Two Fridays ago I found the West Branch of the Shioc River.
Not that it was missing.
I’ve always known that some of it was somewhere within the boundaries of the Navarino Wildlife Area, but I could never find a trail to it.
Two Fridays ago I did.
It’s a trail I’ve long known existed but have never tried. It heads east toward the river, branches both north and south to loops and dead end clearings that expanded my sense of the size of Navarino: it’s about five miles as the crow flies from the West Branch of the Shioc River to the Wolf River, and about five miles from its farthest northern boundary to its southern border, 15,000 acres, 25 square miles. In which most of its trails are unmapped, unmarked, and unmaintained.
Before I went hunting for the West Branch Friday, I stopped by the Navarino Nature Center to look at their satellite map of the area.
Which, I was informed, they had taken down and replaced with three online maps, which are infinitely more fun. You can find them at: https://www.navarino.org/interactive-maps.
Here I can look for traces of the trails I have found and traces of trails I’ve yet to find. Here I can see what the heart of the Cedar Swamp looks like from above. Here you can zoom in so close you can count trees. Here you can see the clearings for the ATC power line, the Canadian Northern Railway tracks, and the clearings at the end of trails. Here you can see the flowages, the West Branch of the Shioc River, and the Wolf itself.
The West Branch of the Shioc River begins north of Bonduel, 6 miles of which are populated with brook trout, 4.6 miles of which run through Navarino. Hiking from the east, I did come across the West Branch once, but not on a trail. I had lost the trail. I thought I had been on a trail and had turned around and couldn’t detect a trace of it. This, disturbingly enough, has happened to me several times. As if the brush and saplings themselves shifted behind me just enough to befuddle me, to trap me there forever. I had to use the compass to get back to the trail.
After exploring most of the clearings and dead-ends to the south and the north, I found a trail heading east into a field that bordered the river. The trail circumnavigating the field looked like it had been mowed down and plowed up. Right at that moment, I could imagine no way a machine like that could have made its way so deep into the woods. On the satellite map, the field looks like it had actually been farmed the year the picture had been taken, and only on that map was I able to trace the potential route by which farming equipment could reach the field bordering the West Branch.
When I laughed out loud at having found the West Branch, I scared up three or four deer on the other side. Three Fridays ago, I saw bird hunters. That Friday, I met a hunter with a bow looking for those deer. Their secret is safe with me.
After lunch, I made my way out of the West Branch area and scared up about six pheasants in the field south of Town Line Road. It was curious that as many of them ran to hide as flew up, their wings flapping frantically. On Town Line Road, I headed west for the last trailhead on it I hadn’t taken, a trail near the CN tracks. It heads north into the Cedar Swamp. A pickup was parked in the lot there. I assumed another hunter was on the trail ahead of me. This trail was actually foot trail, not a superhighway slashed by a DNR grass-eater. It runs through a small strip of cedars, across the ATC power line clearing, through another small strip of cedars, across another field through which a stream winds, and into the southern extent of the Cedar Swamp.
Where the trail became increasingly indistinct. I suppose the hunter ahead of me had a GPS device to keep from getting lost. I turned back, wishing I had brought some red yarn to mark my hunt for the heart of the Cedar Swamp.
But I returned to marked trails via the CN tracks, pausing for a moment on them to look into the woods into which I had seen a porcupine wander last month. Where the tracks intersect a Navarino trail, there’s a pond, almost two feet of which has evaporated away since spring when it had completely covered the trail. I saw a muskrat swimming in the pond – the first I’ve seen out at Navarino. He spent a long time grooming after his swim: he washed his face, his ears, and, twisting into a new yoga pose, even his back legs. He did all this at least twice as I took pictures, one of which revealed a green freshwater weed at his feet. I’m not sure if it was salad or just something caught in his toes. I would have stayed longer, but a bow hunter striding by frightened him off.
A high wind had been pounding the ground all afternoon, pushing leaves in waves ahead of it up and over the CN tracks, driving clouds into the sky until the once sunny day was overcast and gray. The wind continued for a while, the temperature discernably dropping. Two V formations of sandhill cranes, very high, met the walls of wind at an angle, heading southwest. The wind brought drizzle, then intermittent showers, and finally, when the temperature had dropped about ten degrees colder than the mild, mid-fifties of the rest of the day, a steady rain. I had taken a swampy loop east of the Navarino Nature Center. Tramping through the rain, I was reminded of the cold torrents drenching us for days on the Washington State section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The foggy squalls driven off the snows of Mount Rainer were actually a cloud through which we walked, which had settled over the gray rocky passes and ridges that headed up to alpine ponds which, not long before, had been snow themselves.
It was a blessing to have hiked there. I marvel that I found the strength to finish, strength I think I’ve lost in the year since. It was fun to find the Shioc River, even though it is most certainly not lost. It knows where it’s going. It floods and ebbs. Some of its trout and frogs will somehow survive the coming cold. Where each of them goes, no one knows. Except for the One who looks down upon them all, sees them all, knows them all. Not one of them falls to the ground without that One knowing it. Killed by the cold. Shot by hunters.
Who make my family so nervous, a fearful clamor arises that I must refrain from my walks in November. Reading information about hunting on relevant DNR webpages, there is little clarity about where people can’t hunt. Seems like you can hunt on just about all public lands. Why killing animals is a thrill is beyond my imagination. I’m sure part of it is getting together to relive family traditions. Like gathering to eat turkeys. Killing animals is ubiquitous. Biblical writers even believed God resorted to it to clothe Adam and Eve. I’d like to think God grieved as he sliced the skin off the poor creatures who gave their lives to clothe those rebels. But Biblical writers also believed that the rich smell of the grilled flesh of sacrificed animals was pleasing to the nostrils of the Lord.
For me, Jesus put an end to all that.
Research indicates diseases will increasingly plague humankind as hunger forces people to persist in slaughtering all kinds of wild animals and eating them or selling their bodies. Destroying their homes, we live closer and closer to animals whose diseases have occasionally endangered our species. Epidemics from bubonic plague to small pox to Ebola to COVID itself have all originated in this way. Compared to something like Ebola, COVID is a mild and manageable disease. Another is waiting in the wings. So that we the hunters will be the hunted.