You and I 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. 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.
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I was twelve. I didn't even know how old you were.
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 was how the trees blocked all the wind so the lily pads and the reeds and the cattails could grow.
“Mom," I said, "I think there’s a secret stream at the back of the cove."
You said, “We’ll see, won’t we.”
“Yeah,” I said.
When we made it to the Ashmore’s house we aimed diagonally across the lake. For a while it felt unusual being in the center of the lake because that’s where the motor boats went. 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. 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.”
“Well,” you said, “If we have to cross a road back in there, I’ll help you carry the canoe.”
“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.”
An animal 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 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.
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 anything. He was flying under there.
The cove is hard to see I think, until you get right on top 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 could tell where they were coming from exactly because of how many there were, which was millions. And was hard to tell how big they were from their sound because sometimes small animals had big voices to scare off the really big animals who would like to eat them. They also needed to attract the girls to themselves. 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 one beside our house, I guess because they could find lots of hiding spots, and that’s where they kept their jelly eggs. I figured we were getting close to the cove.
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. They had tiny lines swirling 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. You made it slide back and forth on the top of the side. I noticed you weren’t making whirlpools anymore because you weren’t really paddling. You just set it in the water, let it drift back. Then you picked it up and did it again. 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 this 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 canoe railing, which sounded like a tiny mill where they used big rocks to make bread.
I said, “It’s easier to paddle with your hands farther apart. See?”
“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.
The cove opened in the trees just like I remembered, slowly growing until we could see the whole thing, which was so big it might have been its own pond. Four houses shared the whole thing. Some of them had old wooden docks out front, gray from the sun, boats tied along side. One of the houses had a sandy beach from when it was still okay to dump sand like that.
I steered us right between two boulders just off the point. They looked like huge turtles to me. I could tell we wouldn’t hit the sand colored ones under water.
You couldn’t see them the way you were facing, until we were half way through. When you saw how good I did at turning without hitting anything you said, “You can do just about anything you want to with that paddle.”
I said, “Yeah, I’m pretty good.” Then I turned sharp to the right so we could immediately be inside the cove.
You said, “Is there anything you would like me to pray for?”
“I’m pretty good,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, there is one thing.”
“Oh?” you said. “Do you want to tell me?”
“I think I need some Nike sneakers for 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. 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 said, “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
You brought your paddle into the canoe, but when it tapped the bottom of the canoe one of the turtles slid off into the water 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.
There were at least ten turtles, maybe more. Some of them looked just like bumps. There were so many branches I couldn’t tell exactly what to look for. After we stayed there a while one of those big fat dragon flies landed on the middle bar that went across the canoe between us. He needed a little rest. He was super shiny. I couldn’t tell if he was green 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. 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 as if we'd scared them. It was like they'd been 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 had no particular reason to hurry back because it was still part of our special time.