An early morning mist hangs low over the Upper Cuyahoga where it flows peaceful and serene past Eldon Russell Park on this summer day. The bow of my kayak slices cleanly through the water, my eyes alert for strainers up ahead that might spell trouble. In my concern about getting stuck and possibly capsizing, I pretty much paddle a clear passage. Beside me, however, my friend Audrey, owner of the bright blue and red kayaks, pokes around the reeds at the river’s edge, looking for what, I’m not quite sure. Baby Moses? I tell myself I need to be more adventurous, but then again, I worry about the camera nestled in my lap. I probably should have left it in the car, except I didn’t want to miss another shot like the one of Audrey paddling furiously through a flock of Canada geese, their wings flapping as they try to get airborne while Audrey is grinning madly. Fortunately, it’s nicely imprinted on my memory, but I would have liked to have shared it. Maybe on Facebook.
(Another day, on LaDue Reservoir, as we’re exploring the edges, we spy what looks like an iguana zipping along under the tree branches. It’s green and sort of triangular. Funny how we both think that before we comes to our senses and decide it’s possibly a small beaver or muskrat with a freshly gnawed leafy twig in his mouth.)
A great blue heron erupts from a tree in front of us. As startling as it is, we both take the time to admire the graceful flow of its body as it flies down river and out of sight. We disturb him a few more times until he finally hides (or so he thinks—
Audrey has eagle eyes) in the lower branches of a tree back away from the river. We seem to have the river to ourselves.
We come to a Y. It’s evident that the main channel goes off to the left, but Audrey, naturally, decides that the other way is more interesting. I remember that line from Robert Frost and paddle after her. And it does make a difference. It definitely seems less traveled. I’m never quite sure whether we’ll run aground beyond the next curve or whether my paddle is going to become tangled in some grasses that bend and flatten with the current. I spy a lovely white and pink water lily unfolding in a bed of lily pads. I move over and snap a picture, then decide to put the camera back in its plastic bag and just enjoy the ride. Go find your own splendor, I mutter to the millions who probably will never see my snapshots anyway.
Eventually, we come to the end of things and turn around while its still possible. The trip back is not bad, even against the current. Our heron friend is still perched in his tree, probably very happy to have his feeding grounds all to himself again.
A few weeks later, we’re back on the river, a few miles further downstream where the Camp Hi people have graciously trailered the kayaks. About eight days before, I’d plied this seven mile stretch with Pat in a canoe. In contrast, the kayak seems lighter. Of course, it is. I’m the only one in it. The day is a bit overcast, which, we decide, is for the better.
We’re not alone this day—Labor Day. We launch ahead of the crowd, but due to our leisurely pace, get overtaken by groups of teens and families and some guys and an older couple. (Well, probably about our age.) The wife is putting on a brave face, but I can tell that the constant paddling is taking a toll. Several times, the husband sprints on ahead, then turns around and comes back, which I think is nice.
There’s a place where the river narrows and the current is swift enough to just carry us along, with an occasional dip of the paddle to keep straight. Ahead, though, I begin to hear the sound of white water. Not exactly the mighty Niagara, I remind myself, but I keep my eyes focused for V’s as the water goes over some protruding rocks. The kayak hits it perfectly and I’m through, taking no little pride in the fact that I read it right. I’d done some rafting and canoeing before, but there had always been someone in the boat with expertise. Pretty small potatoes, to be sure, but this time, all the potatoes are mine. I can’t wait until next summer.