Another day, already shorter by many minutes of daylight, with the light — yes, that precious summer daylight — now streaming lower, as if tired of hanging too high for too long. Overhead: two-tone passing clouds, shifting shadows and dark foliage of trees. Below — and almost underfoot — sweet slugs on mushroom stems, moss cushions and tall ferns: taller than ever. It has been a wet month, so wet that shrooms emerge already moldy and our heads spin as the barometer jumps up and down like a flea on speed.
Never mind: we have what we have, and the wet is considerably better than the dry and many destructive forest fires out West. We slip our shoes on, check the straps tying our canoe down, and go. It is usually eight minutes to our home lake, a bit longer now that Hurley Mountain Road became a detour for Rt.209 while one of its bridges is being replaced. We pass a growling 18-wheeler which brutally squeezes us right on a tight turn, an empty school bus, some pickup trucks seemingly just cruising back and forth, and join state highway 28W which unspools its 280 rural miles between Kingston, NY, and the Warren County way south.
Before we turn off the highway a few minutes later, I notice a bank of clouds already assembling above the Catskills. The recent forecast of our local Hudson Valley Weather is a replica of yesterday’s. It starts with a neighborly concern and then tells us what we already suspect.
We hope everyone made out ok after last nights storms. Unfortunately we are not done with the unsettled weather; it appears that passing showers and occasional pop up storm will be possible into the early afternoon. A more organized line of storms looks to propagate through the region from NW to SE. This will bring a new threat of storms with heavy rain, gusty wind and frequent lightning.
We park by the lake which came up several inches overnight, gather our paddles and push off. Usually we turn right first, heading for blueberry bushes hanging above the water. But today the bushes move, and another berry eater looks out of the thicket. A yearling whitetail buck, with rusty velvet covering its young antlers. Soft mobile nose. Alert eyes. And the berries he nibbles on are the last of the crop, for everybody has been feeding on them all summer: blacks bears, Green herons and Canada geese, chipmunks, squirrels — and us. We never take many, just enough to feel included at the lake’s table, and we like their intense and tangy sweetness. Surely Mary Oliver has something to say about them?
She does, of course:
Once, in summer
in the blueberries,
I fell asleep, and woke
when a deer stumbled against me.
she was so busy with her own happiness
she had grown careless
and was just wandering along
to the wind as she leaned down
to lip up the sweetness.
So, there we were
with nothing between us
but a few leaves, and wind’s
backed away finally
and flung up her white tail
and went floating off toward the trees –
but the moment she did that
was so wide and so deep
it has lasted to this day;
I have only to think of her –
the flower of her amazement
and the stalled breath of her curiosity,
and even the damp touch of her solicitude
before she took flight –
to be absent again from this world
and alive, again, in another
for thirty years
sleepy and amazed,
rising out of the rough weeds
listening and looking.
where are you?
We move on, keeping Edy the canoe close to the lake’s shore: this is where we are the least visible and disturb little. We see a young Green heron we noticed some weeks ago when he, still a fledgling, was trying to fly and kept crashing into the bushes. Then the larger of the two resident families of Canada geese — our Periscopes — floats out of a green eddy and swims close to us. The lake is warm and thousands of bluish bubbles cover its surface. They probably emerge from a cyanobacterial floating mat which trapped these miniature gas domes filled with the gaseous byproduct of the algal bloom, and may disappear during the day. And these painted turtles on the log behind the geese? I want see the turtles but John takes Edy among lily pads. He wants one, with — as he calls it — its heart of gold. Rendered in pixels. I do not have Mary’s soaring words but I have my pixels, all these digital zeros and ones.
And there is a tiny baby turtle, sunbathing confidently on a lily pad: as is grows larger and heavier, it will need a solid sun porch. This one is perhaps three inches across and seemingly unafraid: it stays put as I lean out of Edy this way and that to avoid sun reflections on its smooth shell.
In the meantime we lost the sight of our geese. Where did they go? Already by the east side of the lake, swimming in the same tight formation they held for several months. And soon they split: both parents and two big chicks swim left and come close to Edy, while one youngster turns right and takes a nap: an individual preference clearly stated. The chicks will stay with their parents for about a year and then take off and become adult birds of consequence.
Having made sure everybody is accounted for, we move to the sunny west side of the lake and look for more wildlife. Here are two dragonflies in their late summer lustful unison. But we already know our home lake summer is almost over. We may still come and paddle and watch for a few days, and the life will continue. The showers held off this morning and the sky is still bright. But we are already sensing the slowing down movement of the season, clearly ebbing away and losing its “let’s grow” explosions of passionate energy. It is different now, more contemplative and grounded. It is advancing like an avalanche loaded with small events which add up and change everything in a profound way. Day after day. Hour after hour. Rain after rain.
Soon we will grab our folding canoe we named Julia and drive maybe north to Maine, and then west once the distant forest fires burn themselves out. Where? We have no idea but it will all take shape, slowly, as we go.