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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Signs of the times

A break in the weather , and after ambling around the polytunnel hand-picking slugs, and making up a batch of dough for beer bread (not with the slugs!), I found myself throwing the little kayak on the back of the truck and running over to the reservoir.

It's only eight miles to the put-in, so I feel I should get to do this from time to time.

The lake has six miles of shoreline and so there is an endless variety of things to see and do. The gallery of gulls, cormorants, grebes and such changes subtly throughout the seasons. I found some immature black-legged kittiwakes in among the numerous Western gulls; these were new to me and I had to spend some time with the bird book when I got back to the house. They are so small, at first I thought they might be sandpipers. Blown off course?

I know it's mischievous of me, but I cannot resist drifting along the boom of the boat basin, launching one nervous gull at a time from the top of the boom as I come too close. They wheel around, complaining, then circle in to land about thirty feet behind me, which seems to be their personal distance. The grebes and cormorants require more space than this.

There are no coots yet, which means it is officially still autumn -- they are our winter waterbird, and come to the lake in thousands.

There was only one powerboat out, where ten years ago there would have been dozens. A deep-seated vee-hull, it went by at a brisk pace, setting up a large wake in the glassy water, and as the swells came near, I turned into them and rode them over, counting. There are usually twelve substantial waves, with the eighth one the biggest, and most likely to try and climb into the cockpit with me. I wondered whether that's some universal thing, like the preference water is said to have for spinning one way from bathtubs in the northern hemisphere and the other in the southern. Or is it more to do with depth or the size of the body of water in some way? Wind waves, on the other hand, after crossing a couple of miles of water, seem to travel in sevens.

There are two reservoirs right here; the other one, behind the hulking dam to my east, is too grand and wild for me at ten miles long between canyon walls -- a vicious wind tunnel with few safe exit points and over two hundred dark and cold feet deep. This one averages eight feet, no comfort if I rolled over, but it's just tamer all around. It's certainly big, and a serious chop can set up just as you get out to the middle. It can be tiring to get back to the dock from the other side when the wind turns. But within my strength and small skill set, if I know when to Stay The Heck Away.

This time, though, everything was still, with the sun vanishing into the mist of another front seeping in from the ocean, and its pale light glinting strangely off the miles of glassy water. I could see into the depths more than usually, and unexpectedly found the greenery robust and still growing, resembling vast coral formations. It looked like August down there.

As we have still not had a serious frost, I found thousands of summery insects dapping on the water, and drowned or drowning bees and yellowjackets everywhere. some caromed off the hood of my jacket or landed and crawled about on my life vest. A quarter of a mile from shore, there was a mislaid orb-weaver spider, resolutely marching farther out to "sea" like a water strider. She paused when the shadow of my dripping paddle passed over her, then carried on.

This no-frost thingy is disturbing to watch.

The grass is growing like it's March, and we have been putting clippings on all the garden beds and around trees. There is a new generation of garter snakes -- we don't remember seeing that before. And the lettuce and assorted brassicas planted according to directions for winter gardening are bolting. Signs of the times, perhaps.

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