After three years living on the Big Island, I’m finally feeling comfortable in the ocean. In the past week we went to Hapuna Beach three times, enjoying quality time with Jade before she heads back to college. With the mostly calmer swells in summer, I can float with my noodle and enjoy the ride. But my first water love remains a freshwater lake in my home state of Wisconsin.
I’m not talking about Lake Michigan; that’s an entirely different kind of swimming and boating experience. No, I love the little lake where we swam and boated as kids. It embodies an intimacy, a quiet and calm that nourishes me. Minnesota boasts about being the land of 10,000 lakes but Wisconsin has 15,074. They formed in the last glacial period 10,000 years ago, when the mile-thick ice scoured the land as it retreated. Vilas County where we vacation every year has over 1200. Over the 60 years I’ve been visiting, I’ve seen the littlest lakes fill in, first turning marshy, then becoming meadows, perfect places to catch glimpses of Bambi and his mother.
But there’s one particular lake that fascinates me. Fishtrap Lake is full of life visible on so many levels, and I’ve been watching it for decades. Let me take you there. From the dock you can watch water bugs skitter across the lake surface, jumping from a central point in unison like a synchronized swim team when a predator startles them. Minnows hide in the shade of the dock and small fish dart among the water plants just beyond reach.
Mama duck cautiously approaches the shore near the cottages with her brood, hoping for a handout. Over the years we never seemed to have bread for sandwiches because Jade and Faye always gave it to the ducks, just like I did when I was little. We still feed them. Tossing bread pieces can be a meditation, making sure that every duckling gets his share, and Mama, too.
Out on the point of land that creates Shelter Bay, we occasionally see deer daintily stepping into the water to drink. Herons stand on the far shore. Unseen bullfrogs croak from a marshy spot where the girls used to hunt for toads with their cousins. This year we saw loons in the bay right in front of our cottages.
The lake changes slowly over time, a new cabin here, a tree fallen into the water along the shore there. The past couple years the lake’s had a huge weed problem. Even the pretty lily pads have small pads growing among them. These are two different species and the little ones will eventually choke out the larger ones. Invasive species hitchhike on the boats and motors of boaters who don’t bother removing them as they lake hop. That’s illegal, but it happens. Several of these weed types grow into massive mats, break free of the bottom and float on the surface. For a couple of years, the fishermen and women had to thread their boats along a weed-free path from the resort to reach open water.
But this year was different – no weed mats, just the small lily pads. The long brutal winter and cold spring slowed the growth of the weeds, and by July the mats hadn’t yet floated to the surface. So for the first time in decades, my brother-in-law was able to take me up the sweet little meandering river just around Wittig’s Point from our resort, like my dad did years ago. Dad told me the story of how its water flows into Fishtrap Lake, through the tunnel to Rush and High Lake, into the Wisconsin River, then the Mississippi and all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, with only a couple of portages. I don’t recall Dad fishing it, but he sure enjoyed motoring his family up as far as he could take his small aluminum boat before hitting bottom.
Motoring slowly, we saw turtles basking on logs and a couple of old beaver dams. I love the river because you can’t see any cottages; it’s too marshy. It’s just the river travelers and nature. As we puttered along, we met friendly canoers, a lady with her dog enjoying the ride and a middle-aged couple. I resolved to try that some year. But this time, I was content to just ride along and renew my acquaintance with the little river I loved to travel with Dad decades ago.
As I contemplate these musings, I realize that what I really love is the connection I feel to nature on so many levels when I’m at the lake, and knowing it well enough to recognize changes over time. And while I get glimpses of that in the shore and ocean around the Big Island, it will take time for me to shift my perspective to feel it. It’s so much bigger that it’s hard to take in. The sea turtle that swam between Jade and me last week was over two feet across, but it was the only creature we saw.
Then I realize I’ll never get to the same point with my environment here if I don’t make the effort to notice and be present. It’s time to find the tidal pools along less crowded shorelines and look closer. Time to look under the rocks. Time to get my snorkel gear on. Time to return to the same place again and again to search out the changes. Time to grow my nature connections.
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