An Idyllic Afternoon on Victoria Creek

By Tree Sturman

I have always thought of a double kayak as a kind of “couples therapy,” a recreational analogue to the dreaded leather couch. But if you have the tremendous good fortune to be married to your best friend, then a double kayak, a transcendent landscape and a free afternoon are all you’ll ever need to bring two souls into synchronicity. Such was the case this past Saturday when my wife and I pulled up to the boat launch at Victoria Creek in Cedar, Michigan.

Paddling the Cedar RiverOver a century ago, a dam was built on the Carp River, about 12 miles north in the town of Leland. The resulting 22-mile backwater is more lovingly known as Lake Leelanau. At the Southwest Corner of the virgin Lake the meandering Victoria Creek was mellowed into the Cedar River giving birth to hundreds of acres of diverse and exquisite wetlands—the subject of the day’s journey.

As Elaine and I set off from shore we were immediately transfixed by the sights and sounds of this seemingly tropical landscape. The water lilies and emergent aquatic plants were just beginning their ascent to the surface—their swollen rhizomes with giant leaf scars laying prostrate to the rich organic soil. As we paddled into the heart of the preserve, the crystal clear waters betrayed the thrashing mating habits of several Northern Pike with flattened, grumpy faces and silver backs maneuvering through the shallowest edges of the river. But the real stars (if not divas!) of our early spring escapade were the waterfowl, and what a show! Mergansers, Wood Ducks, Loons, Swans, Buffleheads, Canada Geese and of course, Mallards!

Prior to the Carp River Dam, giant Cedar trees lined the sandy banks of Victoria Creek. The remnant stumps have been transformed over time into bonsai pedestals proudly displaying a mix of stunted cedars, lichen and moss. These miniature landscapes would no doubt captivate the most ardent master of this Japanese art form and will, I hope, one day entice a fearless photojournalist to celebrate these wonderful gifts of nature and circumstance—perhaps they already have!

Spring Beauty on the riverFour miles into the journey we entered the Leelanau Conservancy’s Cedar River Preserve, 440-acres of permanently protected wetland. It was here we began to hear the subtle harmonics of spring’s greatest, and most vocal harbinger—the frog! Just prior to entering Lake Leelanau, Victoria Creek widens and fractures into three tantalizing offerings. In early spring, with neither Lilly pad nor pondweed blocking our way, there was but one choice. Head for the sound of frogs!

The rightmost fork in the River takes you into a truly rarified environment, a large, shallow lake completely enclosed within the preserve. With no human perturbances—our kayak notwithstanding—this mesmerizing landscape spread out before us like our own personal garden of Eden. A cacophony of clicking frogs was broken only by the trumpeting protests of a Canada goose, accusing us of offenses as yet unknown. The crystal clear water revealed a smorgasbord of aquatic plants and insects, and the promise of a good meal for so many fish and waterfowl. Surely this cannot be a real place—but it most certainly is.

Among the innumerable gifts Victoria Creek offers the casual paddler is an almost non-existent current. When the Creek enters Lake Leelanau, you can just as easily turn around and paddle upstream as continue onward to the boat launch at Perrins Landing, two miles east. When the wind is from the North, as it was that Saturday, the prudent course would be to turn around and head back upriver. But my wife and I were seeking adventure, so onward we paddled to challenge the waves.

Soaked, but smiling, we pulled ashore 45-minutes later—just as much in love as when we began our journey together, ten years ago.
Couples therapy indeed.