A summer weekday with humidity levels and air temperatures both in the mid-eighties led me to believe it was a perfect day to grab a kayak and explore. So, I headed out to Springfield Lake where the city’s parks department runs a nice pavilion and rents kayaks for $8 an hour.
Life jacket on, paddle in hand and an eight-foot Old Towne that still had the slight scent of sunscreen as a lingering reminder of the last renter, and I was ready to shove off. Once I made it past the vegetation growing along the shoreline, it was clear paddling. I headed toward the upper end of the lake, toward the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Nature Center.
Almost as soon as I passed the boat launch, I began to feel the calming influences that only a journey into nature can bring. Fish were jumping everywhere I looked and it made me wish I had thought to bring my angling gear along. Most of them were baitfish, but a small bass surfaced every now and then and could have fallen for a top-water Zara Spook.
The lake narrows between a tall bluff and a small island dense with vegetation, and with pink and white hibiscus in bloom in thick patches. I had spotted a heron there on my last trip and was able to get within 15 feet or so of him, the low profile of the kayak perhaps making my human shape seem less threatening. This time, I heard him crying out with a prehistoric voice from the other side of the island. The trees and brush blocked my view but added to the sense of being somewhere far away in time and place.
Homes dot the top of the bluff but are often obscured by trees and blend with the landscape. I saw a groundhog work its way out of a crevice in one bluff and followed its gaze to the backyard of a home where a man in coveralls was digging into another crevice, probably looking for that same ground hog. I wished I had brought my camera, but without a dry-bag on this trip, I did not want to take the chance of flipping my craft and losing my gear to the bottom of Springfield Lake.
My trip continued past the nature center’s photography blind and under an old railroad bridge, all the while accompanied only by the sounds of birds and bugs, the splash of fish. I did glide past a grandfather gently rowing a canoe while his excited eight year old grandson cast a line and bobber toward shore. They waved “hello” and said it was awfully hot, but they had landed one fish. Not bad for an overly eager young boy.
Not long after I passed them, a doe and a fawn slipped out from near a nature center path and hastily sipped from the lake before easing back into cover.
Paddling past the pylons of that trestle bridge, the sounds of nature were soon drowned by the roar of diesel engines and by hot tires on baked asphalt as I neared the Highway 65 bridge. Clearly, it was time to turn around.
Behind me, clouds were building quickly to form a pop-up shower that would instantly relieve the heat but leave its signature on the humidity. I estimated I had time to make it back to the dock before that happened, even with a brief side trip into the marshy area near the little island.
As I passed the nature center grounds on the return leg of my journey, I faintly heard at least twenty-seven of the forty questions being posed by a young voice that seemed to be filled with awe. I didn’t hear the adult responses, but there was not much room in the monologue for replies.
By the time I reached the marsh area, I glanced at my watch and realized I still had about ten minutes left on my hour of rental, so I steered into the grasses. The water was shallow and mud swirled from the bottom, maybe stirred by turtles and other creatures looking for a meal. Tufts of grass in green and gold poked up through the water and a red-winged blackbird took flight from one of them to signal my approach.
The clouds were beginning to thicken like gravy and my time was just about up, so I headed back to the dock, turned in my equipment and reminisced a moment about how easily an hour on the water could melt away any cares or troubles.
I closed my truck door, grabbed my notepad and began to jot down a few reminders of my kayak journey just as the first few sprinkles tapped on the windshield.