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Photo: Birds on a log

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Last week while exploring some small islands by kayak, I stumbled across this scene --- a large heron sharing a floating log with a duck. Apparently, I had interrupted something. They both stared at each other for a few minutes, and then the heron took to the skies.

Last week while exploring some small islands by kayak, I stumbled across this scene — a large heron sharing a floating log with a duck. Apparently, I had interrupted something. They both stared at each other for a few minutes, and then the heron took to the skies.

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Island hopping

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The Canadas have invaded the island.

Not the Canadians, the Canadas, because they’re called Canada geese and not Canadian geese (and not gooses).

At any rate, a whole gaggle of the fowl were there waiting for me when I kayaked out. It’s been years since I’ve been to the island, a small tree-covered affair in the middle of a lake usually populated by powerboats and water skiers. I’ve walked across the ice to the island in winter, and in the summer we used to canoe out to a beach on the far side for picnics.

But this time, after heading out early to avoid the high-speed watercraft, the honking greeted me as I approached, and geese appeared on the banks, lined up like a hostile army preparing to defend its position. I circumnavigated to the other side where two Canada geese were wading on the beach and a few more waited back in the woods.

At this point, I decided against making a landing. Geese can be mean, with their hissing and charging, wings spread wide. I once saw a pair of angry geese back a hiker into a pond. He tripped, and they picked his bones clean. But the guy had it coming. He hissed first.

Sure, I could have met the tribe of geese head-on and reclaimed the island in a fair fight. But there were other things to consider. They may have been nesting, protecting a clutch of eggs. Or perhaps they were just stopping for a few days during a trip back north after winter. I did’t want to trigger an international incident.

But mainly I backed down because of the poop. Geese can saturate an area with their droppings in no time, so the island isn’t worth reclaiming, at least not until after they have moved on and the next floods rolls through and cleans out the mess.

Paddle-up ruins

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Six years ago, floods of Mesopotamian proportions washed away the small settlement on the Island of No Worries. Hundreds of volunteers and thousands of sandbags weren’t enough to protect the community from the swollen Midwest river, and when the water subsided, the homes, which numbered about a dozen, were bought out by the government and leveled or burned to the ground by vandals.

Since then, the island was turned into a park. The city mows what used to be the lawns, although most of the land is wild forest. There is no parking, and motorized vehicles are verboten, which means visitors have to walk across a bridge. So, the island remains largely unnoticed.

Another way to get there is by boat, and during one late summer day off, I launched my new Pelican kayak on its maiden voyage, putting in at a nearby ramp and circumnavigating the island, first heading upstream on the island’s east side. The river was calm and very shallow in spots. I followed a pair of ducks until they became annoyed by me and took flight. At one section, I spotted a golf ball and reached down to pluck it from the sandy bottom.

Rounding the island’s northern tip, I glided across some choppy swirls and then floated down the west side with the swift current. Passing under a bridge, I came across traces of the island’s former inhabitants. Concrete steps and walkways led from what used to be shore-side homes to what used to be private docks. Near where the last house on the block once stood were the remains of a loose-stone outdoor oven. Finding a natural landing in an inlet, I headed ashore to explore.

Photo: Winter kayaking

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Kayaker with Prairie Rapids Paddlers tests the waves in Charles City. (c) J.S. Reinitz

Kayaker with Prairie Rapids Paddlers tests the waves in Charles City. (c) J.S. Reinitz

Some of the first people I met when I moved back to the Midwest were two hardcore kayakers. That was almost 10 years ago, and the two were pitching a whitewater park in the Cedar River in Northeast Iowa.

Their dream is finally coming true in Charles City, where the city included the rapids project as part of a $2 million river renovation project. This winter, construction crews were in the stream placing rocks to channel the water flow. Organizers said the whitewater park could be open this summer.