As I’ve said before, every float trip on a Missouri Ozarks river has its own characteristics.
And as I’ve also said, there’s no such thing as a bad one.
I had the pleasure of enjoying another great paddle this past Monday, when wife Wendy and our daughter Margo accompanied me on a kayak float from Dogs Bluff to Mineral Springs on the Big Piney River. As always, the experience was fun and fulfilling, and included several memorable moments.
A few of those moments featured some harrowing (and even potentially dangerous) circumstances, but nobody was injured and only a pair of cheap sunglasses were lost, so the bulk of the memories are good.
Here are a few of the highlights.
Thanks to an extended period of wet weather that made May 2022 one of the top-10 wettest Mays on record in Southern Missouri, the waters of the Big Piney were running a bit high and strong. And similarly to a whole bunch of other days this spring, the wind was gusty and blowing pretty strong at times.
In fact, we found ourselves having to work hard against it on several occasions. Even though we were going downstream, I more than once had to give it everything I had had to avoid having my 11-foot Perception Tribe blown sideways to the shoreline, or simply keep moving forward. Likewise for Wendy and Margo, who had to pay attention on multiple occasions to ensure that the wind didn’t get the better of them.
But after a spell of hard work against it, the wind would suddenly change direction and be at our backs. During those moments, you could lift your paddle in the air and it would almost function like a sail.
Of course, whenever you’re out on an Ozarks river, there’s a strong chance you’ll be treated to witnessing nature at its best in the form of shows put on by some local residents. This time, our trio got to lay eyes on a creature we had never before seen in the wild: An American mink.
Members of the weasel family, mink are long, skinny and incredibly cute little animals. We first noticed the Big Piney mink scurrying along a steep, muddy bank just above the water line. It had a lizard in its mouth.
Then, as if choreographed for our viewing pleasure, it entered the river and swam right in front of us to the other side, keeping its reptilian snack secured the whole time. Not long before it made it to the other shore, the mink quickly dipped under water, as if to wet down the yummy morsel before taking it into its den and either devouring it or sharing it with some unseen youngsters.
For a little while, I sat in my kayak enjoying the show. Then I remembered I had a dang camera with me and snapped a few photos before the mink was out of sight.
Not far from the mink zone, we saw a great blue heron flying overhead. While there’s nothing all that unusual about seeing a heron, it’s still an amazing sight to behold.
Have you seen the wingspan on those birds? We’re talking six feet or more!
It’s like watching a modern-day Pteranodon flapping by.
And I guess it was no surprise that there were lots of other people who had the same idea as us regarding how to pass the time on a Monday holiday in May. There were many groups of five or more paddlers who were in front or behind us.
Good thing, too, because we even received some very valuable helped from a man who rescued one of our 10-foot Jackson Riviera units after it went bottom-side up, got away from its captain and traveled solo downstream for a while.
And of course, there was passing by the ruins of the Lone Star Mill and old Highway 17 bridge and stopping for lunch on a gravel bar. And, yes, even the classic scene of a young girl standing high up on a tree overhanging a deep spot of the river, but not being able to muster the guts to jump despite her dad encouraging her to get it done.
Anyway, while paddling a river is always a good time and arguably as worthwhile as any form of outdoor activity, it’s also a strenuous and exhausting adventure that demands the respect and attention of a paddler’s mind and body.
But that’s probably the best part. There’s no feeling like having spent the better part of a day paddling an Ozarks river.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.