Kayaking in the Fall,
Autumn, on Highland Lake in
New Hampshire

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The Heart of New England
The Season's Last Paddle
by Lori Hein

Foliage is long past peak, many trees already barren.  The graying leaves that
hang on shake with age and inevitability.  I push my kayak into the water and
paddle over and around the stumps revealed each October when Highland
Lake (New Hampshire) is peeled back to show things unseen in summer.  

Fishermen and weekenders have gone.  Time to pull the stopper, inspect the
dam and make needed repairs.  By Halloween, the lake in its shallowest parts is
a ripe mud pool, in its deepest, a glistening meander alongside hushed woods.

It's the season's last paddle.  The low water can no longer host powerboats, and
even the most committed bass men in their silvery, shallow-hulled craft have
abandoned Highland until spring.  When the lake is down, my kayak shows me
things no one else is looking for in places no one else can reach.

I wear sunglasses.  Fall's burnished light embraces me and glints off the ripples
I ride through.  I tilt my face toward the sun, remembering how it felt in
summer, trying to soak up and store it.

There's so much to take in, things hidden in high season and high water. A rock
jetty, hand-placed long ago, running 15 feet off Mallard Island's tip.  The line
along the shore where the fecund forest soil ends and New Hampshire's granite
underpinnings begin.  Decaying logs and slender water grasses, housing
creatures, some who show themselves and some who rarely do.  I peer into their
murky homes. Hello, turtle.  Let me sit and examine the patterns on your shell.  
The deep, cloying smell of exposed algae fills my head.

Like spotlights, the stillness and bare branches let me see or sense any moving
thing.  A few year-rounders putter about their properties, canoes on shore, lawn
furniture still arranged.  Two fishermen are closing their place, pulling up
docks and securing windows.  Their dog explodes from the woods when he
sees my kayak, a burst of movement and color in this muted, going-to-sleep
world, and he barks and bounds along the shore next to me until dense trees
stop him.

I eavesdrop on a couple in a birch bark canoe.  They're a quarter-mile away, but
I hear their conversation, speculation about which yard a moose had called
home for a while, as clearly as if I were sitting between them.  Were I to confirm,
in my normal voice, that they'd indeed found Lily Moose's lily bed, they would
hear me, crystal.

Dennis the dentist, who's been spending less time on teeth and more time on the
lake of late, poles around on a homemade raft, collecting the slimy, untethered
logs that poke from the mud near his dock.  A fit, handsome man with Ralph
Lauren hair sharing raft space with dripping, brown butt ends of rotted trees.

When the water is down, the docks left standing in the muck become
long-limbed flamingos, skinny legs and knees exposed.  Can-can girls. Frisky
ladies pulling up their skirts.  The docks that have been pulled out and tied
upright show their blue plastic barrel bellies.

Anything that can blow away has been stored away. Gone are wind chimes and
floats, umbrellas and beach chairs.  Lonely picnic tables, too heavy to move, dot
beaches and yards. They've begun their slow, cold wait for people to come back
out and sit again.

At the marina, the docks and boat berths are pulled out. The gas pump is gone.  
White shrink-wrapped motorboats sit parked like so many Sydney Opera
Houses.  In the extreme silence, my ears track a car as it moves through miles of
woods up on Shedd Hill Road.

On this last paddle, I do things I don't do when the water is high and boats are
about.  I cross the lake at its widest point, slowly.  No worry about powerboats
catching me before I reach the other shore.  The lake is mine.  I cross and
recross.  I stop paddling, float, and lift my head to the sun, closing my eyes.  No
need to rush, nothing to watch out for.

The loon that lives with his mate in a reedy shallow across from the marina
plays with my kayak, diving on one side and emerging, finally, twenty yards off
the other side. The waterfall whose hums and trills are muted in season by the
competing sounds of summer activity now has top billing. I rock in my kayak
and take in its performance.

As I head home, autumn's last rays kissing the earth, I look down the lake and
think of what's ahead.  Winter will soon bring its wonders. Like the long skate.  
If you catch it just right, after the lake freezes but before snow has buried it, you
can skate on Highland Lake glass for seven miles.

About the Author:

Lori Hein has written over a hundred articles on a range of topics.  She's the
author of  
"Ribbons of Highway: A Mother-Child Journey Across America" and
publisher of the world travel blog,
Ribbons of Highway , a Good Housekeeping
Site of the Day.  She splits her time between homes in the Boston area and
Stoddard, NH.
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Season's Last Paddle -- Photo by Lori Hein
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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