How strange is the river. As I survey the Red River this morning through the glasses, it appears only as a 55-yard expanse of white snow. If it were narrow, as it must be near its source, it would seem that one could easily walk across it in the deep woods and not even know you were crossing a river, especially in the dark.
Yet even in the coldest subzero weather of the year, a living river flows at 32 degrees, covered by a protective layer of ice and snow. And it never stops flowing, in any river on the planet, until it empties into the salt water of the sea. It does not stop or else it would not qualify as a river.
And on the very coldest of days in the winter, when all animate life seems to have retired to some shelter, an animate world of life operates actively underneath that river ice in a world that never drops below 32 degrees. That world of life lives and thrives unobserved by us above-ground types, if I may borrow half a word, except occasionally by ice fisherman in dark houses.
I remember once 30 years ago catching another kind of a glimpse into that under-ice world, when walking his trapline with a friend, Dan Lange, in the Yukon. We came to a spot in the forest of lodgepole pines, a spot marked for a set trap. Except for the mark, I couldn’t have guessed a trap was nearby.
Dan carefully brushed aside some of the deep snow and disclosed a tiny crystal-clear riverlet that I could easily step across, a little stream no more than a few feet deep.
At the stream bottom, beneath a hole in the ice that Dan kept open for servicing his trap, kept open by methods he had devised, lay one of his beaver traps, empty, but sprung. I watched as he baited and set the traps and covered the hole once more. It made me realize that in that underwater world of the life I could have viewed so amazing a sight as a beaver swims by. Rivers are an unstoppable living entity on our planet.
Though the stillness of winter lies upon the land in deep snow, slightly warmer temperatures seem to have brought out the animal life above the snow as well. Black-capped chickadees and white breasted nuthatches pop in and out of a spot in the woods to the left of me, pecking after something they have discovered. Two American crows sail by also to my left, announcing themselves as they pass. I see seven wild turkeys at some distance parade by ahead of me, along with several white-tailed deer and a parade of both grey and red squirrels. So while the river runs quietly beneath us, we above-ground creatures frolic in the winter wonderland above them.
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.