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.

 

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