Monday, June 30, 2014

Messing around in boats

When I go for a row, I usually head to the north end of the lake near my house. About 10 feet off the shore, a long, narrow strip of land cuts off a small cozy cove from the rest of the water. Once there, a person in a rowboat can disappear into a secret world.

I like that — hiding away in plain sight — but getting there isn’t easy. Shallow water and a tight passage create challenges.

To enter, I must navigate my aluminum skiff through a tight mass of pickerelweed. I always try to make it through with one forceful stroke of the oars — a game I play, but rarely win. Most times, my oars get tangled in the weeds, forcing me to resort to a sloppy motion best described as part poling, part rowing.

Once through, however, it’s all still water and serenity.

I let my oars rest so I can absorb the surroundings without distractions. For such a secluded spot, much is happening. Bushes hug the shore while bamboos, wax myrtles and pine trees sway overhead. Birdsongs intensify. Dragonflies dart from one bog button perch to another. 

My nose inhales the scent of flowers while my ears tune into the rustling of leaves. At one time or another, various birds, butterflies, damsel and dragonflies, bees, wasps, spiders, turtles, fish and even the occasional snake or alligator have all made appearances while I sat quietly in my boat waiting for things to happen. It’s an exciting place to be because I never know what I’ll find.

But some things are predictable.

If I’ve ventured out in early morning, around the time the sun is beginning to peek through the cloud cover, a brown thrasher probably will be singing its song. Like catbirds and mockingbirds, brown thrashers are mimics with a rich and varied repertoire of tunes. As I drift slowly along, melodic melodies float down from above.

But where is the bird?

As I scan the treetops, I play another game, this one called, ‘Find the thrasher.’ It’s not a hard game, and I almost always win. I usually find the thrasher high above the water’s edge, perched on a slender bamboo cane or tall pine bough, its curved beak wide open as it belts out a good morning tune.

Recently during an afternoon row, I saw a great blue heron a short distance away from my secret cove. The weedy island that separated us provided just enough cover to mask my presence. As I slowly adjusted my camera to focus in on the heron, the bird proceeded to submerge itself in the water, providing a splashy show of fluffed out feathers and an outstretched neck. Although great blue herons are a common sight at our lake, that was the first time I’d seen one take a bath.

When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, my parents’ house faced a small body of water. Like the lake I live on in Florida, Silver Lake also had a shallow end. When I took my rowboat out — the same one I use now — I’d always head in that direction. I’d row to the place where logs protruded through the muck topped by turtles soaking up the sun. 

Catching some rays...

The fetid water and squishy mud kept others away, but it drew me.. I’m sure my love of secluded spots began in those dank waters. I was always excited to see what wonders I would find. What animals dwelled in its muddy depths? What surprises would I encounter? What treasures would I find?

Silver Lake in Yardley, Pa.

Fifty-plus years later, I’m still searching. The same questions enter my mind each time I push off from shore in my dented old boat.

One of my favorite places to be...on the lake for an early morning row

I love living by a lake. I love watching the water reflect the ever-changing sky, seeing fishes jump and swallows swoop low over its smooth surface. But mostly, I love going out in my boat for a slow explore. Heading to the north end of the lake to my private spot is merely the cream on top of another brilliant day. As Scottish author Kenneth Grahame sagely wrote in The Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing — absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

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