living in Fargo, N.D.  Paddling in the upper Midwest is seasonable transition. Break the kayaks out in the late spring. Paddle as much as you can all summer long. Dodge the leaves, rain then snowflakes during autumn and grumble about the cold while stowing the boat away for the long winter. 
The Otter Tail River was clear, low and running slow. I always kicked off my paddling seasons on that river. It is a delightful waterway weaving through woods, marshes and farmlands in the heart of Minnesota's lakes country. I would be paddling up-stream from the highway access off 210 just east of Fergus Falls. Its popular put in and take out spot along the river during the summer for canoeists and tubers alike. However, that day I had the river to myself.
 I would loop in and out of the channel going up up river. In the shadows snow was still clinging to the banks of the river. Around a bend I came across the large sheet of ice spanning most of the river. It had the look of a glacier. The March sun however, was taking control.  The ice was being rapidly melting away with each drip falling back into the river. Spring was on it's way and the paddling season had begun.

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