My husband and I marked our 25th. wedding anniversary this June with a gift of kayaks for each other. For years, we’ve watched kayakers cruising through lakes we were merely hiking around. They seemed to be, quite frankly, having much more fun. So, we did some research, took some trial runs and walked out of our local outdoor sporting goods store with two kayaks and all their accompanying materials. We were set!
Harriman State park is just thirty minutes away – a fabulous resource for hikers, campers and (now) people like us – kayakers. With seven lakes tucked between mountains and forested trails, we became members and instantly had access to all of them. Kayaking heaven!
Yesterday, we set off rather late. It was a beautiful day, AND the Fourth of July…cars were parked by the sides of the road by the time we arrived – not a good sign. But, our little membership key unlocked the gate to a serene boat launch, and soon we were off.
One of the best things about kayaking is that your movement around the water is quiet and unrestricted – you can sidle up to birds, poke your way through the rushes to catch glimpses of wild life, and edge up to nooks and crannies in the landscape. Every time I’m out on a lake I experience one of those breathtaking moments when I see and experience something extraordinary.
Yesterday, I paddled out to the center of the lake and then came to rest. There were occasional gusts of breeze which unfurled across the water’s surface and lapped against the side of my boat; the the lake would come to rest again, as white clouds floated calmly by once more. Something swooped in and came to rest about two paddle lengths from me, but before I could identify it it dove into the lake and seemed to disappear! Scott had seen this as well, and quickly paddled over to explain this mysterious sight: a loon! No wonder it had seemed to vanish – loons are diver birds, able to stay under water for long periods of time. We waited in patient silence and were rewarded with the bird surfacing right next to me. Those remarkable ruby eyes darted intently over the lake, and a second later he was gone once more.
We spent the better part of half an hour watching his progress across the lake – marveling at the ease and grace with which this little fisherman went about his task. Suddenly, there was an unexpected gust of wind which sent my kayak rocking; as I worked to steady myself I saw our feathered companion heading into the wind and taking off for better hunting grounds. I’d read somewhere that loons need open water and a watery runway for takeoff, but it was the first time I’d actually seen one do so from this vantage point. It took him quite a while to get aloft, and it was not the graceful act I’d expected.
Curious, I did some research into the flying habits of the loon and discovered that taking flight did indeed pose all sorts of challenges for loons: the wind had to be just so, they need a stretch of open water and an unrestricted runway. I also found a video on Youtube (everything, it seems, makes its way there) which provided a visual explanation for all I’d read. The loon in ths eventually gets aloft – but not without considerable effort!