My daughter holds the painter line as I push our canoe into the water. Even though the lake is calm, the momentum of the canoe pulls my daughter to the waters edge. I steady the canoe against the marina’s short cement wall.
Marina is a generous term. Landscaping timbers form parallel tracks along the curve of the lake. Every ten yards or so shorter timbers, perpendicular to the lake, elevate the larger timbers eight inches off the ground. The parallel timbers hold inverted canoes, kayaks and row boats. A six inch concrete retaining wall provides the hard stop between land and water.
I’m the biggest of the three paddlers tonight, so I enter the boat first. Crouching low and holding the gunnels, I walk to the stern. Our canoe rocks gently as I take my seat.
My wife passes the wooden paddles, float cushions and bag of snacks (tortilla chips, craisins and homemade lemonade) to me. I arrange the float cushions in the middle of the boat and spread a towel over them – the perfect place for the smallest paddler to lay and watch the clouds pass by.
Next my daughter steps from terra firma into the canoe. The rocking fluid motions of the boat return her to the I-just-learned-to-walk state of unsteadiness. She instinctively grabs for the gunnel and refuses to release her mom’s steady hand. I convince her to grab the outstretched paddle and walk to her float cushion nest.
Before stepping into the canoe, my wife surveys the marina to make sure nothing is left ashore. After she has taken the bow seat, I steer the boat through the reeds at water’s edge and enter the lake.
“Which way do you want to go?” I ask my daughter. A moment’s pause and she points south. “That way.”
A deep, gravely “Stroooke…stroooke…stroooke” encourages us from the cattails at shore’s edge. A bullfrog is making his presence known. The cadence, variety and intensity of the croaking attract female frogs not dissimilar to certain dance floor rituals performed by homo sapiens. “Come here my Love” is the closest English translation of the frog’s croak.
After five minutes, my wife and I have found our paddling cadence. She performs two forward strokes to each one of my J strokes. Our’s is a comfortably lazy paddle, a perfect speed for the end of a hard day of work. My wife and daughter had worked, stooped over in the garden, most of the day. I had worked, stooped over in a half-height basement, mixing and pouring a concrete pad.
The evening is quickly approaching the golden hour, those few magical minutes at the end of the day when humidity seems to drop, the mosquitoes temporarily stop biting and the sunlight makes the world look storybook-perfect.
After ten minutes of paddling, we’ve reached the lake’s southern terminus.
“Mom, I’m hungry.” The snack bag is out and the toddler’s crunch crunch crunch can be heard over the dip swish of the paddles.
I (expertly) turn the canoe west and head for the opposite shore, along the earthen dam forming Lake Perez. Red-winged black birds buzz at the top of the dam while swallows skim the water’s surface hunting bugs.
We enter a cove on the western edge of the lake just south of the Civil Engineering lodge and high ropes course. The ropes course’s towers loom over the cove; in a previous mythical era, I could imagine the ropes towers covered in Saruman’s standards while our group of Isildur spies prepare for Aragorn’s main assault.
This is not Middle Earth and like the marina, “cove” is a generous term. On a larger lake, the dip in the shoreline we entered might not even register on a map. However, in the magical world of quiet evening canoe paddles, this is a cove.
We see our first painted turtle, enjoying the remaining sun’s rays atop a fallen tree. The turtle slips off the log and into the tannin-dark lake water as we approach.
We cross the cove. It takes us less than a minute – six forward strokes and three J strokes. I watch the shoreline for birds and other wildlife. We’ve seen green herons, pileated woodpeckers, osprey, geese, wood ducks, mallards and yellow warblers.
I’m unconsciously filtering frog and human sounds while trying to pay attention to bird sounds.
“Green frog” my daughter says.
“What?” I reply, mildly annoyed.
“Listen” my wife instructs. Then, in the reeds at shore’s edge, I hear the unmistakable banjo twang of a green frog. As always, my daughter was right and she was paying attention (what have I missed?). With a little imagination, I hear the green frog saying “good-bye” as we pass by.
We paddle north, along the western shore. An osprey flies overhead, alighting in a dead tree to survey the lake for an evening meal. The trees along the shore shade our boat trip; the eastern shore is bathed in the remaining rays of the golden hour’s sun.
The lake is shaped like a crude ‘Y’ and we enter the northwest cove. One painted turtle remains on a partially submerged log, unaware the sun has set in this cove. As we approach, the turtle slips into the water and I watch the wake created as it swims six feet away from the log. The turtle’s head then pops up and he observes our progress around the cove. I’m reminded of the diving spotted turtles in David Carroll’s book “The Year of the Turtle”.
For five minutes, we drift in silence, observing the world.
“Oh, look!” my daughter whispers. An unidentifiable bird flits between trees where the branches meet the water. Somehow, in the perfect quiet of the evening, my daughter knows her whisper carries more strength than a shout.
I turn the boat back to the marina. Taking care to make the dip-swish of the paddle silent. My wife’s forward strokes join my J strokes as we enter the open water. Four minutes later, we are back to the marina.
Getting out of the canoe, we exactly reverse the sequence for getting into the canoe.
My wife packs the car as I lock the canoe to the parallel timbers. My daughter climbs into her car seat as I watch the sun setting over the lake. I turn my back and head to the car.
“Good-Bye…Good-Bye…Good-Bye” twangs a green frog.