Without much need for communication from our leader, we launched the canoes and climbed in. The lake was cold, my legs were cold and by the time the canoes were steadied from the motion of the ripples, my hands were cold. But we weren’t going to miss this for anything. A sunrise canoe, with the hope of sightings of moose, was worth the early morning, stiff, roll out of sleeping bags from the hard ground.
“This is a silent paddle,” hushed our guide, as another member of the group exclaimed at the view across the lake. We all fell into silent thoughts and concentrated on getting the canoes off the shore with as little sound as possible. The mist was floating, hanging, as though shielding the lake from our view.
Paddling was slow as we tried not to splash: lean forward slightly, paddle in, pull back slightly, and lift away from the water with care. The first few minutes took all my concentration on getting the stroke right. The island, with our tents at the edge, disappeared through the mist and the figures in the canoes seemed as statues, appearing momentarily in the featureless, shrouded surroundings. We were in the Algonquin National Park, Northern Ontario and I had planned this trip some time before, as I wanted my children to experience the remoteness of this corner of Canada. That morning, it felt as though we were the first people on Earth, as we paddled through the shards of sunlight from the dawn.
We canoed east, into the low sun and the silver danced off the lake, intense and blinding as we headed away from the lee of the trees and onto the open lake. Over to the next island, the sun now higher in the sky, and the colours of the Canadian wilderness taking over the day.
“Even if we don’t see a moose, this is enough in itself,” I thought. Blue sky, blue lake, the shore cloaked in hues of green.
Then I noticed the silent, excited gestures from the other canoe: hands raised to head height, fingers waggling, the agreed sign, and faces urging us to catch up with them. And there, just round the corner, the Canadian moose. He was in the water, head and back showing, and those magnificent antlers. He was feeding on the lilies and appeared not to have noticed us as our four canoes took up position about twenty metres away. The mist held his features at bay, the silence respected his presence.
His breakfast was a long and leisurely affair. We watched as he took in a mouthful of lilies, chewed them slowly, nose in the air momentarily, and then lowered his huge head and antlers for another mouthful. We edged closer, under the signals of our guide and started photographing him. The click of the cameras were discernible but the moose showed no signs of discomfort at our presence and just carried on, standing there in the water, bowing his head to eat every now and again.
But he was prince of the morning and we were privileged to be passing through. We were so close to him now, that we could hear him chewing his watery green delicacies. Somewhere in the misty green, a woodpecker tapped. Then, after timeless minutes, the moose shifted slightly in the water. Was he signalling an end to our audience? We watched as he turned slowly, paused a moment and waded back to the shore. Still graceful, he stepped out of the lake and onto the shore and, without a backward glance, moved into the shadow of the trees. We could hear the crack of undergrowth and twigs, as the forest tracked his progress.
I took a first breath and turned to look at the faces of my family and companions. Morning smiles all around.
About the Author: Sharon Jenkins Carter is a teacher and a language trainer with a love of the outdoors and a wandering spirit. She enjoys immersing herself in different cultures and meeting with people from all walks of life.