|Paddling the Potters|
“I have need of the sky, I have business with the grass; I will up and get me away where the hawk is wheeling lone and high, And the slow clouds go by. I will get me away to the waters that glass the clouds as they pass. I will get me away to the woods.” -- Richard Hovey
There is a mystery inside me that perhaps I never am aware of, but one I realize with time spent outdoors. It's what Hovey speaks to here-a need, an obligation to myself to be outside, to see something that gives me pause, to discover a presence of what can only be experienced outdoors. I like that I never know what it'll be until it's recognized, and it's never a conscious effort.
A lot of my interests “get me away to the woods,” hunting, fishing, biking and skiing and even my job as a wildlife technician. Stepping out the door begins the best part of my day.
As if I needed another distraction, paddling entered my life full swing this summer. I've dabbled in it from time to time, and in a way, kind of feared it, because I knew I'd be pulled toward the water away from trails and other pursuits. I finally gave in...and love it.
Being inches above the water, slipping silently forward as the shores pass by, it's much different that most anything else. Quietness, save for an occasional misplaced paddle dip that splashes clumsily alongside the boat. I'm still not smooth at this. In a kayak or canoe it's easy to be taken back in time, when Native Americans used their small boats to move from place to place or inuits skillfully surviving harsh waters in the north to survive. I have a whole new appreciation of their skill.
As important as that connection to the past a kayak offers, maybe more-so, it slows me down. Mountain bikes and skinny skis tend to propel us through the woods at breakneck speed and we miss much. These boats slide calmly in the water inviting more pause, more observation, maybe even reverence of the surroundings. Speed has little place here.
These thoughts were at the surface the other day as the kayak and I pushed off from shore in central Jackson County into Potters Flowage, a 250 acre lake 20 miles east of Black River Falls. I'd known about “Potters” from fishing friends who try their luck from time to time summer and winter, but I'd never visited it. Looking at a map, it appeared perfect for a paddle-it's a drainage lake with lots of little fingers off the main body of water, and one, several miles long to the South begging to be explored.
The put-in is located at Merlin Lambert County Park off McKenna road, once the site of the bustling lumbertown of Goodyear. Nothing but elusive foundations exist east of the campground now, where in 1898 the timber supply was exhausted in less than six years. The same dwindling fate met the towns of McKenna and Zeda further to the South, now sparsely populated and covered with cranberry marshes.
Potters Flowage is best known for it's bass and panfish abundance and rumor has it muskie fishermen hit it hard in the fall. A few boats trying their luck were my only company on the water-no complaints, this is not a lake for the power boat crown. The lake has a max depth of 24 feet, but just a mean of 7, so it's shallow and weedy on the edges. Water quality is moderately clear.
I stayed along the shorelines wanting to partially circumnavigate the main part of the lake and then head down into the inviting narrows. Even with a brisk headwind, my 18' boat made it across surprisingly easy and eventually sliced through a broad expanse of lily pads to the original flooded streambed of Hawkins Creek. A ribbon of clear water here guided my adventure south deep into the county forest.
If one didn't know better, you'd swear the boat was slipping into the wilds of the boundary waters or Canada-the shore mostly lined with towering white pine-remnants perhaps of saplings loggers missed 100+ years ago. This part of the state is better known for squatty Jack Pine, Aspen clear cuts and gnarled red oak than majestic straight pine. The further I paddled, the better my surroundings became.
Morrison Creek (different from the Morrison flowing into the Black River) feeds Potters from the far east near the boat launch, while the Hawkins section of the flowage forms the wide channel I venture into, gradually narrowing and winding its way to the McKenna Creek spilling in from the far south. There are several small fingers stabbing into the forest on either side with one across from a primitive landing off Larb Lane on the west bank where folks were camping. Going around each bend was like turning a page in a book to discover something new-I never tire of that.
Potters Flowage finally squeezes down to a fork in the road so to say-one short arm leads west and vanishes, the east bound one heads further and finally succumbs to the skinny alder lined McKenna. Trails end for me. I brace the paddle far to the side and swing the long boat around to start my journey back. Skies had start to darken and I seem to remember a forecast of possible rain, so what was a leisurely cruise took on a more purposeful stroke of the blades through water. Even with some urgency, I did stick to the opposite shore than when I entered-still time to explore I thought.
Arms and back started to ache, but no complaints from the boat-she steadily cut through the water and around reeds and occasional water lilies on the return trip. I'd make it back fine-the threatening sky stayed at bay for the moment.
Campers at the county park busied themselves with Labrador retrievers, swimming and prepping small boats for perhaps a bout of fishing. I slid into the shallows near the landing and managed to extract myself from the cockpit (still tricky) and hoist the kayak on shore.
A few sore muscles were fulfilling indicators that I'd done something worthwhile, that I'd “gotten away to the waters that glass the clouds as they pass.” That “need” and obligation to myself to be outdoors had been met...for this day, and I'd be back.