Gliding Downwind

A storm swept through the neighborhood last evening, pelting windows with rain, tossing branches back and forth, and pushing white-capped waves down the lake. When the power went off we lit lanterns and played checkers until the lights came back on. This morning, there were still some big clouds overhead, but a strong northwest wind pushed them out of the way, opening up big patches of blue sky. It was going to be a beautiful day. I was eager to get out on the lake, so after breakfast I slid my little yellow kayak into the water and started paddling. Normally, I like to start out into the wind, but my progress was so slow against the strong northwest wind I decided to paddle in the protected water next to the shore.

There is much to see along the shore, where the forest meets the lake. In one place, years of erosion had removed soil from around the base of a big old tree. The exposed roots still clung to stones around which they had grown, and behind the roots were dark recesses that extended back into the bank. The wooded shore was quiet, and I felt as if I were in a lovely wild garden. Thick green moss, and different kinds of lichen, grew on trees and rocks. Even some of the stones under the water were covered with lichen. There was tall meadow rue, its slender stalks heavy with clusters of delicate white flowers, and alder bushes with tiny cones growing on their branches, leaning out over the lake. Back in the woods, sunlight filtered down through the trees, making a speckled pattern on the pine needle covered forest floor. A phoebe called loudly, breaking the silence, and somewhere back in the woods a song sparrow sang.

I dipped my paddle into the water and my yellow kayak glided farther along the shore, past a small camp that had been filled with vacationers over the weekend, but which now looked empty. Beyond the camp, the kayak nosed up to the waterlogged trunk of an old pine tree that had fallen over a long time ago and now sloped down into the lake. Short stubs of branches stuck out from the trunk, threatening to snag my kayak as it floated over.

There were no other boats in sight as I glided into a small protected cove where yellow lilies bloomed and where a bright blue damselfly, perched on top of a green stem, fooled me for a moment into thinking it was a flower. Puffy white clouds slid past, in the sky and on the lake, and bright sunlight reflected upward from the rippling water, flickering up onto the trunks of trees along the shore. Dragonflies darted here and there just above the surface of the cove, and two amorous dragonflies paused briefly on the bow of my boat before flying off together, a marvel of aerial acrobatics.

It was time to head for home, so I left the protection of the shore and paddled out into the wind. When my hat almost blew off my head it was time to turn, so I pushed hard with one end of the paddle and then pulled hard with the other end, and with the wind at my back glided down the lake toward home. Once in a while, I dragged one end of the paddle in the water to keep on course, and sometimes I paddled a few strokes, but mostly I relaxed and let the wind do the work.

A great blue heron flew high across the lake, its huge wings flapping slowly and gracefully. When it reached the far shore it found a thermal and began to circle upward, higher and higher. The heron reached a great height, spread its wings, and glided off to the west. I watched until it shrank to a tiny speck in the distance, and when it finally disappeared I held up my paddle to catch the wind and I, too, glided downwind toward home.

Jean Preis is a resident of Bridgton.

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