You must login to vote
We were in the red canoe, trying to find the big cove up the lake in the direction we normally didn’t go. It was the narrow end where houses lined the shore one after another for a while, and I always thought it looked like a river there. Nighttime came on slowly that time of summer, leaving plenty of room between supper and bedtime for croquette or walking in the yard or canoeing or boating around, and diving from the bow.
I knew about a cove out that way but couldn’t remember if it was real or just something I’d made up. I pictured it about a mile wide, lined with reeds and brown cattails, sprouting white fluff. What made it a cove, I remembered, was how the trees blocked all the wind so the lily pads and the reeds and the cattails could grow.
“I think there’s a secret stream at the back of the cove,” I said.
You said, “We’ll see, won’t we.”
“Yeah,” I said.
We aimed diagonally across the lake in front of the Ashmore’s house and for a while it felt unusual being in the center of the lake because that’s where the motor boats went and we usually stayed around the shallow edges unless we had a reason to cross. The water’s surface reflected the shapes of the trees with the dull blue sky right behind, but closer to the canoe, the water became black because of how deep the water went. Tiny white perch nibbled at the air, grabbing insects and pollen and small twigs.
I said, “I think the secret stream comes out in the cove behind the osprey’s nest.”
“Really?” you said. “It might.”
“Yeah,” I said, “It might, but if it does, it has to cross a road because there are houses on the point and they need a road. So, if we have to cross a road, you don’t have to help me with the canoe. You won’t have to do anything because I can just drag it across.”
“Well,” you said, “If we have to cross a road back in there, I’ll help you carry it.”
“We don’t even have to cross if you don’t want to, but we can if you do.”
“We’ll see,” you said.
“Yeah, we’ll have to see because I’m not even sure the secret stream is there. I just think it is.”
“Okay then. We’ll see.”
A beaver made its way along the shore swimming with just the top of its head showing, trailing a very long slight wake like a silver ribbon that floated for a long time.
“See the muskrat?” I said. I couldn’t tell if it was an otter or a beaver or a muskrat or something else I didn’t even know. I only called them beavers when I could actually see the tail.
You didn’t see it at first so I had to point with my yellow paddle.
“Wow!” you said when you found it.
I just loved seeing those little guys. The lake seemed full of them, and of loons and ducks and ospreys. The perch were still jumping, and I knew the bass were hanging out in the deepest parts. A family of loons surfaced not far to the left of us. Two parents and a little one. They reminded me of the time you and I came across the nesting loon in Hoyt’s Brook sitting so far forward on her nest she looked sick. But really she was just sitting on her eggs, floating around all day on her bundle of marsh grass that her mate made for her.
One time we counted twenty loons swimming together. It took a while because they kept diving for fish so we couldn’t see all twenty at once. We must have had fifty loons on the lake at any time. I couldn’t imagine them hopping from lake to lake willy nilly because of how hard it was for them to take off. They needed about half a mile! Underwater is their real home. I knew because one time I saw one pass right under my canoe, faster than I ever saw a fish move. He was flying under there.
The cove is hard to see I think, until you get right on to p of it because of how well the shore line before and after it line up together. I seemed to remember it opening up like magic, all at once.
“It should be around here somewhere,” I said.
“Okay,” you said. “I’ll keep my eyes peeled.”
“Thank you,” I said. We moved very close to the shore, until the tree branches hung out over us and we could see small schools of fish running away from us. One thing about the time just before nighttime is the peepers start to come out. You never can tell where they’re coming from exactly because of how many there are, which is millions. And it’s hard to tell how big they are from their sound because sometimes small animals had big voices to scare off the really big animals who would like to eat them, and also to attract the girls to them. But the peepers sounded like they were about half an inch big to me. Maybe that was big enough for them. They seemed to like marshy spots like the cove beside our house, I guess because they could find lots of hiding spots, and that’s where they kept their egg jellies. Judging by how loud they were getting, I thought me must have been close to the cove. But maybe not, because they also like to stay sometimes out front of our house in the rocky part between the beeches.
You were in the front seat, making little whirlpools paddling. I watched every one go by me. There were always two. One for each side of the paddle where the water rushed by. They made sucking, swirling noises, and they had tiny lines going around inside of them like peppermint patties. I made them too, only I tried to make mine bigger than yours by paddling harder. Plus I didn’t want you to feel like we were going too slow.
“You don’t have to paddle,” I said. “Why don’t you take a break?”
“Oh,” You said. “ Okay. I think I’ll take you up on that.” Then you said you’d like to turn around so you could face me and hear me better. I held the canoe steady while you turned around, even though I didn’t need to, your balance was so good. I thought, that’s probably why I can do good handstands.
After a while of just me paddling, you grabbed your red plastic paddle and used it backwards like an oar, except there were no oarlocks on the side, so you made it slide back and forth on the top of the side. I noticed you weren’t making whirlpools anymore, so I started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” you said.
I said, “You just love paddling don’t you.”
It feels better for my back that way,” you said.
“But,” I said, “you don’t even have to paddle at all, Mom.”
The aluminum part of the paddle scraped against the aluminum of the top of the side of the canoe, which sounded like a tiny mill where they use big rocks to make bread.
I said, “I find it’s easier to padle when I keep my hands farther apart. See where I’m holding on? I have a lot of leverage this way.”
“Oh,” you said. Your hands were only about three inches apart, so you moved the one hand a little further down the neck.
I said, “The most important thing is to find the way that works for you. Just because I do it this way doesn’t mean you have to.”
“Like this?” you said, holding your paddle up.
I said, “Yeah, but Mom, you don’t even have to paddle because I want this to be a special ride for you.”
“It’s a special ride already,” you said. “Any time we do something together, something special seems to happen.”
“It does,” I said.
The cove opened in the trees just like I remembered, slowly revealing itself until we could see the whole thing, which was so big it might have been its own pond. Four houses shared the whole thing and some of them had old wooden docks out front, gray from the sin, with boats tied along side. One of the houses had a sandy beach from when it was still okay todump sand like that. The problem was it always settled to the bottom of the lake, and I thought they were worried about it overflowing some day.
Entering the cove, I steered us right between two boulders just off the point. They looked like huge turtles to me, and there were more under water that I could tell we wouldn’t hit. They were sand colored.
You couldn’t see them the way you were facing, until we were half way through. When you saw how good I did at not hitting anything, and still making the turn, you said, “You can do just about anything wou want to with that paddle.”
I said, “Yeah, I’m pretty good.” Then I showed you how well I could steer by turning sharp to the right so we could immediately be inside the cove.
You said, “Is there anything you would like me to pray about?”
“I’m pretty good,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, there is one thing that’s bothering me these days.”
“Oh?” you said. “Do you want to tell me?”
“It’s my feet,” I said. “They get sore sometimes and I have to pop my toe knuckles to make them feel better again and I know I shouldn’t do that.”
“What do you think’s the matter?” you said.
“I think I need some Nike sneakers so they don’t get sore any more when I play basketball.”
“Well,” you said, “I’ll definitely pray about that.”
I made sure to keep the bow pointing dead straight at the tall grass where I thought the secret stream would be, even though a huge tree was laying there in the way with its branches coming out of the water and going back in, like it was trying to swim before it froze, and all its bark had fallen away so I knew it had been there a long time, and that probably we couldn’t get around it. As we came to the tree, I turned the canoe sideways to it, so you could see. “I like the way that tree looks.”
“Hmm,” you said, “I do too. I really do.” Then you whispered, “Oh my! Look at all those turtles!”
“Oh,” I whispered, “I see them.” I used the silent stroke to move closer. “Let’s see how close we can get.”
You said, “Okay,” very quietly and brought your paddle into the canoe, but when the tip of the blade made a tap noise on the canoe, one of the turtles slid off into the water, splashing gently like a rock tipping over. You brought your shoulders up and raised your eyebrows instead of saying anything. You looked like you’d just made a mistake.
I didn’t dare say anything because that would have meant more of them swimming away, so I kept my paddle in the water, and made us turn sideways again as we drifted closer. Even when we were completely sideways, the momentum pushed us still towards the tree.
There were at least ten turtles, maybe more. Some of them looked just like bumps, and there were so many branches, I couldn’t tell exactly what to look for. But after we stayed there a while, one of those big fat dragon flies landed on the middle bar that goes across the canoe between us. He needed a little rest, and he was super shiny blue. So shiny I couldn’t tell if he was green also, or black, or red. He let those four wings stay still for a minute or two, so he could catch his breath, and while he did that, I happened to be watching when another turtle swam through the lake weed right next to us with his head reaching way out in front and his feet moving fast, one side then the other so he kind of waddled. He was fast, but compared to the loons, he was still just a turtle.
Eventually, the mosquitoes came out too strong for us, and we had to leave the rest of the turtles so we could go home. As we backed out, I thought we woke them up from sleeping because they started to go back into the water, but not real fast like we scared them. It was like they were watching us, staying up late before going home. Eight o’clock was probably late for them since they had no reason to stay up past dark, unlike us. We didn’t realize the time, until we left the cove and we had no particular reason to hurry back because it was still part of our special time.