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What enthralling word pictures you shared! Over the years I paddled my canoe hundreds of miles. (I have the odometer reading to prove it! Somewhere.) So I could easily put myself in your place, hearing birds and seeing other wildlife along the banks of my favorite rivers.
Alligators? Probably not in the Fox River, but quite common here in Fla. A healthy respect for them prevented calamity while allowing communion with those ancient reptiles.
Your willingness to attend to the “is” of that day on the water, despite seeing no cranes or egrets or turtles, yielded other connections that day with Nature. The phrase “communing with Nature” for me constitutes a Holy occasion. Always a cause for rejoicing.