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In Our Own Backyard...CSI - or Wild Kingdom?

Ken and I settled back into our recliners with a delicious sense of anticipation for the drama that was about to unfold. The habit had become part of our routine in an amazingly short time. In fact, it would be fair to say we had become addicted to it. Each day after breakfast, and again after supper, we'd rush through the dishes so we could hunker down in our chairs and tune in on the action.

It all started with the two-headed turtle.

As we sat on the rock ledge of our campsite along Lake Kabetogama's Lost Bay, watching the sun set, two bulging "eyes" appeared above the water's surface near shore. It looked for all the world like a miniature alligator, but as it moved closer to the shoreline, we realized that it was a rather odd looking painted turtle.

"Oh my gosh!" I cried as I looked at it through my camera lens. "I think it has two heads!"

Ken zeroed in on it with the binoculars, and sure enough - the reptile appeared to have two heads. We sat very still, and the turtle finally got up enough courage to crawl up on shore. We realized then that it didn't have two heads at all, but rather a large spherical growth that was exactly the same size as the turtle's head. We looked on in fascination as it tentatively worked its way into the grass and up to the top of the ledge rock to a strip of soft dirt. Later, when we headed for our rented houseboat tethered further down the shore, the turtle was hunkered down between the rocks, laying eggs.

It was still there when I looked out around dawn the next morning, but by the time we actually got up for the day it was gone. In its place was a massive snapping turtle, who had dug up all the spots in the soft earth where the painted turtle had dug holes for her eggs. I'm not certain if the snapping turtle was using the same spots to lay its eggs - or if it had eaten the eggs of the other turtle!

Another night, we were sitting in our lawn chairs in the twilight that follows the setting of the sun when we heard a rasping sound coming down the lake, much like Darth Vadar in Star Wars. It came closer and closer, and I was beginning to wonder if it might be a bear when a beaver came swimming around the point, just a few feet off shore. Its rasping continued - sort of like the sound my son's yellow lab makes when he retrieves a stick from the lake and gets water down his throat - and it didn't see us until it was almost in front of us. You can guess what came next - the thunderous slap of the tail, the powerful dive beneath the surface and it was gone. After that, it came by pretty much every night, but he kept his distance as he went about his daily rounds.

One morning I awoke early, just as the mists were rising off the lake. I gazed out the window next to our bed and was watching a single duck swim down the bay. I heard splashing off to my left, and as I leaned over to look, I saw a cow moose about 30 feet down the shoreline, scrambling up the bank after drinking from the lake!

Later that same day, Ken was building a campfire after dinner, and as he bent over to saw up some branches, a young deer sprang out of the woods, ran right behind him and leaped in the lake, swimming all the way across the bay.

Every day seemed to bring something new - owls hooting at daybreak, loons calling at twilight, a single gull who came around every afternoon, and lightning bugs and shooting stars after dark. We realized just how distanced we sometimes get from all of this in our everyday lives, and we savored each and every moment of it.

By the end of the week, we had grown accustomed to settling into our lawn chairs and waiting in anticipation of what nature would present next. We weren't disappointed.

Our friend the gull had come round to visit us in hopes of snagging a leftover hamburger bun, and as he was working the shoreline there came a tremendous splash off to our left. A large white pelican had landed in the bay, and he regally paddled over to where the gull floated in the water in front of us. He positioned himself about 10 feet beyond the gull and swam back and forth, back and forth, as though he, too, was waiting for a handout. The gull won out every time, and at one time he launched his considerably smaller body at the pelican, creating a terrible squawking and flapping of wings until the pelican backed off.

For the most part, the two simply coexisted. About 20 minutes later, the gull seemed to grow bored with waiting and flew off across the lake.

Almost as if on cue, the pelican lifted up off the water, unfurled his considerable wingspan, and flew companionably after the gull!