Lake Alva

June brought plenty of rain to the Flathead Valley. Temperatures rarely jumped over 70 degrees and most days were cloudy. We even had a couple nights which dipped below freezing. To get a break from the cool and cloudy weather, our family took a trip south to Lake Alva.  Alva is a fascinating little lake, home to loons, pine needle balls, and interesting fungi.

I’ll start with the fungi.  On our Longest-Day-of-the-Year picnic, I walked through the cool, damp cedar woods near Avalanche picnic area. While taking macro photos of some tiny flowers, someone walking by asked if I had seen any mushrooms. Straightening, I looked at the person in question. A bright, round face looked cheerfully on from beneath an uneven cap of curly hair. “Mushrooms? No, I’ve not seen any. But I haven’t been looking, either.” I proceeded to give directions to a place where fungi of all sorts were to be found. He thanked me enthusiastically and added, “and you know, half that stuff is edible!” At the very least, the conversation rekindled my photographic interest in fungi. Perhaps it filled this man’s stomach, too. At any rate, fungi were on my mind at Lake Alva. The results, while not many in number, proved quite interesting.

Most of my time at Alva was spent in a canoe. On the first outing, I wanted to look for pine needle balls, but the water was much higher than normal, so the shallows where pine needle balls are formed were not at all shallow. Later my brothers and I paddled the canoe up the inlet creek. The creek was blocked by a number of beaver dams which we portaged around on our way up and paddled right over on the way down. The creek moved slowly and twisted back and forth quite regularly.  The canoe trips up the river were the perfect combination of serenity, floating slowly around the lazy bends, and excitement, paddling hard to gain speed and clear the beaver dams. In the evenings, we paddled around the lake, admiring the pair of loons which had nested on an island in the middle of the lake.

My time ashore was mostly spent in camp, eating or sitting in my hammock reading long Russian novels. Just sitting around when camping is so much more rewarding than sitting around at home. The setting is therapeutic, there’s nothing to interrupt and shatter the peace, and spirits are high as a result.

Our second evening out, clouds formed and the wind began to blow. I hurried in from the lake and arrived at camp just as the storm appeared to be clearing.  In preparation for rain, we’d hung a rain tarp above the picnic table. Shortly after the storm’s retreat, the clouds regathered. Temperature and dewpoint met. Large raindrops began to fall. I zipped up the fly on my tent and tightened everything down. Sitting under the rain tarp, rain seemed terribly noisy. I looked up from my book to see the occasional pea-sized hailstone mixed in with the rain. Minutes later, we were all shouting at one another, deafened by the roar of an absolute cloudburst of hail. In the space of a quarter hour, the temperature dropped twenty degrees. White hailstones completely covered the ground, even beneath the dense trees where we were camped.  A moody plume of smoke and steam sulked out of the fire pit. All flames and glowing embers had disappeared at the outset of the downpour. When the saturated ground refused to absorb more water, a stream of runoff made straight for my tent. I put a camp chair on my head to protect me from the bullet-like hail and rushed out to divert the small flood. Stepping into the rivulet, to determine its depth, water surged over the toe of my boot. If I didn’t act quickly, I’d have a soggy night. Fortunately, the water had picked up so many pine needles that I was able to make a dike of pine needles around my tent, diverting the small river off to the side. As with most hailstorms, the chaos did not last long, and blue skies reappeared in a few minutes. Piles of hailstones, however, stuck around until the next day.

This camping trip, though not especially adventurous, reminded me just how relaxing it could be to go spend three days sitting in the woods without a connection to the outside world. Perhaps I ought to do that a little more often.

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