Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lake Fort Scott Diary: Kayaking in the still

Even on a little lake like this one, there can be plenty of noise. The biggest, of course, are the motors on the powerboats and jet skis that speed around the lake, sometimes pulling skiers or tubes, sometimes just speeding around the lake. There are also barking dogs (occasionally mine!) and the motors on the lawnmowers, which people particularly seem to like to use in the mornings, before it gets too hot. I guess for the same reasons I like to go out in the kayak then; in summer my kayak trips are crepuscular, at dawn and dusk, when it is also quieter.

Tonight I went out just before sunset aimed across the wide, bigger part of the lake; cool enough at 7:15pm, with the lake mostly to myself except for one boat going back and forth with a couple alternating skiing and driving. I don’t mind water skiers that much, especially when there is only one. Sure, they make noise and wake just like the boats pulling tubes or the jet skis, but at least the noise and wake are not completely gratuitous. Someone is, at least, using both strength and skill, and that I admire. And this couple, not so young, were quite skilled, each going long distances before, apparently electively, going down. And the boat, while certainly going fast enough, didn’t leave a terrible wake. Fast enough, I guess, but not grossly overpowered, a low boat making waves that the kayak could handle.

But still, as I came toward home with the sun fading behind the trees, it was good to enter the little cove and leave that motor sound and wake behind. The barking dogs from the house on the point were not out, and the only real noise besides me was the increasing volume coming from the cicadas. There was still enough light to see, and I watched the water and the shore for movement, for many animals like to come out at this time of evening, when it is quiet.

There are a lot of things on a lake that can look like a bird or animal, especially along the shore, and in the coves, and in the shallows, and in the waning light. And the fact that the shapes don’t move doesn’t mean they aren’t alive for the animals are often still. There are the always-startling, but over quickly, jumps of fish. And the noses of the turtles sticking up above the water, motionless, for what seems like so long as they fill their lungs with air that I become doubtful and think they might actually be sticks. And then, suddenly, they disappear, sealing off their nostrils and going off to swim underwater.

The log poking up near the edge could be a bird, but on closer inspection it isn’t. The stump just in the woods off the shore is light colored, and shaped so that it might be a coyote or wolf or bobcat – or dog – sitting still.  But it is a stump. I look for the minks, and for the green heron that are often in this cove, but not tonight. The silent sticks and stumps are sticks and stumps.

Except the crooked stick rising out of the vegetation ahead of me – is it another false clue; certainly it isn’t moving. But as the kayak glides a little closer, it rustles and the stick turns 180 degrees. And  then my watch bangs the side of the kayak and up rises the huge shape of a great blue heron, so much bigger in flight as it wheels around the cove and away.

I watch it fly off, and then sit in the cove in the gloaming. The neighbor’s dogs are now out, and bark a bit, but desultorily. Soon it is just my kayak paddle and the cicadas as we head home.

This morning, sun rising, early, almost quiet, as I head south into the no-wake zone away from the water skier (so early), the only life I see on the shore are a pack of vultures on top of a dead tree. They like dead trees, so the foliage doesn’t obstruct their view of – dead animals. Then, below them, in the vegetation at the shore is unmistakably a blue heron. I stop paddling now, careful not to startle it, and then realize that the brown rock just past it on shore is grazing. The young deer raises its head to watch me glide by.

The stillness is broken by the noise and horn of a freight train passing through town a couple of miles away. Maybe it is the distance, but a train seems more natural, a part of the environment, unlike the power boat motors. And now, into the feeder stream, narrower, calmer, and less bright. Coming around a corner I startle a heron on the other side before I see it, and it flies off, across the double image of the trees of the forest and their mirrored reflection in the here-undisturbed glass-like water. Around another bend, there is life on the bank, and for a second my mind registers “big black birds in a group, some red near the top, must be turkey vultures”, and then almost instantly, “no”. They are too big and too ungainly and the red is more on their necks than their heads, and while a couple flap their wings, the really are running away from me up the bank. Not vultures, just turkeys, a flock (or "crop", "dole", "gang", "posse", or "raffle”) of wild turkeys.

Go out where it is still, stay quiet, and keep your eyes open.

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