I SUP

There’s nothing like a weekend away at Piedmont Lake to really clear the head and calm the soul.

I got the weekend away, but it wasn’t so much clearing and calming as it was chaos and calamity. I don’t know why minor accidents follow my family around everywhere, but in three days Ben spilled six drinks, Nugget broke a glass and tore a screen, Maya pooped on four different neighbors’ lawns, and Shawn popped Ben’s favorite raft with a nail.

Still, it’s good to be out there. A few hours feels like a few days when the sound of traffic and sirens and television are quelled.

Ah, the glorious silence of nature.

In addition, I finally got to play with my birthday gift: the paddle board I’ve been wanting for years but have always been too cheap to buy. We’ve enjoyed our kayaks for years, but stand-up-paddling is an entirely different kind of fun. The kind that promises both exercise and humiliation.

It’s been a chilly May. Consequently, the water temperature hovered somewhere around 75. Great if you’re a bass; not so much if you’re a swimmer. It didn’t bother Andy at all. The boy is impervious to cold. Ben, however, spent most of his weekend wet and blue-lipped, shivering yet refusing to get out of the water until I forced him into a hot shower.

Everybody got a chance to paddleboard, though.

I’m proud to say I’m the only one who didn’t fall off. And while that may have more to do with the new prescription sunglasses I was wearing, I like to think it’s just because I’ve got the balance of a Flying Wallenda.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much skill to go around.

 

Riprap

Note to readers: I wrote this blog on Monday, the day before the election, but didn’t finish editing it until Friday. I won’t be addressing the election because this is a nature blog, a sacred place.

When I began this blog, I did so for a class called Nature Writing that I took my second semester of graduate school. I loved that class because one of the requirements was to keep this nature blog. We had to choose a spot in nature and visit it every other week. What we wrote about was up to us. Naturally, I chose Piedmont Lake, though everyone else was a lot smarter, choosing a spot close to home. I had to drive an hour each way. Totally worth it though. That’s how Piedmont Peace, The Blog was born. And though I didn’t know exactly what revelations would come to me as I visited the lake by myself, over and over again, in the winter months, I was pleasantly surprised to have more than enough to write and think about every time I went. And it made me wish I’d been blogging for decades rather than weeks because I’d have a Piedmont book written by now. No place in my life is more deserving.

November weenie roast on Fall Chore Day.

I was at the lake, the cabin, yesterday for the annual fall cleanup day. As a child I hated fall chore day. It signaled the finish line for fun. While an adult with a boat can entertain herself via fall fishing well into October (and thanks to climate change, now November), a kid loses at least 50% of his interest as soon as the water becomes too cold for swimming. Fall cleanup day means putting the porch furniture in the house, blowing the leaves out of the gutters and off the roof, hiding beadspreads from mice in Rubbermain containers, and winterizeing the dock. That means Dad has to put on his hip waders and enter the 60-degree water (and this is a warm year) to take the float off the end. The rest of the dock is supported and will sit quietly above the sand when the conservancy lets down the lake, but the float has to find its way to the shoreline for the winter.

The dock moves out.

This year, though, the dock ritual incorporated much more detailed efforts. Some months ago, Dad received a letter from the Muskingum Conservancy Watershed District (henceforth MCWD or “the bastards”) telling him that he and every other resident of Goodrich Road had to have their docks out of the water by the end of December. Completely out, at our own expense and effort. The reason? MCWD has aerially visualized shoreline erosion in the vicinity of our docks. That means somebody went up in a plane and saw muddy water flowing out from our cove, most specifically from our dock and a few other docks. The letter went on to say that the Conservancy will be riprapping the shoreline in January to combat this problem.

Riprap at the dam

You’ve seen riprap. It’s a wall of rock piled upon the shoreline to stabilize and prevent erosion. I’ve seen it in the ocean as well as in fresh water. I’ve seen it on riverbanks. It prevents erosion from both wave action (of which there is very little in Piedmont due to the 9.9 horsepower limit) and runoff. It’s not a new concept. Robert E. Lee was assigned to an island riprapping project when he was in the Army Corps of Engineers. The poet and nature writer Gary Snyder spent time in his younger days as a trail crew member in the Sierra Nevada riprapping mountain trails for horse travel; in 1965 he published a book of poetry called Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems.

November on the lake

The titular poem, Riprap:


Lay down these words


Before your mind like rocks.


             placed solid, by hands   


In choice of place, set


Before the body of the mind


             in space and time:


Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall


             riprap of things:


Cobble of milky way,


             straying planets,


These poems, people,


             lost ponies with


Dragging saddles —


             and rocky sure-foot trails.   


The worlds like an endless   


             four-dimensional


Game of Go.


             ants and pebbles


In the thin loam, each rock a word   


             a creek-washed stone


Granite: ingrained


             with torment of fire and weight   


Crystal and sediment linked hot


             all change, in thoughts,   


As well as things.

Snyder’s riprap comes together, rock by rock, word by word, to form a beautiful trail of language leading us to a higher state. When we read it we actually ooze metaphor out of our pores: poetry is a riprap of words, carefully constructed for maximum strength and impact.

But the reaction to the MCWD’s decision to riprap our shoreline wasn’t poetic in my family at all; it was a real shit show. In fact, the whole of Goodrich Road rose up in angry protest. First of all, people just plain hate to be ordered around. Life at Piedmont Lake is good, but life at Piedmont Lake is also tremendously frustrating because the residents don’t own the land. You can’t cut down a tree without permission. Houses may be olive green or dark brown or gray, only. When you get a letter ordering you to paint the concrete blocks of your foundation, you do it. When you build a deck and forget to ask permission first, you pay a fine. Swimmers may not swim past the end of their docks, nor may they jump off their boats or rocks. We all do it anyway (because screw MCWD), but there have been times when the ranger has busted us and ordered us to behave ourselves. You can enjoy yourself at an MCWD lake, but actual fun isn’t encouraged. We go out of our way to project the appearance of compliance while at the same time doing all kinds of rotten things like diving off the boat at the dam and paddling an unlicensed kayak. And sometimes I’ve had to pay for it. But eff the Conservancy.

This time, though, we don’t have a choice. On January 1, the riprapping begins.

The shoreline in mid-spring.

Let me take a moment to describe our shoreline. The Eastern deciduous forest gives way to a gentle slope of grass about 15 feet wide. My father has encouraged small trees to take hold along the embankment, offering gentle privacy from passing fishermen and dappled shade in the heat of the day. Canada geese rest on the grass in the morning sun and, in May and June, cattails emerge and yellow water iris spring from the water’s edge, drawing bees and butterflies. The lake’s gentle waves lap the faces of small boulders, some overgrown with tree roots where thin water snakes make their summer homes. A rock sits just offshore, waiting to teach little children to jump and swim, a perch where I once counted dragonflies and dangled my toes in the lake, where my sons now practice their circus leaps. Leafy water plants begin to grow in the shallows as the water warms, and minnows and shiners dart to safety whenever a largemouth bass passes by. The mother bass spawn in the shade of the forest, endlessly guarding their nests until the fry hatch and move to the weed beds in the shadow of the saplings on the shore. In deeper water, bluegill and sunfish hide under the dock, guarding their own nests in the sub-aquatic vegetation, and even further out, saugeye lurk near the bottom and patrol the edge of the underwater forest.

In two months those bulldozers are going to roll up and maul the ever-loving shit out of our shoreline. Viva la riprap!

The MCWD agreed to send an engineer to a Goodrich Road meeting of the minds, and to his credit, he came prepared and he came in peace. I did not attend, but Dad did, and he reported back that this young professional truly listened to the concerns of the residents. In fact, he took a fair amount of abuse from an angry group of old men. He explained that the erosion had become a problem, but he took to heart the concerns of the dock owners. Someone had already riprapped his own shoreline with natural-looking boulders many years ago, and this engineer conceded that it was as good a job as any engineer could do. He agreed not to riprap that man’s shoreline. Moreover, he went back to the Conservancy and presented the Goodrich Road residents’ cases so successfully that MCWD decided not to riprap the entire shoreline of the cove. The new plan involves riprapping only some areas. Alas, our shoreline is the one in greatest need of reinforcement, due in part to a neighbor who ripped all of his trees out of the embankment several years ago in order to improve his view. One can hardly blame him for wanting a nice view, but the consequences have been direct and severe.

Yellow Iris and the jump rock

Bring in the bulldozers. If only I had had the forethought to dig up those water iris when I could still
find their bulbs, I could have overwintered them in my fish pond and replanted them in the spring.

But the shoreline won’t be the same in the spring–where would I plant them? It’ll be a massive wall of rocks, and any vegetation that had grown in the mud or in the water will have been crushed by the machinery. Forget for a moment the fact that we had to take apart the dock yesterday so Dad could walk it through the water and anchor it on a nearby shoreline where it can sit, undisturbed, for the winter. Forget for a moment that when we reassemble the dock it will have to be rebuilt to go up and over the riprap. Forget for a moment that no adult, dog, or child will be able to access the water without breaking a leg or an ankle. I don’t love those components of this process, but I can live with them. We can use ladders. The dogs will find a way.

My biggest concerns revolve around the riparian zone. What is going to happen to the shoreline habitat? The sub- and emergent-aquatic vegetation? The animals like turtles who may be trapped as they try to enter the water?

That’s a real question that’s milling around in my head. I don’t know the answer. What will happen? Thus far I’ve written this piece with a rather dour tone, haven’t I? Research into other states’ DNR pages indicates that riprap isn’t going to be the end of the world. If done properly, it will stop the erosion and still provide fish habitat. If erosion due to runoff is reduced, so too will be pollutants carried in that runoff, thereby reducing algae blooms. Additionally, riprap may protect wetlands by preventing floating vegetation from being stripped away.

Still, I don’t look forward to the riprapping.

Enter the marital disagreement. My husband, the fisherman, is whoop-whooping the incoming riprap with boundless enthusiasm.

“You know how many fish we catch at the dam,” he always reminds me. “Have you not read about the smallmouth and largemouth populations that gather around a rock wall?” I have read about them, and he’s right. Craw love a rock wall. Where there are craw, there will be smallies. Where there are cracks and holes, fish will hide and spawn. This project has the potential to create bountiful fishing opportunities if they do it right. Algae grows on rocks. Small fish eat algae. Big fish eat small fish. Bigger fish patrol the shoreline.

Bass magazines back this up. Anglers never pass up a good stretch of riprap.

If they do it right.

Thus, the family remains a hung jury. My father mourns the swift death of his shoreline, of his trees, and of the way it’s been for 40-some years. Shawn is eager to reap the benefits of a bouldered habitat. And I find myself torn, both hoping for the best and expecting the worst. It’s difficult to find ourselves “in the way” of a judgment that’s already been passed. Might we have been able to bring in more natural rocks? To plant shrubbery and more trees? I think I’d have more faith in the engineers were they not working for the organization that sold its soul to Antero, the frackers, for $95 million dollars.

Passing our dock around the neighbor’s.

“We’re doing this for you for free,” they told the residents at the Goodrich Road meeting. You don’t have to pay a dime. We’re fixing things for you.”

Fixing. I’m suspicious of that word when it comes to environmental engineering.

I know that in this world we have to trust some people and suspect others. But only hindsight reveals how we did with our gut feeling, if we chose wisely or poorly. I find myself fighting the urge to cling to the way it’s always been, to rebel against riprap simply because it’s a change. Change is not a bad thing, usually. Nature herself is not static. But riprap isn’t nature. Show me a time when man tinkered with nature that ended with a result better than one nature could have achieved itself.

Then again, the whole lake is manmade, the fish dumped in out of the backs of trucks, the water levels raised and lowered by a set of steel doors. Perhaps this entire experiment is just one wild adventure in commerce. As of the posting of this blog, I remain doubtfully hopeful.


The future, for now, looks rocky.

*Roy Blount Jr., Robert E. Lee

Fading into mush

Although we spent a recent weekend at Piedmont with the kids, I’m having more trouble picking out topics for a Piedmont blog than I did when I went alone. Just as I mentioned in my first entry, when I’m with my family, there are a lot of voices in and out of my head which sync up into a droning beat of noise punctuated by spikes and dips. And when I have time to stop in the evening and write, or think, I often fall into a heavy sleep instead. 


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The kids bickered. As a child I remember wondering why my mother found it so infuriating. Now, it seems perfectly obvious that the developing fetus triggers a reflex in the mother, and this makes her nerves vulnerable to the irritation of bickering. One child is often being picked on, so there’s a protective instinct, but more often it’s simply akin to fingernails on a chalkboard (here my mentor comes out and slaps me for using a cliche, but this early on a Sunday I cannot locate a more accurate sensation). 

Someone always needed food, or a worm on their hook, or some dog had pooped right in the driveway (you may remember that from early, solo blog entries as well). Piedmont isn’t so peaceful, with my family. It’s still fun, and it’s a salve on a chapped soul worn raw from a few weeks in town. The lake heals, and remains a source of joy. But as the weekend matriarch, I find responsibility to be a far louder voice than the quiet call for serenity.

The lake at noon, looking east.

This winter I made eight solo trips to Piedmont. I didn’t expect to love them as I did. The drive is long, and the winter was bitterly cold. I’m a warm-weather gal; the cold closes in on me and, unless I’m on the ski mountain or something, feels unfriendly and stank. I waited for the warmth to come as I made my Piedmont trips, but now that it has, I hesitate. I don’t wish for more cold at all, but I do mourn the loss of my solitude, and my freedom to walk in the woods and on the ice. Now, the lake is crowded. (And by crowded I mean there are, at any given time, 10 boats within sight. I know: horrors.) There are fisherman in front of the dock, and church campers at the camp, and in the cabin my mom is resting (her health is poor) and my dad is in the garage tinkering, and the children are tossing toys and insults on the deck, and there are five dogs going in and out of every door every time one is opened. It’s mad chaos in comparison.

I loved my winter trips. My spring trips. I loved every trip I undertook alone, and I saw more, learned more, than I had in 35 years of lake trips. I saw it as a natural place rather than a weekend vacation site. Just the thought of my new perspective makes me both excited to have experienced it and wistful for another taste of it.

Northern rough-winged
swallows have nested in the dock
floats for years.
I’m one of those “highly sensitive people” you read about. It’s a curse, really. The world is just too much for me. John Coffey, in The Green Mile, says that he feels like there are bits of glass in his brain, and I often feel that way about things. Loud noises bother me, and I detest wind for the feel of it on my face, garish and offensive. That’s right: wind bothers me. That’s how sensitive I am. At the lake I get up very early so as to avoid sensory overload, but my dad gets up very early too, so even then solitude is hard to find, and it’s always accompanied by the responsibility of motherhood, of constantly turning an ear inward to listen for little feet on the stairs. 

To make matters far more complicated, Shawn and I now get cell service at the lake. We switched from ATT to Verizon. Once a month, Shawn has to be on call. He’s a programmer, and when a server goes down, he needs to a) know about it, and b) be able to reboot it. The rotation is every four to five weeks, and so for the past nine years, every fourth or fifth week, we were stuck in town. In order to be able to go to the lake on on-call weekends, we had to make the change in carriers, and now the world can reach us at Piedmont. Facebook and CNN can find me. And though it’s a necessary change–we made the decision to switch when Nugget was hooked and the cabin phone wasn’t working and we wondered, what if it had been more serious?–it’s intrusive to be connected. There’s a weight I imagine I feel, now. 

We can at least check the radar for incoming weather, Shawn’s on-the-side passion.

I enjoyed the weekend so much, and it was fun. But it wasn’t restorative. Not entirely, anyway. Returning to Wheeling, I didn’t feel as though I’d been able to turn inward at all. There was no time, no quiet moment. The woods are closed now, the poison ivy thick and the vegetation thicker. The brambles and thorns and poisonous leaves reach out over the hiking paths just aching to get a lick at my legs. I won’t go in. (As you’d imagine, I’m highly susceptible to poison ivy. I require cortizone shots.) 

One of the [illegal] jump rocks.
This weekend, the storms have been popping up everywhere. We chose not to go to the lake, and the radar has confirmed that we made the right call. The lake was slammed several times on Saturday. Yet, part of me wishes I could be out there, alone, listening to the thunder volley about the hills as it comes in–you can never tell where the storm is because the sound echoes all over the lake; it’s on my Top 10 Favorite Things About Being Alive list. 

Perhaps the universe is telling me that I need a few more solo day trips. The children start day camp soon. I might have to invest in a few tanks of gas in the coming months. 




Shawn discovers the water is 71 degrees.

The whole fam damily

Though his smoked chicken was outstanding, the process of smoking meat is
one more way to offend my senses.

B gets a story.

Muddy Floody Rampy Joy

Flood control lake, doing its job.
Today made up for every single degree below freezing I endured this winter. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed every visit to the lake, even the one where the critter squalled at me and my tire was punctured by the world’s tiniest, most benign-looking rock. Even the one where I let my son fall through the ice and then also fall through a hole in the floor of the church camp playground. But as much as I love a good ice hike, I love a balmy paddle far better. 
Dad’s dock looks worse than ever. 
Last week we had flash flooding after days and days of storms and rain. The lake is up more than two feet. Dad’s dock, and everybody else’s dock, looks pretty gnarly. Er, even more gnarly than over the winter. The rock, my ever-present landmark, is gone, and its absence makes me feel like I’m out of place (like that time I walked into the men’s room at Ruby Tuesday). But the flood, even as it crept up the hillside, provided a new perspective. And though that is an overused phrase and a hackneyed subject at times, I can concede that, after a brutal winter and a very difficult semester full of writing, stress, anxiety, health problems, and a rash on my armpit that just won’t go away, shifts in perception may benefit me greatly. 
Where is the rock? It’s 24 inches underwater!

Behold: The sacred ramp in all its rampy goodness.
Boil ’em, bake ’em, stick ’em in a stew!
In keeping with this shift, I bushwhacked my way through the woods on a non-existent path, and this is only possible in early spring, before the thicket rises to ensnare bodies that try to pass. The forest floor was covered in leaf litter, as usual, but also in little pink flowers. Everywhere bits of green had periscoped their way up out of the ground to have a peek around. Daffodils were here and there, and I was lucky enough to stumble on the forest’s first patch of 
ramps. In West Virginia we adore ramps. A garlicy little tuber not unlike a wild onion, ramps are the guests of honor at many an April festival, and in many a WV dish. We do ramps and potatoes, when we can find them, and Shawn will be very excited to know that it’s almost time to harvest. I also saw the beginnings of May Apples, waxy little green umbrellas which, in May, develop an apple-like fruit underneath their canopy.
Little Mayapples, which will
unfold next month.
I have yet to see any trilliums. I wouldn’t ever go on a trillium hunt without my father, anyway – it’s our sacred tradition stretching back 36 years. (Did I say 36? I mean 27. Yeah…) They should arrive in another two weeks, though our numbers here at Piedmont are very, very small of late. Very delicate flowers, they cannot be disturbed at all, and if they are picked or munched by a deer, they’re toast. 
I pawed through the vernal frog pool with my bare hands—bring on the muck!—but found nothing much. Mosquito larvae and waterbugs. I was hoping for tadpoles. A caddisfly landed on my arm and stayed for a few seconds, long enough for me to identify it. This is good news; the presence of caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies indicates the stream behind the cabin is not too terribly polluted. Stoneflies are the most delicate and sensitive to toxins, if I recall. I also saw a carpenter bee, my least favorite bee. He was digging around in a flower. I read just yesterday that a carpenter bee will bore a hole through the side of a flower, effectively destroying it, if he cannot reach the nectar. Jerk bee. Important bee, but jerk bee.

Male carpenter bees cannot sting but make up for
it with an abundance of testosterone.
Awesome moss.

The girls had to wait on the porch while I went for my paddle. The fowl were all out today. I saw no loons, but several species of duck I’ve never before encountered on this lake. I went around the little cove depicted in most of my photos, and wherever I went I seemed to disturb the ducks. There was a little flock of five Lesser Scoups, which are diving ducks, and they were on their way to the Pacific Northwest and Canada, if research serves me correctly. Also, I saw a very distinct pair of ducks which I cannot identify, yet. They were terribly shy and my photo is quite blurry. Hours of combing the internet has not yet confirmed what I saw, but I suspect they may have been mergansers. 
What kind of duck am I? Merganser? Please ID me.
The lady in the kayak wouldn’t leave me alone.

The wind was warm but strong, and I did a fair amount of drifting, which afforded me the opportunity to put up my feet and watch the clouds fly by. I saw a mylar balloon a thousand feet up, flying along. I hate balloon launches; they’re toxic to animals, and if they land in the ocean they choke turtles, among other species. I’m very anti-balloon, but something about the way this thing blew around in wild circles like an uncaring crazy person (my reference point here is Easter dinner with my husband’s family) made me feel like the happiest idiot in the world.
So, what have I taken from my eight trips to the lake?
I’ve learned about ice. It’s never the same beast from day to day, and even when it’s solid, it’s constantly shifting, cracking, and if I were to anthropomorphize it (who, me?), I would say that it almost enjoys fucking with the humans. It’s a moody four-year-old, changing with the sunlight or clouds, constantly evolving and absolutely never trustworthy. But this winter it stayed for a very long time and allowed me to know it a bit better, and every ice walk I took was a worthwhile experience.
What are these revisions you say
I should be doing?
Coming here alone is a far different experience from coming with my kids, or even with Shawn or my dad. Coming without the dogs is quieter still. The silence, when I’m allowed to experience it here, is enormous, so much so that the sounds I hear every day at home feel as garish as a car alarm. As I write this it is utterly silent save for Frank, who lives next door, and sometimes he turns on his circular saw which sounds for all the world like an aural violation.
I’ve learned that I should check the wind direction before setting out in my kayak. And that the spider who lives in my kayak is a pretty cool dude who will sit on my arm while I paddle. 
And if I do bring my children, I cannot expect the experience I would have alone, and more importantly, this is not a bad thing. It simply is. Providing them with the opportunity to have their own experiences here is vital. I cannot fabricate it, or serve it to them. Whatever they find and do out here is enough. And should they grow up to value other places on the earth more, that too is okay.
Lastly, I’ve found moments of quiet here. This lake, this cabin, are not a permanent solution to my problems. Life is always waiting for me when I drive back into Wheeling. But the act of coming, of severing the cord with the business of my life for an hour, or a weekend is enough to dose me with a few milligrams of very necessary nature, in whatever form it takes.

I think this calls for a nap. 

Forest flower known as “Spring Beauty”
Five petals with pink veins. Known as a “spring ephemeral.”
Thought by native peoples to prevent conception.

There’s a fungus amungus.
Shelf or bracket fungi known as
“Turkey Tail”.

The vernal fool just before she rolled in the vernal pool.

My favorite old, gentle German U-boat.

Piedmont Paddle

Hello,old friend.

Today’s trip to Piedmont delivered me a dose of the lake as I know it, in my mind. The snowy lake is like a carnival: it’s fun and exciting and new, but after so many trips through the freak tent I get sick of looking at the bearded lady and long for my old favorites, liquid water and soft air. When I drove up today for a moment the sky reflected on the water giving an impression of ice, and I cursed out loud at the notion that it might still be here. I learned so much from the ice, but now I want it gone. (It’s like sex education with Coach Kozdris.)


The ice is indeed gone. The woods are brown, tipped with the earliest spring red (Frost was wrong: Nature’s first green is not gold). The water rippled with wind, and a warm front arrived at the same time I did. The girls were not with me (Maya’s toenail split in half and her foot is bandaged) and before I knew it I was dragging my kayak down the driveway to the water, which has risen in the last few weeks with the rain and the closing of the spillway. It’s up to the summer level now, and Dad’s dock doesn’t look quite so wonky, but he and Shawn have a frigid date with a sledge hammer and a pair of hip waders to get the poles straightened out in April. 

The lake is up! The rock is under.

The birds know it’s spring. For several years now, the lake has been a stopover for migrating loons. Nobody in my family believed my sightings until someone on the Piedmont Facebook page snapped a photo. Several loons were on the lake today. They ride low in the water and dive frequently. As I paddled along the shoreline to avoid the wicked wind, the loons kept their distance and remained in the middle of the cove, hiding in a swarm of seagulls. Seagulls are also new to the lake. I imagine they found their way here from Lake Erie, and now we have a very small resident population of gripers and squabblers. They exist in such contrast to the loons, who are downright serene and stealthy. The gulls carry on like a fraternity party, swooping and diving and uttering tenuous quivering cries, and occasionally yakking up their libations on the dock. 


A murder of crows perched in a tree and uttered a bombastic and raucous chorus of chortles in my direction. The bastards were laughing at me as I paddled into the wind. They hopped along the treetops, following me. Is there nothing so bawdy as a crow? They obviously tell each other smutty jokes and compare the sizes of their cloacas. 

On the shoreline near where Ben attempted to fall through the ice the other day (see the video), a pair of Canada Geese were setting up a family home. I hate those birds. Today I saw only the pair, in the midst of their nest preparations, but soon they’ll be joined by several other pairs of adults and 15 to 20 babies. And when we arrive for the weekend with our dogs the entire flotilla will come barreling into the water and swim over to our dock to pick a fight with a German Shepherd. It’s an offensive strategy that surprises me every time. They poop on our rock, too. Filthy buggars. 

Yes, I know. Way to be a nature writer. 

Poopin’ on the shoreline

Other avian specimens included the ever-present turkey vultures, a flock of mallards, a pair of courting cardinals, and an abandoned nest I believe to be that of an eastern Towhee who regularly romances himself in the garage window. The bald eagle did not make an appearance, as s/he tends to stay in the headwaters. The largest fish I have ever seen jumped near the dock; it was a muskellunge, of which one very noble specimen hangs on the wall above Shawn’s desk. They reign as top predator in Piedmont Lake, and the Conservancy stocks the lake full of tens of thousands of muskie fingerlings each spring in an attempt to draw anglers and hold onto the state muskie record, which is always caught in Piedmont. We bass anglers feel the muskie have taken over the lake and nary a bucket-mouth bass can now be found. The muskie Shawn caught that day was an accident; we were fishing for saugeye one April day in 2004. 


Yakkin’

My paddle was a meditation. I haven’t paddled for six months, and I shared the lake with two fishing boats in the distance. Of late I struggle terribly with an unmedicated anxiety disorder and OCD—it’s not that I choose to eschew medication but that I cannot find the right one and the wheels of the medical establishment turn so slowly. The lake was a big wet Xanax today, and for the hours I spent there, I was a human being again. Winter and school have sucked away my sanity. After so many weeks of drawing from within, as we writers are wont to do, perhaps I’m the biggest loon on the lake.


Dockin’

Whose nest is this?

Bawdy crow beak chatter and a scolding

Hookers and Holes

I took the SUV as a sign. The blue sky, the wind chill warning, the photos on Facebook of ice fisherman with their coolers: it all makes for a lovely day at the lake, and it was, but when I saw the red Ford SUV pulling out of a gravelly drive, a pony-tailed woman on a cell phone behind the wheel, and the words, “Mobile Escort Service” emblazoned on the side, I knew it was also going to be a weird day at the lake.
Funky snow
I guess fishermen get as lonely as the next guy, right? Blech.
Okay, yes, it’s entirely possible this was the kind of escort that follows a large truck from the fracking fields to the gas plant. That actually didn’t occur to me until just now, after several uncomfortable hours imagining a diminutive woman in heels knocking on the creaky door of Big Curtis’s ice shack. 
The desert of ice and the approaching cirrus clouds
In 35 years I’ve never seen the ice stick around for eight weeks. Moreover, this blog has given me wonderful occasion to walk on it every ten days. I thought perhaps I’d go back into the woods today, that maybe everyone is tired of my ice walks. But here’s the thing about ice: it’s constantly morphing into something new. It’s as undependable as my husband at the grocery store. (“You wanted pads, right? These say “Poise”. Is that okay?”) At the moment, because of this extreme, lengthy cold, it feels as solid as the ground. When I jump on it, it neither echoes nor vibrates. And, hidden as it is under the crusty snow, it may as well be a sleeping cornfield. Yet, when the jet stream changes and warmer air arrives or a different sort of snow falls, it’ll be a foreign place again. 
I keep putting off her haircut for these hikes.
In my photos it always appears to be same lake. I’m so glad I’ve got words on my side to explain to you how vastly different it is from visit to visit. In January the ice was glassy and new. Two weeks ago it was windswept, and the snow was thin and spread out as on a blustery beach. Today the ice looked like a desert. There’s no snow on the trees, and we endured a weird snowstorm last weekend that created this Piedmont Sahara. Four inches of snow fell and then it began to rain/sleet/ice. The result is a snow cone, and in places it looked popcorny. The thin crust on the top of the snow cover gave way when I stepped on it. Temperatures have been so cold for so long that the ice can handle a fleet of Hummers. I transitioned from terra firma to the surface of the lake and had every intention of walking right across the cove to the other shore. We rarely get to do that; temps have to be below freezing for about two weeks. Our temps have been below zero for so long that all the melanin has left my skin and my butt now blends in with the bathroom tile. 
The solidity of the footing lulled me into a false sense of security. I walked along and suddenly crack!A tiny canyon shot horizontally across my path. I promptly shit my pantsdid a foul-mouthed two-step as I hustled my buns back to the shallows. My heart beat out its terror in my chest and my throat was dry and I felt the adrenaline surge diminish all the way down in my legs. It made no sense! The ice is every bit of ten inches thick. The Piedmont Facebook page was awash with ice fisherman this weekend. How could it—how dareit—crack under my weight? 
And so Nature gets a kick out of the silly writer who thinks she has it all figured out, who assumes there are rules, that 35 years of ice walks confers upon her a PhD in Piedmont Experience, giving her the rights and privileges to assume her way through all things wild.
I know nothing, Jon Snow.
The cracks seemed to follow me wherever I went. (Way to scarf that lemon paczki this morning, fatty.) I walked on the ice because I had to, because the snow-cone consistency of the land-snow made it impossible to navigate. Every ten minutes a crack tore out from under me heading off in an endless streak of horror. Even though my brain knew that the ice was thick enough to hold a gaggle of grumpy old men and their fishing huts, my body reacted with adrenaline and a sprint for the shore every time it uttered a noise. 
The mysterious hole

I theorized that there’s so much ice that it had nowhere to go, no choice but to crack. It’s almost a foot thick, if not more. It couldn’t have dropped me no matter how many delightful Polish pastries I consumed. Water expands as it freezes. It’s so heavy, so massive, that it inevitably tears itself apart.  Canyons open up, exposing stratifications like the sides of Pennsylvania hills when they’re blasted for an interstate. It heaves and sighs and bitches and complains when the temperature fluctuates. And, in places, it spouts its frustrations. I came to a hole in the ice that had frozen over. This appeared to be a very deep hole, and I could look down into its blackness. Ice fisherman’s plunder? Couldn’t be—there were no tracks nearby. As I walked along the shoreline I encountered many of these frozen holes. (And the wind chill today was probably around zero so I had some frozen holes of my own.)

Frozen flatulence?
Last summer in Russia several enormous holes appeared on the Siberian tundra, and scientists spent considerable effort trying to determine their origin. The fear is that the warming climate is causing methane trapped in the formerly frozen ground to expand and blow. I suspect that something similar, albeit benign, is happening at Piedmont. The ice is so thick that the air trapped under it has to go somewhere. Perhaps it finally blew, like my tire last week. The water flowed up through the hole and froze over again as soon as it touched the chill of the atmosphere.
The site of a weekend ice hut,
tracks from a rolling cart and the
fishing hole.
Are these holes a place where the pressure is releasing? For all intents and purposes, was I down on my knees sniffing an ice fart?
I ran for the shoreline like a weenie every time the ice burped or thwumped. I slipped a few times on slick spots. Maya had another case of the Leon Trotskies and I caught her dragging her butt on the ice in perhaps the least dignified posture ever achieved by a noble daughter of Rin Tin Tin. By the end of the hike I was certain that nature was out to get me. It’s the first time I’ve felt humbled by the lake. I had no answers, only questions, and though the bare hills revealed dozens of cabins I’ve never seen before, they were all empty and I felt incredibly isolated. It was me and the girls and a lone red-tailed hawk.
That’s probably why I decided to pee behind my mother’s boxwoods rather than fool with the frozen toilets.
Ice fisherman on 2/22/15
Who wants to tell my dad that his dock looks a little…askew?

Edited to add: When I told my father about the mysterious holes he said, “Well how do you know that they aren’t ice fishing holes?” I said, “There are no tracks.” He replied, “How do you know they weren’t covered by snow?”

It’s a good explanation. These mysterious fart holes, though…they were all right against the shoreline, in only a foot or two of water. I can’t imagine a fisherman would be in such shallow water, and I know the fish aren’t there. They’re down in the deep.

Under the Belmont Sun

*Note: I’m going to try to be short this time. Try.

The weather forecast had me confounded this week. Friday is the sunny day, Weather Channel said. The catch was that Friday was a cold day. Last night I got an alert: Friday morning wind chills 10 to 20 below zero. I told my family it was a bad idea. Saturday calls for several inches and a low of 0. Sunday calls for a high of 10. As I hit the pillow I felt certain I’d get up and go to the gym and write my hind end off all day at home.

It’s a little chilly.

But when I woke up this morning I saw the dawn, unclouded, and had my long underwear on before I could stop myself. I love the sun. And I decided that I was going to bundle up and have a meditation on cold, and suck the marrow out of today.

I am so very glad I went.

Why does the weather over the eastern US trap stratus cover like a kid under a blanket? I could Google the answer, I suppose. Our region is so cloudy, and the clouds only pile misery on top of the obesity and poverty and meth problems and just plain ugliness of this area. But the sun was out, and there was nothing in the sky but it’s crescent nighttime companion, setting in the west, and this wasn’t a blue dome, as they say. This was a lifetime stretching above my head.

I thought I’d be tired of ice, but when I felt how solid it was, I was only energized. After so many cold days and such deep temperatures, it’s thick. It barely bubbled, and I might have walked right across the middle of our cove were I not responsible for 2 little lives at home. It’s thick. Thick enough to stroll right across. I walked 50 feet out from shore with nary a concern.

Snow, or sand?

The wind has been scraping at the snow covering. It looked just as the sand does, at the beach, when it’s packed down and hard. Little blips of bluster had been scratched from the surface, indicating a wind coming from the southeast, and in the strong white light of 9am it looked very much like the sugar beaches of the Gulf Coast of Florida where I used to live.

The sun’s warmth on my right cheek, Nugget’s butt on my left.

If it had been cloudy I would not have laid down, but I did. It was three degrees when I arrived, but there was no breeze and the sun felt warm. I had many layers, and snow pants, and thick ski gloves, and two hats, and the solar radiation blossomed in my chest and I could have laid there all day.

Because the sun came with me to the lake, I asked myself no questions. Uninvited memories kept their distance. Sun and blue, snow and silence. The warmth took its place at my side and in my head as today’s reason for being and being there. It was three degrees, and I was so warm. When I retreated into the shade of the woods, I felt such a longing to stay.

Windswept ice, thick enough for an ice hut
We don’t understand why you don’t want our tongues on your face when you lie down.
Savasana on the ice

The Premenstrual Nature Writer

I went to the woods because I wished to kill my husband, to front his head into a glove compartment and kick it closed a few times, to see if I could not learn to push him down a hill, and not, when it came time to smack him upside the head with a heavy shoe, discover that I had not smacked hard enough. 

Three or four inches of fresh snow

I brought a little bit of baggage with me to Piedmont Lake today. We take our baggage everywhere, don’t we? Just because we’re traipsing through the wilds of Eastern Ohio doesn’t mean we get to leave it behind. Unfortunately, the baggage I brought along really bogged me down and I viewed my experience through the lens of my own emotions. That’s true of every experience, but the negative lenses are so noticeable.

It was a rough morning and I needed to escape.

All week I’ve been grouchily kicking myself for choosing a place 50 minutes away from home, a place which cannot just be popped into and out of. This time has to be scheduled, and weather is a factor, particularly this week, with all of my schoolwork. What kind of buffoon chooses a location that requires a half-day of travel?

I hit the road, only to realize I’d forgotten my gloves. (Last time it was my hat.) Today was 16 degrees. Son of a…. I got off the interstate. I found a Dollar Store. I spent too long at the checkout line staring at a magazine about America’s worst serial killers and four people jumped in line ahead of me. In the car I realized I had to do some smart phone banking to cover the check I floated this morning. My nose began to bleed and I’ll be the first to admit I stuck my finger up there to see where the blood was coming from, only to be spotted doing so at an intersection.

That’s a federal offense, by the way. Check floating, not nasal inspection. Both, however, are terribly gauche. 

So much work. So much stress.

Quaking shepherd

I was not a sojourner today. Nor was I enjoying the travel. Every red light glared crimson at me. Every slow driver wedged into my lane. How desperately I sought to make it out into nature and how angry I was that I couldn’t reach my nature and begin to be a nature writer. Blue sky is so rare in the winter that I worried I’d lose it before I reached the lake, or that somehow the cabin would evaporate if I didn’t get out there in time. The shepherd heard the radio buttons make a frightening beep and began to quake with fear. She climbed into Benjamin’s car seat and I lost my temper and tried to spear her with an ice scraper at 70mph.

I was a real jerk.

Today, I epitomized our problem. Our instant-gratification nature-on-demand society holds an umbrella over me, too. Did Thoreau ever just want to get to the damn woods already? I don’t know if I wanted to get out there so I could do my required nature thing and get home or if I wanted to get out there so I could drop my “baggage” down in the driveway and breathe. Perhaps both.

I really blew the first half of the experience, proving myself inescapably human. The difference is that I’m writing about it, rather than glossing over the ugly parts.

Excuse me ma’am, your transcendentalism seems questionable. We’ll need to do a Thoreau examination of your methods.

The scene in the country was very Bob Ross – white snow and the blue sky that only comes on the first day of a high pressure system. All week I’d been hoping for a snow paddle in my kayak (an adventure my husband and father weren’t wild about) but the lake was frozen again. I tried to find Emerson’s ice harp, but a thick layer of snow blanketed the surface and it made no sounds today whatsoever. Everywhere I looked I saw diamonds; the quality of the snow for the past few days has been fluffy, and I arrived at the right hour of the day to see it twinkle. The diamonds relaxed me a bit, and I was drawn into a calmer state, and began to feel a bit of appreciation.

Buried under the snow, I couldn’t see the ice or determine its thickness, but it was not to be trusted. Since Frick and Frack the canine stooges were with me, a hike in the woods made far more sense. I had a Doberman once, and a Corgi, and when the Corgi fell through the ice and was subsequently plucked to safety, the Dobie had to go investigate the hole and fell in herself.

Diamonds in the snow

Hiking in the dead of winter feels effortless. No brambles snag your clothing; no bushwhacking required. I hiked where I wanted, in circles and curves, through the deserted church camp and on to the 4H camp. Nugget, who is fleecy and soft, quickly developed ice balls in her paws, and stopped every hundred yards to tear at them. At the 4H camp I found a bench and sat in the sunshine and listened.

Sparkles, everwhere

Last time the hum of air traffic and fracking machinery volleyed around the lake. Today, perhaps due to the cold, the frackers uttered nothing whatsoever. As I walked I heard chickadees and crows, and several times a yipping sound that could have been anything from bird to coyote to shnauzer. Step by step I thought about my rotten attitude this morning, and how it didn’t matter one hoot whether I arrived with a scowl or a smile; the lake didn’t care. I thought about this blog entry, and how it would invariably be colored by sarcasm and grump if I didn’t get my head out of my posterior. And most of all, I felt as though I’d failed to be a nature writer today, suddenly considering that the lens of human emotion is the most vital ingredient in a piece, whether positive or negative. What we do to nature may not be natural, but we are natural, and my craptastic mood was too.

The remnants of the Magnificent
Beech Tree

Beech trees pepper the woods at the lake. I love beech trees, but they seem too fragile for their own good, and church campers target their trunks for carvings. It seems to be the beech tree’s bad luck to have such smooth skin. For decades one large beech tree has been a favorite of ours, and my father used to tell me it was Piglet’s “magnificent beech tree”. Dad loves A.A. Milne, and the author is really quite funny. Dad’s always called it The Magnificent Beech Tree, and when I was little I’d sit in a hollowed out spot and pretend to be Piglet. In the last 20 years I’ve rather forgotten about the tree. Perspectives change as we grow, and things that caught our eyes as children may no longer do so.

I saw the Magnificent Beech Tree today. It’s dead. I know the tree lived its life and toppled in a storm, very naturally. The trunk snapped and the remaining spear is 15 feet tall. Carvings–why do you little bastards do that?–are all over the trunk. I circled the tree today and touched it, and then I noticed dozens and dozens of woodpecker holes. The tree died, the bugs moved in, and so did the peckers.

Evidence of pecker activity

I love a good pecker.

And if the Magnificent Beech Tree can take its place in the forest web, I can ask no more of Nature. The tree continues to serve and support, and only my silly tendency to anthromorphize it tears at my heart. It’s The Giving Tree, but this tree gave to the forest, not to some greedy man. Oops. Anthropomorphizing again.

I began to think about children and nature, and the importance of establishing a connection as young as possible. When I was a child, the tree truly was magnificent to me; now, though I see a stump I can still picture the tree in its glory and always will. But if I brought an outsider with me, an adult, they’d see a stump. Nothing more. We must create sacred spaces for our children so that they will always have a Magnificent Beech Tree, and a connection to the space around it. I don’t expect anyone to look at my photo and see what I see. I would not expect you to feel anything for the stump. We cannot forge connections that do not exist. Weave your childrens’ story with that of a specific place, as Barbara Kingsolver does in “The Memory Place”. It will root in their soul and flourish, and neither pollution nor degradation can wipe the memory of their own Magnificent Beech Tree. I hope, when I’m an old gray goat, that my kids will fight for Piedmont.

As if on cue, as I dictated these thoughts into my phone I came upon the equally-magnificent frog pond in the woods, which in reality is just a depression in the forest, a vernal pool that remains naught but muck over the summer. And behind the cabin I stumbled into the remnants of my old swingset. They seemed like echoes, and they seemed as fresh as this morning.

My very, very old swingset, a la 1979.

Back in the house I had to call my dad to ask about putting antifreeze in the toilets, and the spell cast by the memories of the beech tree was broken. I drove home listening to Sirius XM 80’s on 8 (continuing to revisit my formative years), and the moon hovered in front of my windshield the entire way.

I refused to call my husband to tell him I was alive.

Beautiful geometry

The trail
The church camp
Snowbeard

Of Ice and Dogs

I came out here thinking, for whatever reason, that today would be a hike in the woods. I suppose all this talk of “wilderness” has me in a woodsy frame of mind, because I’ve always associated that term with a forest. There’s plenty of forest out here, and I look forward to watching winter progress and hope that spring will arrive early enough for me to see it unfold here, too.

Nugget and the humble cabin

Frost on the door, and the frozen lake in the background











I knitted the infinity scarf. The hat is atrocious.
I wasn’t thinking about the temperature, either. (Insert picture of utterly ridiculous hat I had to dig out of the closet because I forgot a beanie…where did we get this hat anyway? None of us hunt and we all despise camo. Whose hat is this? I look like Ma Kettle. )




If I had been thinking about temperature, I’d have remembered that this is the week for the annual ice walk. Granted, the temperatures have to cooperate, but in January the temps almost always drop below freezing for at least a week, and if it’s cold for 10 days, the lake is frozen over. I’m delighted to see it when I turn onto the lane, and moreover, it has that rare, glassy look. This is ice you can skate on, which requires a perfect concoction of weather; the lake froze last week in bitterly cold temps, and then on Sunday we had rain and the air warmed up just enough for the top half-inch of ice to melt, and then it froze again when the sun went down. The result is Zamboni-quality ice. I can see it reflecting back the blue sky.

So I decide that today should be devoted to an ice walk, because it’s an infrequent phenomenon, and because it’s so beautiful and so meditative. And hell, why pass up the opportunity to risk my life all by myself in place with no other people and no cell service?

 

I brought the girls, Maya and Nugget, with me. How could I not? They’ve taught me as much as anyone about nature. The entire way out I saw nothing in the rear view mirror but the shepherd’s hulking form, her goofy smile almost making up for breath that could knock out a steer. Nugget jumped up to the front, and then to the back, over and over. They knew where they were going, and they recognized when I stepped on the brake to get off on our exit. That’s always their cue to get stupid-excited and begin to pace and pant.

The thing about being a dog—or at least, being one of my dogs—is that there’s nothing in the world that isn’t great. Everything is an opportunity for exploration. Every tree must be sniffed to see who went before them, and whether they’re investigating a log or a pile of leaves, everything is of equal interest. There’s nothing, outside of an unguarded turkey carcass, that is of any more value than anything else. That tin can? Sniff it. That crow? Bark at it. That raccoon carcass? Jackpot! They see the world as an open door, and there’s naught but wonder in it.

Perhaps that’s today’s lesson. I came out here wanting to see the landscape with the eyes of a single, solitary person in the quiet. But I brought the moron twins with me, and instead spent more time watching them than I did thinking deep thoughts. Hint taken, Universe. I shall watch the dogs, today, along with the ice.

(I also notice, when we hike, that there’s no end to the contents of a dog’s digestive and urinary systems. It’s like they’ve saved it up. How many poops can one animal take in the span of 10 minutes? I’ll tell you. It’s 7. Bombs away!)

I make my way down to the lake and the snow is crunchy. The Conservancy lets the lake drop in November, and it rises again at the end of March. The docks are high and dry, and they look ridiculous, hovering in midair. At its deepest point Piedmont Lake is 38 feet, I believe. Our cove, which is shown in my photographs, is probably no more than 25, and that would be way out in the original stream bed.

Piedmont was created in 1938 when the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District dammed Stillwater Creek. The MWCD created about a dozen other flood control lakes at the time. My grandparents started coming out here when they were young and the lake was brand new. My dad and uncle spent weekends fishing and swimming on the family boat. In 1974, my parents were taking a drive one winter around Piedmont and stumbled down Goodrich Road. There was a For Sale sign on the very last house, the one so quietly tucked into the woods, surrounded on three sides by forest. They paid $27k for it. The previous owners had lived there full-time, and the school bus had journeyed all the way out there every morning to pick up the kids.

It’s quiet here, but it’s not silent. There’s a big difference. The lake lies under an air traffic corridor, and planes heading for Pittsburgh are always overhead. In addition to noise from above, in the stillness I can hear a low hum of reverberation. There is machinery on the move this morning. It’s 9am and it’s 16 degrees and civilization isn’t far away. The echo-y nature of the hills makes it impossible to determine the source of the activity, but I know it’s the bad guys, the frackers, driving on the roads and moving dirt. The noise that carries down to the ice reminds me of the thunder we hear in the distance in the summers, rolling in. Unlike summer thunder, this roar isn’t going to pass off to the east any time soon; it’s like living in the shadow of Mordor and Frodo sold the oil and gas rights under the Shire to Sauron. Shit. 

This is the field being considered for an oil and gas well. The cabin lies on the other side.

Ice heaving up onto the beach
I walk along the shoreline and the ice sings to me. Ice sings songs—did you know that? We think of ice as a solid, steadfast barrier between us and the water below, but ice is alive. (That’s a cliché but for a reason.) When it gets thick, it shifts. Water molecules, upon freezing, naturally form tetrahedral configurations, meaning that frozen water expands. (I learned this the hard way when I took my father’s German wine glass, filled it with orange juice and put it in the freezer overnight. Seemed like a good idea at the time.) Along the shoreline the ice is cracked and heaved up on the beach. Out on the surface I can hear the ice’s heartbeat, a random but unending wump wump. It sounds sort of like bubbles, but I think it’s the various pieces of ice rubbing against one another as it shifts and sighs. I try to record it, but I’m not sure such a subtle noise will be picked up by a smart phone. In reality, it sounds like digestion.

I haven’t the cojones to walk out on the ice yet, so I throw a rock and listen to it crash down and skid along. Years and years here have given me the aged ability to judge the thickness of the ice by sound. Emerson, in the reading, mentioned playing the ice-harp, and I know exactly what he’s talking about: 

A thin coat of ice covered the pond, but melted around the edge of the shore. I threw a stone upon the ice, which rebounded with a shrill sound, and falling again and again, repeated the note with modulation. I thought at first it was the ‘peep peep’ of a bird I had scared. I was so taken with the music that I threw down my stick and spent twenty minutes in throwing stones single or in handfuls on this crystal drum.

There’s a video going around right now of a young guy in Alaska who throws a rock onto a frozen lake and it reverberates with a wonky alto boi-oi-oing. (Start at 3:35 mark.) This is the ice harp, and it indicates the ice is thick but not trustworthy. Never walk on ice that pings. Today, however, the rock makes a dull thud when it hits, and there is no vibration at all. It can bear the weight of a man and a fishing hut (if anyone were so inclined to waste their time ice fishing…only once have I ever seen a hut out here, and once I saw a car on the ice…that can only happen after 3+ weeks of temps steadily below freezing). Nevertheless, I keep to the shore after a crack hundreds of yards long bursts forth right between my legs. I’m safe—it’s very thick—but it’s unnerving and I’m so alone.

And these rules are my own, gleaned from years of Januaries, not the word of ice professionals. Walk at your own risk, kids. 

Grab that rock!
Maya, however, is an idiot, and immediately runs out to fetch the rock I’ve chucked. Maya loves rocks. Her teeth are worn and sawed-off from the bricks she carries around the backyard. Rocks make her crazy; she whines and yammers at them as she gnaws. It once cost me $2300 to have a lava rock surgically removed from her stomach. The vet took pity on me and gave me a $300 discount because we’d just repaired her torn ACL six months earlier to a similar financial tune. Damn dog. She fetches every rock I throw, proving for certain that the ice is strong enough way out there to support a blubbery 83 pounds of stupid.

Happy buffoon gnaws rock

I love her. 

She and Nugget are the only animals I have seen today, save for the red-tailed hawk on the wire on the drive in, and the bird I believe to be a swift lurking around the shoreline. Every creature has gone away or to sleep.

Acres and acres of ice to the south
I walk along the shoreline until I reach the bend in the lake. I peer around it and see the channel leading off to the south; everything is frozen. I’m talking manically in a Scottish accent to my dogs, about the nature of ice and cracks and wondering why I feel the need to fill up the silence when I get an unmistakable whiff of skunk. I can’t see any critters around, and the stink does tend to carry for hundreds of yards. He’s probably way up in the woods. I was wrong–not every creature has gone. Nevertheless, it’s a good time to turn around. When I do, I look back towards our lane on the hillside and see the cabins, roughly 25 of them, squatting in the woods above the lake. They’re all deserted except for our neighbor Frank, who lives here full time with his two yappy shelties. Twenty-five families who have summer homes, who have to schedule their time with nature between 5pm Friday and 8pm Sunday.

We have to work so hard to relax.

I think my parents kept the curtains
and rug from the 1970’s.
I sit in the cabin to enjoy silence with a cup of tea, but the heat is slow to crank up, and my digits are too cold to type. Moreover, I’m in a lake frame of mind. Writing will happen at home, reflectively, in fleece pants. 
Today’s lessons:

1. A dog is a fine role model. Everything is nature to her. Everything is equal in her eyes, worthy of her time and energy. Whether or not it brings her pleasure, she inspects it all the same. The things that do bring her pleasure are reveled in. She’s joyful. She’s happy to be alive.

2. Ice has an audible heartbeat. It sings. It’s not to be trusted and takes 35 years, at the least, to learn.

3. I get a kick out of the same simian rock-throwing behavior that amused Ralph Waldo Emerson.


4. Change is coming to Piedmont. It remains to be seen how much change, and how noticeable that change may be. It’s not silent out there. Humans are on the move, and no matter what Rogers says, there is nothing natural about what is about to happen here.



Bonus lesson: Pee before I lock up the cabin. Those were some frozen, alabaster hams.


Look at this freshwater clam! He’s hauling buns. That’s probably 7 hours worth of movement. 



Here is a 5-minute video from my morning Piedmont Lake ice walk. You can hear the ice talking around the 20-second mark, 30-second mark, and as an occasional wump wump in the background. The dogs had a great hike.

As I was packing to leave, the sun blessed me and the ice by showing it’s face and the clouds blew away. I noticed that the ice was less reflective with direct light upon it, or perhaps the magic of the early morning was gone for another 24 hours. 

Best rock ever, suitable for teaching young ones to jump.

It was good to see the sun.
The dock, suspended by Dad’s weird rope contraption. Notice it’s still crooked.
That’s quite a claim to fame, buddy.