Updated: Nov 20, 2020
With wind, cold and rain in the forecast for the upcoming week we seized the opportunity, packed the truck with our inflatable kayaks and headed to a nearby lake on this perfectly still, warm end of fall day. Leading up to driving away, we wrestled back and forth whether we can take the time away from work to escape to the lake. The moment I entered the kayak and slipped away from the dock the wrestling ended and was replaced with certainty. I knew that I was where I should be. I saw an unusual tail flip out of the water and slap down, disappear to reappear moments later near Jim’s kayak. A curious river otter checking us out on all sides. The otter’s curiosity reminded me of the same inherent quality in young children that we work hard to nurture, encourage, and preserve throughout childhood. How wonderful it is to reach adulthood with one’s curiosity intact.
Floating on the lake in my kayak awakened my curiosity about each of the creatures I encountered on this trip representing four of the five classes of vertebrates: the mammal representative being the river otter, a Western Pond turtle is the lone reptile, small fish periodically jumping up out of the water and a plethora of birds- the Great Blue heron, the Great egret, cormorants, belted kingfisher, kildeer plover, loon, Western grebes, Canadian geese, and a great variety of ducks: American Coots, Wood, Cinnamon Teal, Mallards, Bufflehead, and Ruddy ducks.
The abundance and diversity of birds piqued my curiosity to know their specific name and unique behavior: seeking food by day and at nightfall, shelter. The mud hens (American coot) move in unison as if they are one organism all taking off from the water at the same time, commanding one’s attention by the sudden rapid flurry of wings slapping the water and leaving a trail of what appears to be diamonds shimmering, as the nearly setting sun reflects on each flying droplet. Contrast this flurry of activity with the stillness of the lone Great Blue heron towering over the gathered mud hens that circle it, hopeful of taking advantage of the hunt. Nearby is another solo stalker without an audience, but equally calling attention to itself due to its pure white silhouette against the blue water, the Great egret. This patient hunter is an inspiring teacher of how to mindfully take each step on our fragile and beautiful earth.
The ducks take their entrance in pairs as if flying down a fashion runway displaying their unique array of feather garments: the iridescent crest, orange eye, and boldly marked body of the male Wood duck next to the simple attire of the female wearing shades of brown; the sleek rusty red cinnamon body and head of the Cinnamon Teal male with its sophisticated black beak and tail feathers paired with the female wearing shades of tan and brown like a fashionable alligator skin cape over her back; the green head and strand of white pearls-like ring around the male mallard’s neck as it serenely floats by next to the simply clad female with the mascara streak-marking across her eye; the male bufflehead stands out with its puffy white ear muff-like wrapping around its head attracting the female with her much subtler white face marking: just a suggestion of a white mark highlighting her cheeks; and the last pair to arrive down the runway is the Ruddy: the male displaying his ruddy brown body with black tail feathers sticking straight up out of the water like a cap feather, black cap over its head and striking turquoise beak next to its female counterpart that wears a dappling brown body covering with a brown head cap matching the shape of the males.
Groups of Canadian geese patrol the water’s edge while the loons and Western grebes dive in and out of the center of the lake looking for fish to enjoy for dinner. In contrast, the Belted kingfisher is perched on trees above but near the lake, it’s “watchpoint”, before plunging into the water head-first to catch its unlucky prey. The slender Kildeer plover is nearby on the shoreline busily looking for insect larvae. Inconspicuously floating low on the water’s surface is the Double-crested cormorant who frequently dives into the water to pop up across the lake while on a fishing expedition.
With the kayaks loaded back in the truck we slowly drive away to head back home to make our own dinner. Just before we leave the lake behind, we notice the cormorants following us and landing in the pine trees on the edge of the fading lakeside. Their day is ending too as they reach out their long slender wings to dry before bedding down for the night. This was such a surprise for us to see them bedding in the trees. We are used to seeing them at the ocean nesting in the cliffs.
Our trip started with us observing the river otter curiously checking us out and we end the trip observing a new (for us) habitat for the cormorant. Curiosity and observation lead us to new knowledge of our surroundings. May we bless ourselves and our children with an abundance of opportunities to be led by our innate gift of curiosity.