For several days I had looked forward to today’s (October 17th) weather; the forecast was for sunny skies, temperatures in the lower fifties, with sustained winds no more than 10 miles per hour. Also, the Illinois River was well into its usual fall rise, following the low waters of late summer, when even a canoe would have trouble in the shallow backwaters of Quiver Lake. I longed to be in my canoe, heading across the backwaters to the river beyond, a day to be lost to the elements. But a simple glance at the treetops around my home, three miles from the river, showed that even at mid-morning, the wind was strong, reaching at least to the forecasted high level.
So before heading to the cabin on Quiver Lake and my canoe, I took a slight detour to Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge to test the winds, so to speak. Here I felt nearly thrust forward into mid-winter as the cold northwest winds came screaming off the refuge’s vast open waters and lowland marshes. I bundled up with scarf and winter hat, scanning with my spotting scope at the distant rafts of waterfowl bobbing in the roiling waves, but was soon defeated by the frigid wind chills. There were gadwall, northern pintail, mallard, ruddy ducks, northern shovelers, a lone ring-necked duck, and Canada geese; at one point, a bald eagle flew low over the ducks causing many to fly in various directions, providing a scene of confusion to a formidable predator.
Leaving the refuge I recalled that only ten days before I was lamenting the hot, humid weather that made it feel like July all over again. Most of the trees had yet to change color, but it already felt like winter. In truth, paddling a canoe I could have handled the 15 mile per hour winds and higher gusts, but it would have been hard work maintaining a constant direction, especially if the wind blew crosswise in open waters. So feeling rather low on energy at mid-day, I instead opted for a quiet afternoon at the Quiver Lake cabin, reading, playing my guitar, perhaps a nap or two, and feeding wood to the fireplace.
Bird Song Cabin at Quiver Lake
Later I would walk down the bluffs to the sandy waterfront and view the lake, sky, and forests of the opposite lakeshore. From that vantage point I would hear a towboat-barge chugging along on the river about a mile away, leisurely watch a large group of American white pelicans soaring ever higher on the high winds, search for the last few tree swallows of the season, and question my decision to stay shore bound…especially knowing that truly cold weather would soon arrive for months, and canoeing would not even be an option.