- Associated Press - Saturday, August 9, 2014

ENAVILLE, Idaho (AP) - The large deer or moose ear periscoped up out of the water and caught my eye.

I had been floating the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River for about an hour when I spotted it in a shallow stretch of water about 20 yards from the brush-lined shoreline.

As I floated up to what turned out to be a fawn, I got off my inner tube and looked down on the deer and tried to figure out what befell the youngster.

The skin on its back was flayed open exposing pink and white tissue, bone and muscle. It appeared that there were a few, small bloody gashes in the meaty tissue. Coyote or wolf bite marks? Maybe a bird stopped off for a few pecks? Talons?

Violence was the first cause of death that came to my mind, jumping to the conclusion that something brought it down right there recently but wasn’t able to finish with a hearty meal.

At the shoreline an animal trail tunneled into the lush green riparian vegetation. Maybe that’s where the fawn was headed, or maybe where it entered the river? I thought of the predator heading in that direction, slinking off in frustration without its prey, with valuable energy expended and hunger still gnawing at its belly.

After spending time surveying the situation I decided to start heading downstream to catch up with my group of rafters. But before climbing back onto my inflated chariot I spotted a dead whitefish, suspended in the water column, visibly decomposing and gliding, not tumbling, slowly downstream in the current.

Later, downstream, I found an animal’s bright white leg bone, which had come to rest at the bottom of a pool.

All the death got me thinking, and there’s plenty of time for that sitting on a $12 River Rat inner tube and inching downstream with a weak current and a small, plastic paddle.

Seeing the signs of death proved an abundance of life.

I’ve always looked at rivers and creeks as conveyor belts, mechanisms to move water, suspended sediments, rock and nutrients downhill.

But under the surface, the stream is teeming with life, and more life is drawn to its edges.

So instead of fighting to stay awake along the lazy 4-hour float - with snack stops and pool swimming - I made a point of searching for the variety of life I could find along our route. We had parked a couple vehicles along the Little North Fork Road, which leads to Bumblebee Campground, to unload and stage and parked one vehicle at Enaville for pickup.

With the hunt on for different species, I was able to get my hands on a crawdad, a couple of sculpin, some stoneflies and their casings, and we captured video of birds and an injured bat. I was surprised to see the bat moving during the daylight hours, and it eventually crawled down rocks and flapped its wings until it fell into the river. Apparently it had gone bat–- crazy, or was actually injured. I couldn’t tell.

Larger fish were briefly visible at moments, but the trout bolt away like lightning, seeming to dart away straight and change directions simultaneously. The whitefish are easiest to spot, sometimes gathered lazily in groups in pools.

I wished I brought some goggles or a snorkeling mask.

A trip down a reach of the North Fork doesn’t take much preparation, equipment or experience. Go with a friend, take along inner tubes or rubber rafts and a couple of small paddles, and then just add sunblock, sandals, snacks and something to drink.

It’s easy to tie rafts and inner tubes together for groups, or roam free like I did and experience it alone. I enjoy company, but it was my first time floating the river and I wanted to soak it all in at my own pace.

Once we returned to the bridge at Enaville we found a couple rope swings under the silver bridge dangling, idle. A rope swing is a perfect finale to a day out on the river.

I gave the longest rope a pull and heard a length of chain near the top rattle, suggesting strength. But I knew my pull was nothing compared with a swing out with all my weight, over the rocks. In an abundance of caution I asked a couple of teenage sunbathers to vouch for its strength.

Satisfied, I grabbed the rope, leapt up to a higher knot and swung out. At the apex of the swing I let go. I realized I still had my hat on, grabbed it and then exploded into the deep green pocket of water the river had scoured out under the bridge.

Underwater I could feel the light push of the river. I swam to the surface, then coughed up a bit of inhaled water from my nose. After that I was hooked and had to do it several more times, including once with the GoPro camera on my head. A person would do well to just spend an afternoon swimming under the bridge.

After putting on some dry clothes, we made the ritual-like stop at the Enaville Resort-Snake Pit.

I had the $6.95 quarter-pound hamburger, which had a nice big patty, fresh vegetables and bun, and some thick buffalo chips on the side with lots of ketchup. It was great to have some air-conditioning and darkness to gather around with friends for warm food and beers to fill the belly.

By the time we were on our way back to Coeur d’Alene, the only thing I couldn’t figure out was why I’d never floated the North Fork before. It made for a great Tuesday at work.

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The original story can be found on the Coeur d’Alene Press’ website: https://bit.ly/WXpUYg

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Information from: Coeur d’Alene Press, https://www.cdapress.com

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