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View from the lake house, October 2012

This morning when I woke, it was twenty-seven degrees. Naturally, I did the same thing I've done every Saturday since July–I climbed into the kayak and went for a paddle around the lake.

It's been a tough year here on the outskirts of St. Louis, and it's changed family attitudes about a lot of things. In particular, our general "we better scrimp for retirement" attitude has been swapped out for a do things while you still can attitude. And the very first thing we did to give a big middle finger to fate, was to buy a little house on a lake.

It's a trailer really, a "double-wide" in good mobile home parlance, one that was foreclosed on during the housing crisis and sat empty during the time my wife was having her own hard winter and spring. I hate to benefit from someone's misfortune, but when this little place popped up on the market just days after the last round of chemo, it seemed like something that was meant to be. A little scrubbing (okay, a lot of scrubbing–the disgruntled former owner had, among other things, urinated into the heater registers and poured many gallons of stinky, stagnant water into the ductwork) we moved into our new "vacation home" only eight miles south of our existing home. Yup, just like John McCain and Mitt Romney, I'm a multiple home owner. Where's my car lift?

In any case, it wasn't really the (now very clean, since I learned to put in ductwork) trailer that we fell in love with. It was the lake.

Lake Lorraine is a small lake, only about 80 acres when the water is up to the spillway. Like every lake in Missouri except for a few cut off river meanders, it's manmade. In this case, the lake was built in the 1950s. Still, small and artificial as it may be, it's a lovely and fascinating little piece of water, with a mixture of native species and invaders that have arrived either on their own or with deliberate human intervention. As time goes on, expect me to talk about how the area manages to keep the Canada goose population in check without unlimbering a weapon, how one of America's oddest fish is making a comeback through a unique program, and why infamous Asian carp aren't always a bad thing in American waters.

For now, just take a look at a few pics taken from my research paddleboat, the Paddlypso, and my research kayak, the Other Paddlypso.

kayaking in October
Kayaking in October

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron

Great Egret
Great Egret

Canada Geese
Geese and Fall Colors

This morning I went out just before the sun cleared the horizon. There was heavy frost on the frozen ground, and the still edge of the lake was laced by ice thinner than a soap bubble. The smooth boards of the dock and blue pastic of the kayak were both pale and furry under blankets of hoarfrost.  I turned over the kayak and slid it into the water, then made my usual graceless entry. A large fish stirred as I grabbed the icy paddle, causing a rippling mound to move ahead of me as I started across the lake. There was mist so thick that it sometimes seemed that I wasn't paddling over the cold water, but under it. Midway across, where the water gets close to fifty feet deep, a muskrat plunged down at my approach. A pair of wood ducks mumbled softly at my uncomfortable proximity, but couldn't be bothered to fly. The sun came up and started to boil away the swirling mist, but the cold in my aching fingers encouraged me to finish my lap around the lap quickly, and in my haste I got too close to shore and scared away the darker of the two herons that hang near my dock. By the time I dragged the kayak back onto the boards and stumbled inside, my fingers were aching deeply and my eyes were tearing from the cold. II stood in the kitchen for awhile, looking back at the water, massaging my painful hands, deeply grateful, and blessed to know there is nowhere else I would rather be.

Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sat Nov 17, 2012 at 07:33 AM PST.

Also republished by J Town.

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