(July 10, 2014)
On my paddles I pay attention to my own experience, both internal and external. Sometimes this happens out of necessity because conditions on the lake require my utmost concentration. But in midsummer, after two weeks in the nineties, and when many people take their Montana vacation, I am most aware of the experience of other people. These vignettes suggest the pleasure people take in being on, in, and near the water whether they own a piece of property or simply pull into an area where the public is granted access to the shore and all that lies beyond.
At Finley Point State Park where we have come for a picnic and a paddle around the islands a Japanese family, perhaps on a vacation to Glacier National Park, plays in the shallows. The father/husband photographs waves washing over stones with his iPhone while his wife prepares a simple meal at the picnic table and calls out swimming instructions to her two young children who are beginning to learn to swim underwater, their eyes protected by little sets of goggles. Meanwhile, the grandmother, no bare skin showing, tries to learn how to skip stones. She bends to pick out her stone and then gives it a side-arm toss. Clearly, she is hooked on the possibilities.
A couple from Alberta with a Scottish accent stops by to describe their happiness in being at the lake. They take two miniature poodles on leashes for a swim. When the dogs hesitate about being led into the water, the man turns to me and says with a wry smile, “They are supposed to like water.”
A man from Moab, camping with his siblings and parents rigs his GoPro camera to the back of his Airedale. He then takes the dog and camera for a swim, later downloading the dog’s-eye-view onto his laptop. I can tell that he is delighted by a non-human point of view.
An adolescent boy and his two sisters create their own game of tag in the shallows off the point. One sister on foot and the other sister in an inner tube try to catch the boy in a kayak. After he is tagged he tries to tag one of them.
During my paddle a newly fledged osprey flies overhead and lands on a dead branch below the nest where it was born. After I pass under the snag the bird leaps from the limb, circles behind me, then appears in front of me. With almost no effort and without wetting its wings the bird simply dips its talons in the water and picks up a live fish. Seemingly proud of its catch, it makes several more circles around me before returning to its perch.
In the bottom of Cat Bay, after passing property heavily marked with signs saying that a security company is watching me through its cameras, I find the deep fold of a tucked-back bay and slip past a couple in lounge chairs. When I wave and they do not respond I realize that they are taking a late afternoon nap. They have come deeply to rest.
After I complete my paddle and pull up on the rocky shore of the state park the man with the Airedale approaches. When he asks sophisticated questions about my boat I can tell he is also a paddler. He soon tells me about his own paddling experience and how last summer he and a friend crossed Lake Michigan, commencing to paddle at midnight, finishing at 5 p.m. the next day. As he tells the story of how they were assisted but concerned about big quartering seas, he gently swirls half a lime in a gin and tonic.
When it is time for me to reload my boat I return to the marina from which I launched. I find a grandfather tacking out of the narrow space with his two grandchildren. In a gentle breeze they head out for a sail in a Hobie Cat with a rainbow-colored sail.
While loading my boat back onto its rack I see a car pull into a parking spot facing the lake. A young woman in a cowboy hat emerges from her hot car. As she sees the lake on a cloudless evening she raises her arms and breaks into song. Her voice is beautiful, unexpectedly beautiful.
As I walk back to our picnic spot I pause to visit with a couple from Wyoming. They have rigged a tent over the bed of their pickup and then begin to roast hotdogs over their campfire. The man places an unopened can of beans in the fire to heat the contents before opening the can. Though I am not a fan of hotdogs my mouth begins to water as the flavors and scents rise with the smoke of the fire.
All through our picnic dinner a trio of children plays in the water. They invent games with rules of their own making. They swim and play past the shock of the water’s cool temperature. I can imagine how hungry they will be when they emerge from the water for whatever meal their parents are preparing.
During the drive home a nearly full moon rises over The Missions. As we pass slowly through Ronan our eyes, the moon, and Gray Wolf peak fall into an alignment strikingly similar to a gun sight. The moon accompanies us all the way down the valley, disappears as we go through the canyon section north of Arlee and then reappears over the Rattlesnake wilderness. After we descend Evaro hill it reappears over Mt. Sentinel east of the Missoula valley and promises to illumine the night.
I cherish my own meditative experience while paddling. But this day I have seen how the lake calls to all the other people and creatures I have encountered. They, too, dip their cups in this deep lake.