We dipped our paddles into the rippled waters of the Susquehanna River, and paddled back in time. Continue reading
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir
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.
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.
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.
Flash 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.
I’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.
Another 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.
Looking 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.
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.
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.
And 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.
Our 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.
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…
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.