|Rowing at dusk|
Lately, instead of going for morning rows, I’ve been going boating in the early evening. At that time of day, the lake is usually glassy calm, the sun has sunk beneath the tree line and the water reflects the changing colors of the sky. As I stroke steadily from one end of the lake to the other, I feel like I’m drifting down a stream of sensory stimulation.
Every tree, shrub, vine and species of bamboo is a slightly different shade of green. Elderberry bushes topped with broad white blooms are interspersed among the willows, pines and myrtles. Along the shoreline, yellow-eyed grass, blue pickerelweed and tiny white bog buttons add dabs of brilliance.
|White elderberry flowers add a splash of brightness|
On overcast days, the mirror-like water reflects the cloud cover from billowy white to peach to grey. Then there’s the sky itself. Sometimes it’s blue, sometimes pink. Usually, it’s a swirling combination of colors in between.
|The ever-changing early evening skyscape|
At dusk, birds are active. I can depend upon at least one great white egret standing like a statue in the shallow water while nearby a tricolored heron does a jittery dance as it trolls for food. Often a great blue heron appears and on occasion, a pair of wood ducks. Ibises are regulars that tend to fish in groups, as do the nervous little sandpipers that skirt the shoreline with their constantly bobbing bodies.
|I have to look closely to see small sandpipers that blend so effortlessly into the shoreline|
As I pull the oars through the water, my rhythmic strokes startle turtles and interrupt the shallow-water grazing of triploid carp. Occasionally I’ll be startled myself by the loud splash made by a small alligator diving for cover before I approach.
|A young alligator checks out my rowboat|
Living next to a lake, I’m accustomed to seeing fish jump out of the water, but in the early evening when dragonflies and insects are buzzing about, large fish are especially active. Small fish are too. I’m always surprised to see schools of minnows hopscotch over the water as I row by. They’re probably fleeing from predators but I like to think they share my contentment and are leaping for joy.
|Dragonflies and damselflies are busy at dusk|
At the south end of the lake, a dead sumac bush taller than any other lakeside plant is the preferred lookout post for a contingent of shrub-nesting catbirds and cardinals. As I stroke steadily toward them, one or more birds is always there to greet or (more realistically) yell at me.
“Stay away!” I imagine them saying. “What do you think you’re doing, coming so close to our nests?”
|A catbird patrols its territory from its lookout post on a dead sumac bush|
Farther inland, a screech owl occupies a dead pine tree. When I row by the point closest to the snag, I stop to use my camera’s zoom lens like a binocular. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch a glimpse of the big-eyed predator peering out at the darkening world from its hollow tree home.
|A screech owl surveys the landscape from it pine snag home|
The entire time I’m rowing, bats and birds fly overhead. Swallows come out in the evening to do their aerial dance, soaring and swooping over the watery surface. Killdeer appear with a wing-fluttery whoosh while bats dip and dive in their erratic search for insects.
Nocturnal critters come alive when the sun sinks low but many others retire. Diurnal birds like ibises, egrets, sandhill cranes and cormorants head home to roost.
|Birds heading home to roost|
When I look up from my row, it feels like I’m watching a plumed parade. Some birds fly in flocks, others go solo but all seem to travel in the same northeastern direction. No matter how often I watch their flight, I always wonder, “Why northeast and just where are they all going…?” It’s one of many mysteries to ponder as I row...
The other day, a brown thrasher serenaded me. Its exuberant missive filled the air but as much as I looked, I couldn’t find the bird anywhere. When I reached the north end of the lake, I rested my oars and scanned the treetops for the source only to locate the thrasher on the uppermost branch of the tallest pine on the property.
|Serenaded by a brown thrasher|
How happy it sounded. It sang with such gusto, its song so full of life. Was it broadcasting its territory, calling for a mate or simply singing a song to celebrate the day?
There are many ways to celebrate life, to find calmness and joy. Some people meditate; do yoga, bike, garden, walk or even bake. Other people pop pills. I push my 49-year-old aluminum skiff off the shore and go for a relaxing row.
For me, steady stroking through still water works wonders at dissipating worries, woes and complaints. A once-around in my dented rowboat exercises muscles, uplifts my mood and fills me with a sense of contentment. It’s hard to stay stressed, overwhelmed or scattered when surrounded by so much natural beauty.