It’s kayak season! There is no happier place for me than on the water. This wet, chilly spring, it seemed those treasured kayak days would never get here, but arrive they did. I’m fortunate to have three paddle buddies this year. Without further ado… Continue reading
Yet that’s the way I spent my holiday this year. Christmas with family in Dallas, Texas is a tradition. Spending time at White Rock Lake, walking and photographing the park and the wildlife there, is a tradition. Getting out on the water there – well, here’s to new traditions!
Last year I discovered two kayaks, hidden away behind my cousin Jensen’s house. I immediately began a subtle (ok, not so subtle) campaign to coax him into an excursion on White Rock Lake over the holidays. All we needed was warmth, sunshine and light winds, the last always essential on a big lake like White Rock.
The day was warm, but the sky was dark and moody, and we even had a brief shower. No matter. The morning was dead calm, the lake as smooth as glass. I was paddling, for gosh sakes, the day after Christmas. All was right with the world.
Elaborate mansions line the shores of the lake behind him, and beyond that, the Dallas skyline.
After this, my photography went south. To capture images in the darkness under the bridge, I needed to adjust the settings of my small waterproof point-and-shoot camera. I forgot to reset it afterward. Later I learned that this camera can’t handle those settings. Only a few images after that point were even usable, and they’re a little embarrassing.
Jensen and I paddled a short way up White Rock Creek. We could have explored a lot further up the waterway, but frankly, it got depressing.
Why? Trash. Plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups and other bits and pieces of detritus. Now, I’m used to Darby Creek at home, which draws its fair share of refuse. But not this bad.
They spent a good three hours cleaning up trash from a 40-foot section of shoreline, filling two large Hefty bags in the process.
Here’s one of their finds. Way to go, guys! (Photo by Jensen Moock)
Speaking of family… Jensen’s daughter Alex had really wanted to go kayaking with us. Alas, we only had two kayaks. So she went with her dad a week or so later. As you can see, they had a much prettier day. And Jensen had prettier company. (Photo by Jensen Moock)
Notice the GoPro behind the seat. Alex, soon to graduate from high school, is a talented filmmaker. She starts at prestigious Belmont University in the fall. Can you tell I’m proud of her?
(That doesn’t get you off the hook, Alex – I still haven’t seen footage from your White Rock kayak experience. Or anything you shot from the drone.)
Back to my little White Rock adventure. After the paddle up the creek, Jensen and I returned to our exploration of the lake. He had no luck fishing, but we chatted with another boater who told us a few fish tales. I showed Jensen the dog park, and the arm of the lake I call “Cormorant Corner”, for all the Double-crested Cormorants that roost in the trees there. Funny to think that a lifelong Dallas resident needed to be shown around White Rock Lake by a part-time visitor.
On White Rock Lake.
The day after Christmas.
(Photo by Jensen Moock)
I ate lunch in my bare feet. The day after Christmas.
It doesn’t get any better than that.
Y’all close your eyes now. Let’s go there in our minds…
Ah, that’s better. Wave goodbye to the dark, dreary, landlocked days of winter. Shed the layers of thermals and fleece. Wade through the shallows, and settle into the kayak. Turn your face to the warming rays of the sun.
Now, dip the paddle blade into the water, and smoothly, gently, pull. Feel the boat glide effortlessly forward.
Ahhh. That’s better.
After six long months on land, I am once again a creature of the water. Blessed with a warm sunny day in the middle of April, I pack up my kayak and head for the Pine Barrens. Lake Oswego awaits, glittering indigo under a clear blue sky. No longer a dream, my happy place is now reality.
The water of the lake flows dripping off my paddle, and runs chuckling down the length of the kayak’s hull.
Ssssshlooooop -drip-drip-drip – drip – d r i p – d r i p – gurgle – gurgle
Lakes don’t occur naturally in the Pine Barrens. Something had to die for the pond to be born.
Gone, but not forgotten.
Bleached cedar tree trunks are the totem poles of the Pine Barrens lake, the resting places of arboreal souls. I drift among them like the clouds wisp across the sky, soaking up the twitter of tree swallows.
A spectral white trunk leans on another for support. Like the wrinkles of an old woman’s face, its weathered skin whispers of all that it has seen. Wait – what is perched on the right end of the log? Photobombed by a dragonfly!
There’s that sound again. QUONK! Like a metallic thunk. I heard a few of them near the launch, but at this end of the lake the sounds are much more numerous. No bird I know makes that sound. It has to be a frog. But what one? No matter how close I get to each QUONK, it’s not close enough. I see no frogs.
One of my missions is to find where the Oswego River comes into Oswego Lake. I follow a pair of honking geese into a cove. At the far end is a narrow passage into another cove. Beyond that a thin little stream squeezes between trees and disappears.
But there’s another cove, with another stream beyond it disappearing into the trees. This one looks wider, more like a real stream. Hmmm. Mission postponed. Best to leave some mystery for another day.
Ahhh, that’s better. My spirit has been soothed. Winter is past; its cold and confinement have faded. A season of warm days and blue water unfolds before me like a map. A map that leads to…
The sun shines brightly in an azure sky laced with fluffy white clouds. All is quiet but for the fading voices ashore and the rhythm of the paddle. Dip, swish, drip, drip; dip, swish, drip, drip.
At the small island’s tip, driftwood and old pilings bleach in the sun while a single tree keeps watch. A kayak rests on the shore, awaiting the return of its paddlers from an exploration of the island’s wild interior.
Across Hamlin Lake lies the inviting inlet of the much smaller Lost Lake. A spit of land barely ten feet wide separates the two lakes.
The Lost Lake Trail spans the inlet on an elevated walkway. Underneath, an uprooted stump has wedged itself under the bridge. This is the land of drowned forests, cut down and buried under water in the name of progress. Progress complete, the lakes are now a place for play.
The coves offer a sheltered place for water lilies and sedges to grow. On the isthmus, a tree leans at a precarious angle. The peacefulness of a summer’s day is deceptive; the Lake Michigan coast is a harsh environment, and whipping winter winds take their toll on trees clinging to the water’s edge.
All too soon, fierce winter will intrude upon peaceful meditations of summer. When it comes, find sanctuary in dreams of sheltered coves and sand beaches. The dip, swish, drip, drip of the paddle. The plants swaying sinuously beneath the clear water, the sparkle of the sun on the surface, the sand and the trees reflected there.
In which, Captain Robb takes us Pontooning, and a Short Kayak Excursion nearly leaves us Marooned on a Deserted Island.
One of our favorite things to do in the summer is to go to Lake Nockamixon and rent a pontoon boat for a couple of hours. A gorgeous Saturday, blue water, a light breeze, a shady boat canopy; what could be more relaxing?
Sunday morning we set out on a much-anticipated kayaking expedition, down Darby Creek to the Delaware River and across to Little Tinicum Island. It’s a small uninhabited island about 3 miles long by 500 feet wide. Most of the island is overgrown with impenetrable vegetation, but the shore is lined with narrow sand beaches.
We paddled out on a day so calm the water was like glass. The tide was out, and we were surprised at how shallow the river was. Robb saw a crab swim by his kayak. Here’s Robb and Don paddling around the southern tip of the island.
Partway up the New Jersey side, we decided to land. This meant walking across a long stretch of slippery, sticky mudflats while dragging our boats behind us. Yuck! Once we reached the sand, we had a grand time exploring the shoreline.
We found two cozy little “camps” on the island, one on each side. People had set up chairs, a table, tire swings, even fire rings. Probably fishermen, since each camp had its own skillet. Robb couldn’t resist one of the swings. Really, he’s just a big kid.
When we left the Jersey side, there was a large freighter out in the main channel. I was back on the water first and glanced back to see the guys sitting in their floating kayaks, ready to paddle away. Then I heard Robb shout something. I turned around to see them still in their kayaks, still in the same place – but now high and dry on the mudflats! No water anywhere near them!
FUN FACT: Why did the water drain away from the shore? Something called bank suction, created by that large ship that was passing by. The increased velocity of water past the hull of a ship in a restricted channel causes a decrease in pressure which draws the ship bodily toward the near bank. That decreased pressure also draws the water towards the ship. The effect is temporary; the water flows back in a moment or two.
A “lazaretto” or “lazaret” is a quarantine station for marine travelers. The Philadelphia Lazaretto, on the Delaware County shore of the Delaware River, was built in 1799 in response to the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. All ships were required to stop here for inspection, and ill passengers were quarantined. It operated as a hospital until 1895. A century older than Ellis Island’s inspection station in New York, this is the oldest surviving quarantine hospital in the U.S. The view of the building from the river is something a lot of people never see.
Not everyone can say they’ve paddled under the runway lights of the Philadelphia Airport, either. These are on a long wooden pier extending obliquely along the shore. Needless to say, there were a lot of planes taking off and flying overhead while we were out on the river.
The first three hours of our fateful trip were relaxing and fun. The second three hours, not so much.
Tides are tricky things. We had only planned to paddle partway up the Philadelphia side of the island, for about 45 minutes. But we reached the north end in 30, thanks to the incoming tide.
Then it took us over 2 hours of HARD paddling to cover the same three miles against the tide. We seriously underestimated the strength of the flood current. At times we were making no progress at all.
And that’s how our three-hour tour turned into a six-hour marathon, and nearly left us castaways on a deserted isle!
Hold on to your hats, folks, as the Wild Edge takes a sharp detour from the Great Smoky Mountains of the South to the Piedmont of Pennsylvania. We’ll return to the Appalachians soon. But sometimes a trip so excites me that I just have to share it RIGHT NOW.
And what could tear me away from the Smokies? A simple kayak trip Robb, Don and I took to the Susquehanna River. At least it looked simple. Guide books and satellite map research only hinted at a river dotted with rocky islands. That didn’t come close to preparing us for what we found.
The Susquehanna River is punctuated here by three hydro-electric dams. Between the dams is the Susquehanna Gorge. At one time it was 400’ or more deep, where the river carved through bedrock of Wissahickon schist, forming spectacular sculpted rock formations, potholes and three levels of terraces. Now much of it is below the still, lake-like waters. Only where the water is shallow, just below the dams, do the geological wonders appear.
These wonders revealed themselves slowly as we paddled upstream along the shore of Lower Bear Island. At first we saw islets no more than a foot high. Even the smallest had some sort of vegetation on it. Gradually the islets became larger islands, and the shores became steeper and rockier.
When we reached the channel between Lower Bear and Upper Bear Island, we began to really appreciate this amazing place. Islands of stone were everywhere. Fantastical sculptures lined the cliffs on both sides of us. I started to give the formations names.
Above Upper Bear Island, about a mile and a half from the dam, we began to see signs of trouble. Or rather, we didn’t see trouble, which came in the form of shallow rocks just below the opaque surface. You’d be paddling along, admiring the scenery, and suddenly find yourself spinning sideways and threatening to tip over. Getting unstuck was challenging, and left me with wet shirt sleeves.
Another quarter mile up, the water got too low for our kayaks. We tried a cross channel around Crow Island, but had to turn back. By this time we were hungry and itching to stretch our legs. But where to land? There were no soft beaches in this garden of stone.
Well, yes, there was, just one. When we passed it earlier it had been occupied by two kayaks, with two kayakers above on the rocks. Now the beach was empty. We stopped, picked up our little lunch sacks, and threaded our way through the trees to the top. I was first to arrive, and this is what I saw:
Or not. I really have to put a bell on Don.
(There you go, Don. See how nice I am to you? I put this photo in at your request, even though you insist on continually disturbing my (ahem) solitary moments.)
Many of the rocks show a strong tilt, the result of thousands of years of geological forces far beyond my comprehension. (Really. I read a scientific paper about the gorge. Didn’t understand a third of it.)
For something completely different, we took the channel (right) between Upper and Lower Bear Islands to the other side. Here we found the river even wider, and not nearly so rocky. The main channel passes close to the far shore.
By the time we passed Lower Bear Island, Don was ready to call it a day and headed in.
Not Robb and I. He’d been talking all day about some cove on Big Chestnut Island he’d spotted on a satellite photo. I thought he meant a small beach. Little did I know.
The approach to the cove was narrow, and nearly invisible. It took some deft paddling to wind through the tight and twisty opening. A couple of Bald Eagles flew close overhead, a good omen if ever there was one.
We found ourselves inside a small hidden lagoon, a secret garden. Wooded rock walls towered above us on all sides, cool and green and shady. It was amazing.
We wanted to linger awhile longer, but needed to press on. The exit was far too narrow for passage, so we left the way we came, and crossed the river to the boat launch. Our day was over, and we were tired but elated.
It’s taken me a while to find a place as awesome as the Smokies. Hard to believe I’d find it so close to home. Even harder to believe a landscape as dramatic as the Susquehanna Gorge exists so close to home.
I can’t wait to wander again through this watery garden of stone.
No longer tied to the land, limited in our vision to the edge of the shore. Now the whole watery world opens up before us, and we are free to explore each cove, each inlet, each river bend. Wildlife, once skittish, will meet our gaze with fearlessness and dance for our pleasure. Oh, the places we’ll go!
Ready to go home. The first thing everyone says is “It’s the same color as your car!” As if I would get anything other than blue. Blue, the color of the clear sky, azure butterflies, bluebells, and blueberries. Blue, the color of water…
Oh, the places we’ll go!
Like Lake Oswego in the Pine Barrens, for Calypso’s maiden voyage on a cool but bright October day.
Unlike friends Don and Robb, I chose a hard-shell kayak over an inflatable model. No PUMPA-PUMPA-PUMPA for me. I just have to lift a 50 pound boat onto and off my car. That turned out to be easy. Reaching the tie-down straps, however, is another story. Nice to have a handy-dandy stepladder available.
I had the lake to myself. Unfortunately, finding a warm calm day on a weekend to get the three of us together had proven impossible. On Launch Day, Robb was at work. Though Don accompanied me to the lake, he declined to paddle. Something about a new book. No worries. I enjoyed the peace and solitude and the chance to get to know my new craft.
Oh, the places we’ll go!
Oh, the places we’ll go!
With the approach of winter, it’s likely that this would be my only trip with Calypso this year. But come next spring, I will be ready for adventure at the first hint of warmth.
For now, I have dreams, dreams of paddling…
Around the bend and out of sight, with a whole watery world shining on the horizon.