The Weekend of the Century

The blog goes back to Piedmont, now. And what a weekend we were blessed with.

Responsibility

It takes an awful lot of work to get six people and five dogs out to the cabin for two nights. I am the designated organizer, now that my mom has health problems. I made the list, I did the shopping, I did the packing, and the hauling, and the children’s overnight bags. I filled the gas tanks, and remembered toilet paper and sunscreen and dog food. And when we got there on Friday afternoon, Mom and the children and I, I did the unpacking so she could rest. For the first few hours, I hated every minute of it.

Being the sole soul in charge is trying. Shawn helps me by hauling, but this time he was at work and in addition, he has ADHD, so his contributions are usually limited to asking where we’re going and putting milk in the liquor cabinet. He is my partner in this life, but the weight of forward momentum is always on my shoulders. At all times I am responsible for three lives, plus my own. At times, I feel very tired, deep in my soul. Friday night was one of those nights. Shawn joined us late, after he’d come home from work and loaded up his own collection of things, like his smoker. I made food for the kids and they had a grand time jumping off of the rock, when they weren’t fighting.

Two months ago that rock was high and dry, and encased in ice. This has been an extreme year, so far. The air was 90 degrees, and the water had risen to 76. Far too cold for me to go in past my waist, but the kids toughed it out until their shivers prevented them from speaking. As they stood on the rock we saw two water snakes go by. They are Northern Water Snakes, and they lurk along the shoreline living under tree roots. They eat frogs and craws and minnows, and they’re a snake that gives birth to live young.

The mental image of a snake giving birth is icky, by the way. I’m not anti-snake, but any time wiggly things come out of other wiggly things….it’s just a lot for the old brain to handle.

Birds

As we sat on the deck, Mom and I tinkered with my new Cornell Ornithology bird app. A towhee and his mate were fluttering around the yard and when I played the bird call, the male immediately approached me. He dove at my head, he sat on the roof above me and in nearby branches, calling and calling. His mate was on her nest in a boxwood beside the screened porch, while he flirted with my phone for several hours. Not that I’m anthropomorphizing or anything, but he was quite the sleazy guy. Looking for cloaca on the side. (Actually, in truth I felt I’d screwed with his little bird brain by playing the app, and I had a serious case of birder’s remorse.)

On Saturday we were fishing and heard a tremendous murder of crows in the nearby woods all calling and cawing together in fury. Interspersed between these calls were the angry screeches of a red-tailed hawk. Whether the hawk was too close to the crows’ nest(s) or the crows were too close to the hawk nest, we couldn’t tell. But after twenty minutes of bawdy hysterics, the crows came flying out of the woods and over our heads with the red-tailed hawk in hot pursuit. The hawk swooped low over our heads on his/her way to the west, and settled into a yard a few lots down. The crows didn’t come back.

Within an hour of the hawk sighting the lake’s resident bald eagle appeared. This was very exciting, because I hadn’t ever seen the eagle leave the southeast end of the lake, the headwaters. Nor do I know if there are now a pair of eagles or not, but I hope there will be. The eagle was in our large cove and swooped over our dock, heading eventually back to the southeast. It was very exciting.

On Sunday morning, I saw a hooded warbler, which I have never seen before, and was delighted to encounter. The woods are full of such different birds than the urban backyard, and the songs are all new to me too.

Fish

The weekend’s spectacularity (that’s a word, right?) really stemmed from the fishing. We rarely come out in May, and this past weekend the water was cold, the air was hot, and a vast school of white bass moved into our cove. In 36 years at the lake I’ve never seen a white bass, nor have I seen them school around the dock as they did. It felt like a swarm of locusts, almost, because they hit on every single cast. I caught 10 fish in 10 casts; Andy caught 20 in 20. In fact, I caught more fish on Saturday than Shawn and I have caught at Piedmont in our entire 13 years together, combined. The four of us brought in well over 100 fish on Saturday, and it continued into Sunday.

While 90% of the species during the day on Saturday were white bass, aka stripers, as the afternoon progressed we began to pull in a few saugeye. White bass school and hit in a frenzy, but saugeye are bottom-dwellers. Unlike bass, they have sharp teeth and razors on their gills, and a frustrating habit of extending their gills outward when handled in an attempt to slice open human fingers. Ben and Andy became rather adept at “lipping” the bass, but we had to handle the saugeye for Ben, at least, because of the potential for injury. Saugeye are a farm-produced hybrid between a female walleye and a male sauger. They do reproduce on their own but are easy to grow and stock. Walleye need colder water, so the saugeye is particularly well-suited for the warmth of these Ohio reservoirs. They’re a favorite fish in Piedmont, along with the muskellunge. Anglers often troll slowly around the shoreline for saugeye. They have the creepy walleye eye, which appears iridescent and wonky at times. Though Piedmont is known for it’s saugeye, Shawn and I have tried unsuccessfully for years to catch them. We caught more this weekend than we knew what to do with. 13-year-unlucky streak: broken.

In the evening we began hauling in large crappie. They like cold water and they were lurking in the growing weeds about 10 feet off the dock. We caught several the size of dinner plates. Well, salad plates, anyway.

Get ready for some fish photos.

Dad’s 14-inch crappie on Sunday at dawn

Ben’s big crappie

Ben’s beefy striped bass (white bass)

Lengthy saugeye

Andy’s crappie

The record fish of the weekend: Ben’s 16-inch saugeye caught on his Spiderman pole

The children, I think, have no idea how unusual this weekend’s fishing was. Piedmont is a spring and fall lake, and we really only use the cabin in the summer. By the time we get established out there, the only fish to catch are bluegill and catfish. Fishing is terribly slow in the summer. In the pre-children days, Shawn and I spent a lot of time spring fishing, but it’s a fading memory. When the water warms another ten degrees, the lake will shut down and the poor kids won’t understand what happened.

Nevertheless, this weekend will remain in their memories for most of their lives. They may never catch that many fish in 4 hours ever again. I certainly haven’t. And our experience reiterated why I think fishing is such an important hobby. Somehow, I differentiate it from hunting quite a bit, though not everyone does. It’s the idea of catch-and-release, the idea that humans can be part of nature, dip into nature for their own enjoyment, and at the end of the day, restore it and go home to our world. Anglers, assuming they are responsible, don’t hurt anything, and I think anglers are some of the strongest proponents of environmentalism you’ll encounter. We don’t want chemicals in the lake, we don’t want jet skis on the water. We want our fish to have structure, and we want stable populations. Anglers are sticklers for the rules. (Insert paragraph about the rapacious Amish who disregard fishing regulations and catch limits, who catch as many fish as they can and grind them up to put on their fields. We can’t stand the Amish anglers. In fact, I saw a pontoon boat struggling along with about 20 of them on it, each with about 8 inches of room to cast.)

Fishing is a perfect way to introduce kids to nature, to instill a love of the outdoors without asking them to do something they can’t: sit still. Kids need action, and meditating on the dock doesn’t do it for them. Andy learned how to take the fish carefully off the hook (and how to avoid dogs), and Ben learned how to “lip” the bass. Every fish went back into the lake. Not that there’s anything wrong with eating fish, but there’s something to be said for the thrill of the catch followed by the impact of watching your hard work swim away. It’s not a lesson they’ll realize they’ve learned for many decades. And I’d love to say, “America, take your kids fishing,” but I find that any time “America” makes up its mind to do something in droves, it inevitably screws up the natural world. So I’m not really sure I want every family out there with us. In fact, we told nobody about our white bass school.

But, America, take your kids fishing. Just be careful. Be calm. Be sustainable.

Fauna

During our campfires on Friday and Saturday nights, we heard frogs. It sounded like a great chorus. Two notes: an ascending trill followed by a descending trill, something like this. It came from the forest. On Saturday night, Dad and Shawn and I went down to the dock to look at the Milky Way (which wasn’t visible thanks to the light from a new derrick the gas company has erected across the lake, thank you very much Antero) and we realize it was one damn frog making a noise so loud as to be heard for half a mile. Research indicates it was a Gray Tree Frog, and a loud mother humper at that. I don’t know what I’d do if he was on a tree near my bedroom window.

The second night we were sitting there with Mimi and Pop and began to hear a series of yips and barks and howls. Someone made the idiot mistake of identifying it as a pack of coyotes, which it surely was. The kids were terrified. On the lane a few years ago someone left their golden tied up outside over night and the dog was killed, and on Saturday another neighbor lost her pug for several terrifying hours. I worked very hard to explain to the kids the nature of coyotes, and the bad-guy image that they and wolves have unfairly earned. Still, it was an ongoing ruckus and both kids ended up in their dad’s lap.

The eastern coyote is actually a cross between a western coyote and an eastern wolf. They’re larger than their western coyote counterparts, thanks to the wolf DNA they’ve absorbed over the years. There’s a fascinating documentary about this “Coy Wolf” on Netflix. And eastern coyotes are well-suited for urban life. We have them in our neighborhood at home, from time to time. They are one of those species who thrive around humans. A critter cam in our backyard would be more likely to catch a coyote than one at the lake.

Google Image of an eastern coyote

Also of note is the sudden appearance of gray squirrels at the lake. In Wheeling we have red and fox squirrels, and never a gray. Suddenly, the gray squirrels have come to Piedmont. Or, perhaps, I’ve suddenly noticed them.

Food

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the ribs my husband smoked from 9am to 6pm in his smoker, with hickory chips. Phenomenal.

Not so phenomenal was the doggy diarrhea had by my parents’ sheltie on the boat the next day after she snuck a rib out of the trash. It was Mother’s Day, so I cleaned up the mess. (Dad, apparently, doesn’t do dog poop, period.)

When the shock and effort of getting out there with two squabbling kids wore off, I had the weekend of my life. In fact, on the boat ride, when the spring-green hills were sandwiched between the blue of the sky and the blue of the lake, I was 100% certain that I’ve never loved any place on earth as much as I love that lake. It’s not sexy; it’s not the Grand Canyon or the Caribbean Sea. It’s the element of my childhood home, I think, that makes it so vital a part of me. “Happy” isn’t even the proper word. Rather, the lake brings me a deep contentment that I don’t think I’ve ever felt anywhere else quite so strongly, including my own home.

Finally, a view of the cove where I spent my cold winter walks.

The dam at the northwest end of the lake.
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