Let me play this song in your eye

On Monday, my friend Tom Ciancetta Facebooked about paddling around Collins Lake in what felt like a suggestion and photography lesson. Tom is now retired into kayaking, grandfathering, fine Italian cooking and old scotch. 

He posted such cool photos that I retrieved my beloved Hornbeck canoe from the basement, where I’d stored it for the cold months and headed to the same tame, teeming reverse island (wet, within dry) on Tuesday.

Apart from solid black devices with NIKON or CANON on the front, this 10-foot, 16-pound canoe may be the favorite thing I own, since it takes my eyes and cameras into places I otherwise couldn’t see.

I stuffed a mask into a pocket of the swimming suit I’d also stored away and had to dig out, then motored down Union Street, past cyclists on the Western Gateway bridge. I looped to the right, into the park past Jumpin’ Jacks; Our fun-food mecca in warm times, it’s now closed. They could have sold MOUNTAINS of grilled treats in Tuesday’s salubrious second-summer glow.

When I unstrapped the boat from the car top, I carried it in one hand, paddle in the other, past guys laboriously rigging a complicated pontoon boat and tugging a cumbersome kayak out and dragging it along the narrow beach.

The water was colder than I expected as I walked the boat in. But the sun warmed wet feet and legs as I set off onto mirror-y waters transformed by the season-change since my last paddle there, more than a month of cold wind and wild rainstorms ago. All the green, grasping vegetation that made the south bay a real challenges to paddle through earlier had died back away. Sadly, so had the water lilies that once decorated the lake. This left the water clear and sweet, the paddling easy. I slipped past reed and cat-tail forests in the south shallows, past a woman who sang out, “Is that a Hornbeck?” and said her beautiful canoe is a Slipstream, an emerald-green blade in the water. 

I investigated two muskrat lodges and two beaver mansions – muskrats build domed islands out away from the shore in open water, beavers build right at the edge, like millionaires. Wild-life seemed surprisingly scanty with only one painted turtle visible swimming underwater, another sunning on a log. The air was cool enough that the latter sun-worshipper held its position rather than fleeing in those ploppy dives turtles usually make off their perches when I get within about ten feet. On a September paddle in the same waters, I counted nearly 50 turtles, including half a dozen dinosaurian, slow-swimming snappers. Some of the flight-splashes I saw might have been snapping turtles, or maybe carp, I couldn’t tell. 

The great blue herons pair I usually spot there was gone, gambling in Atlantic City or snow-birding to Florida, winging past the hurricanes. I missed them, though the Canada geese in the east bay filled in for them, squawk-wise. One of those herons is laid-back, winging serenely, silently away as I approach. It  somehow seems languid, even in flight. The other is noisy, yelling at me as it flees; sassy-ass kingfishers give me the same snark.

Relishing the ease of paddling anywhere, without water chestnuts to grip the paddle, slow the hull, I stayed in-shore a lot, spooking slate-gray carp that cruise the shallows feeding. When the water moved in a shady spot overhung with trees, I  thought I was seeing the mellow, ancient snapping turtle I’d often spotted there, moss thick on its shell. As I got closer, I saw it was a carp, foraging in water so shallow its spine broke the surface, triangle head swinging restlessly right and left. Logs along the shore bore “W’ webworks of turtle-claw scratches.  

Fallen leaves carpeted the water under still-shedding shoreline trees, or sailed singly, like corsairs before the light wind, as if the feathery alto-cirrus clouds overhead were beckoning. As if proud to be strong still, despite the calendar, the sun spread wide within those clouds. Or maybe that glow signified this might be our last such day for months. Being there, loving the place, warmed me as much as the sun.