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So You Think It’s Easy Living on a Lake?

About a decade ago my wife and I bought a house on the lake with the expectation that our daughter would live in it, make the payments on it and buy it from us once she got established teaching. Shortly thereafter she married and moved to Idaho. So we had an

My 16-foot Mariner Kayak sitting on my dock ready for an evening paddle.

My 16-foot Mariner Kayak sitting on my dock ready for an evening paddle.

extra house. As it happened having an extra house on a lake is not as bad as you’d think. Except for the extra house payments.

The upside was that when we sold our farm 2 years ago we had a place to move. The downside was that I lost my fishing/kayaking cabin on the lake. Not that I completely lost it (I still live here, after all) but I lost the “cabin feel”. The “kayak wall” in the dining room was the first to go.  It’s now a “kayak rack” outside. Sigh.

There are obvious advantages to living next to a lake when one is a kayaker. If I have the urge to paddle I don’t have to load gear in the car and kayaks on the rack; I can just pull a kayak down to the dock, get in and paddle away. The disadvantage is that after a few years you’ve paddled to every possible place on the lake and there is precious little that’s new. It is, however, excellent for training workouts and for just getting away.

Today I took my wife’s Mariner Express and headed south under the I-90 bridge aiming for the lighthouse rock. Now there are no navigational aids on Moses Lake but the lighthouse was constructed by a local homeowner as a warning to boaters of a reef that extended westwards from his property out to a rocky islet. However boaters on fresh water lakes are made of sterner stuff than to take a home built lighthouse as sufficient warning and they ran their boats up onto that islet with astonishing regularity.  But the rock makes a swell place to mark the halfway point of a 4-mile out-and-return paddle.

There are a group of grass islands on my route with shallow passages winding around the hummocks of grass and, depending on my mood, I can either paddle through the islands or past them. At some times of the year these are alive with geese, ducks, herons,, turtles, water snakes and huge carp. The carp congregate in these shallows and are often surprised by my kayak which sometimes hits them. These are huge fish; often 24  to 30 inches in length and are not native to Washington waters. My own theory is that they are the descendants of goldfish discarded by Air Force personnel after the closure of Larsen Air Force Base in the 1960s. The carp are harmless of course, but an unwary paddler could be startled into a capsize after hitting (or being hit) by them.

Once around the rock I start the slog back to my dock. Sometimes I tuck in along the homes lining the lake on the western shore. I almost never paddle in open water because of the danger of boat traffic. Salt water paddlers don’t realize the dangers posed by small motorboats moving along at 40 to 60 mph. If they can run into a rock marked by a lighthouse, I figure they can certainly run into my kayak. The 3-inch depths inside the grass islands is perfect protection. I’ve never had a jet ski follow me there but I bet they’ve thought about it.

Right at the rock my attention was drawn to the sounds of loons calling to each other across the lake in the late afternoon light. On their way south after breeding in the north, these loons weren’t making their haunting cry but rather their hoo-hoo cry to let each other know where they were. Instead of rounding the rock immediately I paddled around to see if I could find them and also decided to check the grove of Russian Olive trees on the eastern side of the lake that I know is commonly used by roosting Great Blue Herons.

Herons are common everywhere nowadays, it seems, and every little town seems to identify itself with them. Moses Lake is no exception. They are lovely birds who love to roost in the upper branches of large trees. Last summer one would roost in a Birch tree next to our 2nd story porch where we would sit outside enjoying the sunset. If we spoke too loudly our heronic neighbor would give us an outraged “graaaaaaack” as a hint to shut up and go to bed. This evening the Russian Olive trees were empty of the herons so I turnede and headed for home.

The loons were soon left behind and their calls replaced by the sounds of cars and trucks headed east and west along the I-90 freeway. I often wonder whether the drivers notice me paddling right next to them and what they think. Occasionally someone will sound their horn at me but usually they simply drive on. Wilderness, this isn’t.

Once under the freeway I’m only a few blocks from home and I often sprint the distance to impress my neighbors with my paddling prowess. They all think I’m a crazy old man, of course; maybe they’re right.  But my Garmin GPS usually shows a moving average of around 4mph so at age 66 I figure I might be crazy but at least I’m not spending all my time on the sofa watching I love Lucy reruns.

Mindy barked at me when I got to the dock. She is supposed to bark as part of her job but she occasionally takes it too far. Such as when a stray skunk wanders past the fenced yard at 3am. She knows it’s me, of course, but barks to show she’s on the job and alert. One time, when I unexpectedly capsized just off my own dock and the tennis shoes I had stupidly worn trapped me in the cockpit Mindy and the other two dogs set up such a racket that my wife came out of the house in time to see me finally bob to the surface next to my overturned kayak. The dogs may not know what I’m doing but they certainly know – after watching me for so many years – when I’m not doing it right!

One of my least graceful kayak moves is a simple exit from a cockpit but at my own dock I have it down to an art and it’s only a matter of a few minutes to put the boat back where it belongs under the cherry tree, take my trusty Lightning paddle (the best paddle I’ve ever owned) back in the shed, and walk through my front door where my wife had dinner ready. It’s feijoada, a Brazilian dish that I became addicted to when I lived in Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s. All I have to do is add salsa and sour cream, grab a soda, and sit down and eat.

Maybe it’s easy living on the lake after all.

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