The nose of my kayak dipped into the dark water at five-thirty. The five mile drive to the boat launch was a friendly race with the first streaks of color. No matter how many times I watch a sunrise, I am surprised by how rapidly it passes through its succession of colors. When I launched into the lake, everything reached by the light was bathed in a pink glow.
The crisp air of the new day, the mist riding atop the warm water, and the sun’s processional march of color were a breathtaking combination. God makes beautiful places, I thought over and over again.
This lake is edged by several homes, a youth camp, and abundant forest. At that hour, it was silent on every side. I was the only person on the lake and, at least in the first stretch, hardly more than a few birds had yet to break the quiet. I paddled and drifted. Paddled and drifted. The mist was invitingly mesmerizing, but each time I moved further into it, I paused to cease even the noise of my paddle cutting in and out of the water.
The silence was magnificent.
As the pinks and oranges gave way to blue, and the sun crept nearer the tops of the tree line, the bird calls multiplied. When I sat still, I could hear the flutters of wings and creaks of branches as the trees’ residents stirred to life. Before the sun crested the trees, the shadows slid away from the top down.
Eventually, maybe an hour in, came another kayaker. When she spotted me watching something on the edge of a little island, she drew closer and I pointed out the Great Blue Heron standing among the lily pads.
She was perhaps around 75, best guess, with a soft voice and smile. She asked how early I’d arrived and remarked on the goodness of enjoying the lake before it was busy with boats and the waves that follow them. She told me about the oldest heron nesting on the lake year after year, whom she calls Grandpa. We watched the heron on the island until it flew off with a whooshing flap of its blue-feathered wings. I wished her a good day as she moved on and I felt a vague sense of what it’d have been like to be there at that moment with my great-grandmother when she was the same age. Something in the woman’s manners had called my Grandma Walcher to mind right off.
I took my time skimming along the curves of the lake. Fish came to the top in clouds of bubbles. Turtles poked their triangle heads through the surface. The birds were musically relentless. Apart from the surfacing creatures though, the water remained flat and still. If I stopped paddling, even in the open spaces, the kayak barely drifted. Shining reflections doubled the views in every direction.
Around seven a.m., I told myself it was time to make my way back to the boat launch. I’d have time to drive home, unload the kayak, and shower before logging into work for the day. With a a bit of convincing, I pointed my boat in that direction.
From behind me, I heard a call of “Hooo! Hello!”
A soft shout coming from my co-kayaker. I turned around and we drew up beside each other.
“If you go back along the trees, there’s another heron. He’s on some dead branches almost all the way to the corner. They love to feed there.”
How am I to turn away from a tip like that one? Getting home could wait. I thanked my new friend before paddling where she directed. I wondered if asking to have tea and cookies with her later would be too odd.
Sure enough, he was exactly where she’d described. Perched, watching and waiting for more breakfast. He was beautiful.
Amazingly, he didn’t mind me one bit as I floated closer. I stopped among the first of the lily pads and sat still once again. Birds called to each other unceasingly. A pair of cranes began making a racket from a distant section of shoreline. I wondered if he was Grandpa, here for enough years to go about his day without concern over the noisy business of others (including intrusive humans in kayaks). Perhaps he was Grandpa, because he didn’t even stir when the morning bugle song rang out from the opposite side of the lake to rouse the campers from their bunks.
Leaving the heron to his morning meal, I did finally resolve to be on my way. That vocal pair of cranes and another heron provided more delightful distractions before I reached the boat launch.
The bird life among the reeds and cattails seemed to double in my final minutes on the water. It was now a quarter to eight, the sun fully up and me due at my desk very soon. Even though I couldn’t stay to sit among more of those birds or watch more schools of fish pop up to the shimmering surface, my joy from the morning was overflowing. It bubbled out in a laugh as I pulled my boat out of the water. I shook my head at all the pieces of beauty I’d encountered in the last two hours. I laughed more, and thanked God again and again.