The Best Birthday Gifts Ever

Yesterday was bittersweet.  I have to drive out to Claytor Lake and deflate my kayaks.

That’s right, I said “deflate” and “kayaks”.

This August, on my 38th and best birthday ever, I was given two inflatable kayaks!  I have wanted a kayak for at least two decades.  On this birthday, not only did I receive a one person kayak from my parents, but my hubby also gave me a two person kayak.

This is the bow of the Green Darner as I paddled into Claytor Lake's Twin Hollow on my birthday. No more than five minutes after this shot, I was video chatting with my parents and got to share with them the scene of a mink swimming up to and around my kayak. As I said: Best. Birthday. Ever!

This is the bow of the Green Darner as I paddled into Claytor Lake’s Twin Hollow on my birthday. No more than five minutes after this shot, I was video chatting with my parents and got to share with them the scene of a mink swimming up to and around my kayak. As I said: Best. Birthday. Ever!

I was so happy that I could barely keep my feet on the ground.  I walked around all day saying “Hey, you know what? . . . I have two kayaks!” to the family I was with, who a) knew that already, because they watched me open and inflate them, and b) couldn’t yell at me for bragging because it was my birthday.

Besides, if they did get sick of me, I’d just paddle away . . . in one of my two new kayaks!

My nine year old daughter and her friend adventuring in the two person kayak, the

My nine year old daughter and her friend adventuring in the two person kayak, the “Goldfinch”.

The Intex brand heavy-duty inflatable kayaks came with their own pumps, carrying cases, and easy-assembly paddles.  They were a third or less the cost of a traditional kayak.

I was able to easily inflate and assemble the kayaks.  I think the single person took 15 minutes, and the double (which I did second, and therefore more easily) took maybe 12.

I was on the water in my new kayak (well, one of two, did I mention I have two?) in less than 30 minutes!

The bow of the Green Darner pointed out to the main body of Claytor Lake. I

The bow of the Green Darner pointed out to the main body of Claytor Lake. (I “waterproofed” my phone by putting it in a ziptop plastic bag with a few of those inflated packaging cushions.)

Kayaking is awesome.

Not that I’m really great at it; I like kayaking on slow, flat water (hello, Claytor Lake).  I’m not interested in rapids, nor would I take my precious inflatables where there are mean, sharp rocks that might damage them.  I like the peacefulness of a one-person boat.  The ability to choose my own speed and direction.  The secret coves I can get into because of the boat’s tiny, inch-deep draft.

I’m in it for the freedom, for the quiet, and, of course, for the wildlife!  From my kayak, I’ve gotten closer to turtles, dragonflies, damselflies, great blue heron, schools of shiners, and even mink, than I thought possible.

And the half dozen trips I’ve made did not disappoint.  Check out these photos of lake critters:

What's that, attached to that log? Is it frog eggs? Is it fish eggs? Nope. This is a freshwater bryozoan colony. It's an amazing community of microscopic creatures.

What’s that, attached to that log? Is it frog eggs? Is it fish eggs? Nope. This is a freshwater bryozoan colony. It’s an amazing community of microscopic creatures.

From the middle of summer to the first freeze, the lake air is filled with dragonflies and damselflies fulfilling their biological duties. They'll land just about anywhere, including the arms of a swimmer, in order to have a stable platform for their love nest. Here we see two future parents who have alighted on my kayak's bow.

From the middle of summer to the first freeze, the lake air is filled with dragonflies and damselflies fulfilling their biological duties. They’ll land just about anywhere, including the arms of a swimmer, in order to have a stable platform for their love nest. Here we see two future damselfly parents who have alighted on my kayak’s bow.

If you blow this photo up to full size, you'll see that the rock in the center of this little lake-edge grotto is covered with future damselfly parents.

If you blow this photo up to full size, you’ll see that the rock just to the right of center of this little lake-edge grotto is covered with future damselfly parents.

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This turtle was basking in Crawfish Hollow. Based on my research at the Virginia Herpetological Society website, I think this is an Eastern river cooter (Pseudemys concinna concinna), but I must admit that my turtle identification skills are just beginner level. The thing with turtles is that every time you approach one in the wild to get a better look at it, they slide right into the water to avoid the big, scary predator stalking toward them. I have great hopes, though, because I’ve gotten closer to turtles on the kayak (well, both kayaks – did I tell you that I have two?) than I ever could on foot.

Another turtle basking on a log in the gathered flotsam at the back of Twin Hollow. There were many turtles there but, unfortunately, they were far outnumbered by pieces of litter.

Another two turtles basking on a logs in the gathered flotsam at the back of Twin Hollow.  I’m glad that I already gave the disclaimer about my beginner turtle identification skills, because these have me stumped.  They’re far more domed than the Eastern river cooter and the closer one has an awful lot of red on its neck.   More frustrating than that, though, is that there were many turtles there but, unfortunately, they were far outnumbered by pieces of litter.

Now this turtle I know! It's a hatchling (baby) snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). This turtle is easily identified even at a distance by its long, long tail. I was luckily enough to be able to gently lift it out of the water with my paddle.

Now this turtle I know! It’s a hatchling (baby) snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina). This turtle is easily identified even at a distance by its long, long tail. I was luckily enough to be able to gently lift it out of the water with my paddle.

This is the largest size snapping turtle you're likely to ever see me handling. Its name is apt, and these turtles at adult size (8-14

This is the largest size snapping turtle you’re likely to ever see me handling. Its name is apt, and these turtles at adult size (8-14″) would easily snap off a misplaced human finger. But this little one is just too cute!

If you, too, would like to see lake critters close up, I highly recommend a kayak.  Or two.

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One thought on “The Best Birthday Gifts Ever

  1. Eons ago my Thirdborn said, “If all trees making acorns are oaks, I wish there were one fact to identify every one thing out there.” Well, here’s another one! Yayyyyyyy! Today she said, “This turtle is easily identified even at a distance by its long, long tail.”

    Liked by 1 person

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