Adirondacks Carefree: Easy Living

Make your heart like a lake, with a calm, still surface, and great depths of kindness.   – Lao Tzu

Mountains are hard, stony, unforgiving. Nothing comes easily on a mountain. Gentle paths are soon strewn with rocks, small boulders must be climbed, and always the trail goes up, up, up. Until it goes down, and usually that’s worse. No question, mountains are hard work.

This summer, my friends and I answered the call of New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Forty-six peaks over 4000’. Lots of hiking and climbing and days filled with vigorous activity beckoned.

But…

This year’s destination came with a bonus – a lake.

Lakes are soft, fluid, soothing. Doing nothing comes very easily on a lake. You want to linger, trail your fingers through the cool water, listen to the cry of the loons, soak up the sunset. The living is easy on a lake.

This was a BIG lake. Our rental house perched on the shores of Upper Saranac Lake. With 37 miles of shoreline, that’s a lot of lake. The heck with peak-bagging! We were looking forward to relaxing by the water. It would be restful. Restorative. Carefree.

Adirondack Park is a long drive from Philadelphia, north through three mountain ranges. Our own Poconos, the Catskills, and finally the Adirondacks. The High Peaks rose around us, cascading long ribbons of waterfalls into narrow lakes, thoroughly distracting the driver.

Concentration returned on the three miles of twisting dirt road that led to our home away from home deep in the woods. Ahhh!

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.   – John Burroughs

Early mornings on the dock were a joy. With cameras and journal, I settled myself there after breakfast each day, to write and immerse myself in the peace.

One morning dawned draped in mist.

A Common Merganser swam into view. With her were five fluffy ducklings. Two got a ride on mama’s back, dozing sleepily, carefree. The others paddled along in her wake. I watched as the lovely little family passed in front of me and disappeared into the distance. I wondered where they were going? Maybe Mom knew a good diner for breakfast?

The Merganser story took a turn two mornings later, after a nighttime thunderstorm with winds and heavy rains.  Now Mama Merganser returned – with just one duckling in tow.

I told myself that the time had come for the other ducklings to be out on their own, or perhaps this was a different family altogether. But in my heart, I know that’s not so. Not all the young ones of any species survive their youth.

But this young duckling was handsome and strong, and wonderful to watch.

Above the water’s surface, the mayflies danced, carefree.

If there’s water, there must be kayaking… I’d dreamed for months about long solo paddles in the early morning or evening, sneaking up on loons, perhaps even catching a moose as it drank at the edge of the water. One look at the dock crushed that dream. I’ve yet to master the art of dockside kayak launches. Even with three of us, it’s a challenge. Alone? No, that wasn’t going to happen.

However, my friends agreed to try the two kayaks out with me one still morning.

Don first…

And then, reluctantly, Robb. These kayaks were much narrower and longer than the boat he’s used to, and it took quite a while before he got the confidence to paddle more than two strokes at a time.

Once he got the hang of it, though, he was the king of the lake.

We weren’t out long, but it gave me the chance to get that obligatory view-from-the-kayak shot.

Peeking around the point as Don paddles back to our dock.

Bird feeders in the back yard drew lots of feathered friends. Some were birds we don’t get to see often. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Black-capped Chickadees (we get Carolina Chickadees) and lots of Purple Finches. Ruby-throated hummingbirds visited.

Underneath the feeders, though? That was the domain of the red squirrels.

The time was rare when there was no squirrel under the feeders. Not much bigger than a chipmunk, red squirrels are much smaller than our common gray squirrels. These jaunty little fellows have a white ring around their eyes and a black stripe along the side of their bellies.  We never grew tired of watching their antics.

Did someone mention chipmunks? Yes, they visited from time to time, too. Tiny but fierce battles broke out between the two tribes when a chipmunk and a squirrel both wanted the prime real estate. Surprisingly, these war games usually ended with the squirrel fleeing the chipmunk.

Each day ended lakeside on the dock, awaiting the sunset. Occasionally a highly polished classic wooden boat would motor by. A classic Adirondack sight.

We looked for the Milky Way one evening. We didn’t see it. Perhaps it was not yet dark enough. Still, there were an amazing number of stars. I can only imagine the sky in the middle of the night, when we were lost in our dreams, in our lakeside reverie.

Oh! For the lazy lakeside living! We could have happily passed the days by the water’s edge, relaxed and carefree.

But…

The mountains are calling and I must go.   – John Muir

White Rock Lake: A New Perspective

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4763acsKayaking, the day after Christmas. Who would have guessed?

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.

161226_tx-white-rock-lake-kayak_112937acsAfter years of exploring White Rock Lake from land, this was the perspective I had been itching to see – White Rock from the water.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4761acsMy cousin Jensen, lookin’ good.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4767acsCruising past the marina. Brightly colored kayaks rested among the sailboats, just waiting for someone to liberate them from their land-locked existence.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4771acsJensen knifed through the water so powerfully he threatened to paddle right out of my picture. One-handed, yet!

Elaborate mansions line the shores of the lake behind him, and beyond that, the Dallas skyline.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4777acsA wonderful pedestrian bridge arched over a narrow arm of the lake.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4795acsWe paddled under the Mockingbird Lane bridge, where Jensen tried his hand at a little fishing. The day after Christmas. Imagine that!

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.

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4823acsHere’s one of them anyway, which I only share since it’s of my favorite White Rock bird, the American Coot.

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.

img951911acThe scene inspired Jensen and his son Jake to do a little volunteer work a month later.

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)

170101_tx-wrl-kayak-jensen-and-alex_950923acsSpeaking 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.)

170101_tx-wrl-kayak-jensen-and-alex_9155acsA lake, a fishing rod and a sunset. Jensen, enjoying the serenity of a day with his daughter. (Photo by Alex Moock)

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.

161226_tx-white-rock-lake-kayak_122640acsHere’s a rarely seen sight – me, captured on camera.

On White Rock Lake.

The day after Christmas.

(Photo by Jensen Moock)

161226_tx-white-rock-kayak_4843acsDramatic clouds over the lake. They would part just as we were getting off the water, yielding to sunshine and blue skies.

I ate lunch in my bare feet. The day after Christmas.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

A Shore Thing: The Many Moods of Beach and Bay

160918_nj-oc-beach_8321acsIn two weeks at the Jersey Shore, one witnesses the ocean and her surrounding waters in many moods. Expansive and serene one day…

160919_074732a…she is moody and ominous the next.

160921_nj-oc-devils-island-kayak_4445acsOn a kayaking trip to Devil’s Island in the saltwater marshes: rain and gloom.

160921_nj-oc-devils-island-kayak_4447acs160926_nj-middle-thoroughfare-kayak_9582acsAnother day afloat in Middle Thoroughfare: clear blue skies and lightly riffled water.

160928_nj-oc-sunrise_8977acsRed sky at morning, sailor take warning. Sunrise on the day before…

160929_nj-oc-noreaster_0727acs…the big Nor’easter. Three days of howling northeast winds and driving rain.

Don didn’t believe me when I told him the storm was truly a nor’easter – until he was on the beach in the teeth of it.

160929_nj-oc-noreaster_0735acsAngry, dramatic – beautiful! I will meet the sea in any mood she cares to share with me…

Paddling Michigan

110708_mi-club-mich_5097acsI learned to kayak in Michigan.

I’d spent my adolescence canoeing, but decades had passed, and kayaks were a different craft altogether. So I listened carefully as Betsey showed me how to get into the kayak, and warned me of the dangers of getting broadside to the waves. Then she gave the stern a little push and said “Paddle!”

Faced with deceptively strong one-foot waves and starting to veer dangerously sideways, I did just what she said. One stroke. Hmm, this odd paddle has a blade on the other end too. Let’s try that one. Two strokes. Then three, four, five strokes, and without knowing it I was out beyond the waves, maneuvering the boat like I’d been born to it.

I was a kayaker.

110718_mi-club-mich_5083acsFlash forward five years, and once again I found myself in Michigan, this time with a lot more kayak experience under my belt. I’ve paddled ponds, lakes, creeks and rivers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, both with companions and alone. Heck, I even own my own kayak now. But until this year, my Michigan paddling had been lake-bound: Lost Lake and Hamlin Lake, Lake Michigan.

No more. This year, I finally got out on a Michigan river. Two of them, in fact!

Up first, the Lincoln River. Getting there required a 1½ mile paddle north on Lake Michigan. During which time I realized that I’d left my waterproof point-and-shoot camera behind. Phooey.

150822_mi-lake-michigan-kayak_1934acsI’d tried this trip the year before, but had been turned back by wind and powerful longshore currents. Don’t the clear skies and crystal aquamarine water of this photo from last year fool you. Lake Michigan is not to be trifled with. Underneath that rippled surface was a northward flow as unyielding as any spring tide.

No such drama from the lake this time! This year she was a lamb, lying calm and blue under sunny skies. The trip to the mouth of the Lincoln River took a mere fifteen minutes. Once there, I sought the shelter of some trees. It was getting hot, and the shade was welcome.

160723_mi-lincoln-lake-102454acsAnother happy fifteen minutes took me under a footbridge and into Lincoln Lake. Finally I gave in and dug my cell phone out to take photos. I own two DLSR cameras, four lenses and a waterproof camera, and there I was, using a phone camera.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_102746acsLooking back toward Epworth Heights. My great-grandfather built a house in this Methodist resort a century ago, and my dad and his cousin Sherry spent summers there throughout their boyhoods. I grew up with Dad’s tales of Michigan, and fell in love the first time I set foot in the state. Must be in the blood.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_103728acsTranquil scene along the Lincoln River. I spotted several Great Blue Herons, a couple of Belted Kingfishers and numerous turtles along the shores of white pine, hemlock and birch.

160723_mi-lincoln-river-lake_110150acsThe mouth of the river, with Lake Michigan beyond. A nice day for a paddle, no?

An even bigger adventure awaited a few days later. My cousin Becky, her husband Ron and their friend Mark invited me to go on a day-long canoe trip on the Pere Marquette River.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4094acs Looking over partner Mark’s shoulder, Becky and Ron in the red canoe about to slip around the bend.

Canoeing! I’d lived in canoes as a teenager – I’d paddled, floated, talked, sang, ate and even slept in them. This was familiar as coming back home.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4102acsAnd yet, not so familiar. The rust showed. I was surprised at how awkward canoeing felt. I had always paddled in the stern of a canoe when I was young, so that’s where I asked to be. Poor Mark gamely put up with my out-of-practice (and very different) paddling style for the day. He was generous with his tips and I learned a few things from him. I definitely wasn’t the veteran canoer I used to be.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4116acsOur lunch spot along the Pere Marquette River. The river is lined with white pine, birch, cedar and beech trees, along with wild rice plants. Tiny damselflies were everywhere. We passed a white-tailed deer and her fawn, and two wood ducks, and were in turn passed by a Belted Kingfisher.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4121acsAfter lunch I amused myself looking at the pebbly riverbed. I think there might have been small fossils embedded in at least one of these rocks.

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4126acsThen I remembered my camera is waterproof. I’ve always wanted to try an above-the-water/ below-the-water split shot. The rapidly moving water makes for an unusual boundary.

When we got back on the river after lunch, Mark took over in the stern. I spent the rest of the trip wondering where to put my feet. There is NO space in the front of a canoe. Now I am quite sure that I’ve never paddled in the bow before in my life.

With experienced Brother Mark at the helm, I had time to do a little more photography…

160726_mi-pere-marquette-river-canoe_4148acs…And sit back and soak in a beautiful day paddling on a wild Michigan river.

My Happy Place

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3199acsEveryone needs a place of retreat, a place to restore one’s soul. Through the long winter I pictured it only in my dreams. Serene. Meditative. Calming. My happy place.

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 – gurglegurgle

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3190acsThe first strokes are awkward, and I find myself paddling not across open water, but through a mass of lily pads and dark green pondweeds. Oops! Better watch where I am going.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3429acsHmmm. That looks interesting on the other side of the bridge. I wonder if I can fit under there?

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3415acsEasily spooked, turtles dive at the mere hint of my presence. I stow my paddle and drift, and soon a turtle forgets me and begins to nibble at a nice wet salad.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3193acsMy happy place. Around the upper curve of the lake and down the far shore, past the dam and the portage beach. Blue sky, green trees, dark blue water. Ahhh.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3373acsAt the southeastern end of the lake, I find this fantastical sculpture, the twisted remains of a long-deceased tree.

Lakes don’t occur naturally in the Pine Barrens. Something had to die for the pond to be born.

Gone, but not forgotten.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3295acsMy happy place is… a cemetery. The ghosts of drowned cedar trees haunt the shallow places, a reminder of the forest that once was.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3357acsYet life abounds among the tree spirits. A fallen phantom attracts a turtle, very much alive. Several of his shelled buddies are also soaking up the sun nearby.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3285acsBleached 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.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3264acsA 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.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3322acsCould this be the Oswego River?

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.

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3393acsLeft also for another day is this inviting little pathway.

Journey’s end.

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…

160418_NJ Oswego Lake Kayak_3448acsMy happy place.

Lost on the Lakes

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1665acsNow, as the cold days draw near, close your eyes and dream…dream of a Michigan summer…

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.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1527acsThe kayak glides effortlessly across the deep blue of Hamlin Lake toward an island of rich greenery and white sands. A cool breeze brushes warm skin and paints ripples on the canvas of the water.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1546acsAt 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.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1598acsThe 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.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1550acsLost Lake is serene, and the water amazingly clear. Every tree stump and aquatic plant can be seen with clarity.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1620The 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.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1661acsA towering sand dune offers a place to stop, rest and explore.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1681acsIf snails would seek sanctuary from predators, they will not find it here. The shallows of Lost Lake offer no hiding place. Yet again, the crystal clear water astounds.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1712acsA pair of damselflies patrols over a field of water lilies.

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5156acsWee mushrooms loom large over moss and pine needles, a landscape in miniature on the forest floor.

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5163acsTiny treasures such as this captivate the imagination and tempt the soul to linger.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1728acsBut nearby the narrow entrance to a small cove beckons, dark and mysterious.

150821_MI LSP Lost Lake Kayak_1754acsAt its mouth, a fallen log has been eaten away by time like Swiss cheese. In one nook, new life has taken root.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Lake Kayak_1814acsNothing is so tenacious as a plant. It takes but a tiny bit of soil, tucked in a crevice of an old tree stump, for a new tree to sprout and grow. Water, soil, light. What more could a tree wish?

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1900acsMallards splash and bathe by the roots of an overturned tree…

150820_MI LSP Lost Lake Trail_5134acs…while a green frog idles in the shade.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Lake Kayak_1846acsAn intricate entwining of twisted white limbs adorned with greenery graces the shore. Tree sculpture is but one form of Nature’s artwork.

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.

150821_MI LSP Hamlin Kayak_1890acsSavor the moments spent lost in reverie… on the lost lakes.