Saturday, December 31, 2011

Were There Dragons?

On a crazy-beautiful and crazy-warm New Years Eve my Mountain Boy and I headed out onto the water at Woods Reservoir.
There is much snow in Wyoming and much snow in Juneau right now.
And although I know we will pay for it come Summer when the temperature and humidity in Tennessee will be unbearable, I stood on the shore minding a fishing boat and a kayak while LC parked the truck this afternoon, enthralled with a warm day that was supposed to be cold but was not, eager to be on the lake.
As I waited for him to walk back to the boat ramp I stood looking out over Woods, pleased.
I could see a couple of other boats already on the lake.
Fishermen, who like us, could not stop themselves from taking advantage of exceptional weather, and also needed to be out on what was a quiet, calm, sunny Saturday afternoon..............
LC pulled the fishing boat out from the dock and turned left, heading further into the cove to toss out his line.
I turned right out of the dock, paddled my recreational kayak towards the main channel, and then soon turned into what I knew was a much larger cove.
I did not have a specific destination in mind.
Rather, it has been a while since I last paddled and I wanted to simply stretch out my torso, shoulders, arms, and remind my upper body of what paddling a kayak actually felt like.
It was a short learning curve and I quickly zoned in to the activity again.
It soon felt familiar, comfortable, smooth, friendly.
If only trail running had come back to me so quickly and readily, but running brings with it an entirely different set of rules..............
I spent about 20 minutes in that first cove, paddling smoothly, taking time to enjoy the quiet and the bare terrain around me, nodding politely at fishermen as I gave them a respectable wide berth and then passed by them.
Eventually I came to an abandoned (at least for the season) duck blind and an astonishing number of duck decoys floating in the water close to it.
I had given LC the camera before we parted ways, asking him to take pictures for me.
Carrying a camera while kayaking is fraught with danger when I am tough on cameras already, even under the best of circumstances.
And paddling in a kayak is not the best of circumstances.
The camera is not waterproof.  A kayak is a tippy craft.  I was on a lake.  And with the logistics of keeping the camera dry, taking gloves off, watching balance, not making any sudden moves I thought it would just be easier all around if I gave the camera to my Mountain Boy.
But as soon as I saw the duck blind and the decoys I instantly regretted that decision.
Over the past couple of years my digital camera has gradually but irrevocably become an extension of myself, and looking at the blind and the ducks I realized that I missed it..............

After spending a good deal of time inspecting the hugely interesting duck blind (which was located at the end of the cove) I turned the kayak around and headed back the way I had come.
When I arrived back at the main waterway I looked back towards where I thought LC would be and did not see him.
I paddled further into the main waterway figuring I would catch up with him eventually and did only five minutes later as he backed out of a shallow cove with fishing rod in hand.
He smiled at me, I smiled at him, and we traveled together into yet one more cove....................
As LC continued to fish I grabbed the camera back and snapped these pictures.
The mouth of the cove.............
Bare trees reflected in the water, along with LC's dragging fishing lure...........
And a contented fisherman.
LC did not catch anything today aside from one large log.
But he did not seem to mind.............
As we were both heading out of the cove in our respective boats I saw this stone structure on top of a low hill 20 feet from shore.
I had been in this cove at least ten times in the past and had never noticed it before.
This afternoon I did not get out of the boat to check it out, but from the water it looked like the remnants of an old fireplace.
How it could be here, in this place, which I think is all Arnolds owned land, I have no idea.
One of these days (now that I know that it is here) I will check it out more thoroughly...............
Still in the cove I noticed yet one more thing I had not seen before.
A jelly-like fishing lure caught in the trees.
A fishermen, as they so often seem to do on local lakes, must have cast too close to shore, got their line and lure tangled in the trees and then cut both their line and their losses.
I pointed the lure out to LC, and then realized that the line it was attached to was dangling all the way down to the water.
I paddled over to the tree, grabbed the line and without a lot of effort worked it free.
I smiled again at LC as I tossed his new treasure into his boat...............
LC coming around the point.
An extraordinarily beautiful day.
A day of glistening and shining sky and water...............
We pulled up under the trees and along the shore to eat lunch............
By this time it was 1 in the afternoon.
The sun was shining completely and brightly in one direction.
In the opposite direction was the visible remnants of the moon..............
After paddling and trolling and talking and eating and fishing, both boats headed for the first cove I had visited that day.
I wanted to take pictures of both the large duck blind and the surprising number of duck decoys that were bobbing silently in the water close to the blind............
This was the second time today I had visited this area and both times I had the same feelings about the scene in front of me.
As I approached the blind the first time I crossed paths with many live ducks who swam happily until I got too close for their comfort.
As I approached I smiled inwardly as I watched them "water walk" - quickly stepping across the surface of the water until they picked up enough speed to begin to fly.
I continued to paddle closer to the blind and saw the birds up ahead of me next to the blind and assumed that they were simply one more large flock of ducks. 
It was not until I was fairly close to the blind that I realized I was looking at a very large "flock" of duck decoys.
So initial surprise to learn that they were not real.
And then surprise that hunters would leave so many decoys unattended in the lake.  I would have been afraid to lose them to theft.
And then finally one more unexpected reaction to the scene.
I think I may have spent far too much time reading Stephen King novels growing up, and watching far too many science fiction movies over a lifetime.
As I stopped paddling and began really taking in the totality of the scene on the lake it began to feel surreal.
Have you ever watched a scene from a movie that takes place on a busy city street?
The major star in the movie is walking down a crowded sidewalk in a crowded city talking to someone and avoiding the frantic, too fast walking of fellow city dwellers.
People are walking, kids are running, car horns are honking, dogs are barking.
There is loud and busy action coming from every direction.
And then all of a sudden everyone freezes in place.
They just simply........freeze.
Except the star of the movie of course - and he looks around him stunned, trying to make sense of what he is seeing and what just happened.
Seeing 50 or more ducks on the lake unmoving, unblinking, unswimming, unquacking was kind of like that.
As I said..........too much Stephen King.............
I saw a number of herons today.
They are beautiful, large, majestic, the kings of the lake.
And they sound prehistoric when they first screech immediately after taking flight.............
On April Fools Day 2006 I started an adventure race in the mountains of North Georgia.
The date should have been an omen.
I was part of a three person co-ed team (two guys and me).
We started on bikes at 10pm, rode for only a couple of hours to a lake where we headed out around midnight in a canoe to pick up checkpoints.
All racers, support crews, race volunteers and race staff had been (as was usual) compulsively following weather reports all day before the race started and things looked good.
Rain and temperatures in the low 40's.
Even as we headed onto the water we knew that the forecast was not going to hold because we began the paddle in freezing rain.
Within an hour one of my team-mates made the comment that he hoped we did not capsize our canoe because he was not sure we could all make it to shore in the cold.
I thought at the time that it was an overstatement on his part.  The weather was bad but not THAT bad, we were hugging the shore, and I interpreted his statement simply as wary thinking out loud.
Over the course of the next few hours the bottom fell out.
Temperatures continued to fall.
Winds picked up and the previously choppy water turned into white caps crashing across the front of the canoe.
Light freezing rain turned into heavy freezing rain.
I have no idea what time it was when we eventually picked up the four checkpoints that were scattered around the lake but we got them all and thankfully made our way back to the put-in/take-out.
An hour from the take-out I remember thinking that my team-mate may have been overstating earlier but he was certainly not overstating now.
We were all so cold and exhausted that even I (someone who was a strong swimmer) was concerned that if we did indeed capsize our boat we would not have the strength to make it to shore.
Thankfully we kept the canoe upright.
By the time we got back to the start point it was 5:30am, all three of us could barely walk and could barely talk because we were so cold.
We checked in with race officials and headed (walking stiffly and precariously) up to the mens change room because they were heated and the womens was not.
I stiffly walked into the mens change room and it was crowded with freezing cold and exhausted racers of both sexes in various states of dress and undress.
At that point there was no such thing as simply caring for yourself and your own team. 
Everyone was caring for everyone.
Doing whatever they could to warm and dry soaking wet, freezing cold fellow racers.
I tried to unbuckle my PFD but had no fine motor skills, and someone that I did not know took it off for me.
Someone else unlaced my paddling shoes and I stiffly and with a good deal of effort pulled them off.
I gave our team-name to a race volunteer who ran off to wake up our support crew so that we could be handed off to them for care.
In the meantime me and my two team-mates dug through dry bags, peeled off soaking wet clothing, and did what we could with what we had until our support crew arrived.
We were dragged to our campsite, fed hot food, tucked into sleeping bags and woken up again two hours later when we got geared up to mountain bike up into the mountains.
Which is a whole 'nother story..................
More shades of blue than I could possibly count............
We spent three hours on the water and had, as we always seem to do, a really wonderful time.
By 2:30 the sun was already beginning to slowly lower on the horizon.
Still a couple more hours of daylight left, but shadows bordering the shore were already beginning to get long..............

Always remember, it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.............Sarah Ban Breathnach

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