Photo: Kayaking at Salamonie

I took this photo in 2009 at Salamonie Lake in North Central Indiana. You can order prints in my Etsy store. Use coupon code 5OFF2013 and receive $5 off any purchase of $15 or more.


I set an alarm so I’d wake up a couple hours before sunrise. Between the silhouettes of trees, the lake’s black surface sparkled under a starry sky. I switched on a lantern and rolled out of my hammock. 

At the edge of my campsite was an eroding hillside that sloped into the lake. Barefooted and with a lantern held out in front of me, I climbed down the crumbling dirt to the water’s edge. My kayak bobbed slowly on the waves, bumping into the fallen tree trunk where I had it secured with rope. 

Years before it became the primary focus in my life, this was one way I satisfied my need for adventure, short camping trips fifteen miles from home. 

I climbed into my kayak, scooted away from the shore, and paddled toward an island in the middle of the lake. When I was close enough, I fastened the paddle to the top of the boat and slid forward into the hull, so I could lie on my back for a better angle on the stars. 

I couldn't help but doze in and out of sleep. For a time, the only sound was water lapping against the boat. Then the sun came. 

This moment was the main reason I was on the water so early. A few weeks before, I drove out to the lake at three in the morning to paddle around in the dark. Moments before daybreak, I heard a lot of commotion coming from a small island, so I paddled closer. It seemed every bird in the county decided to rendezvous here that morning. Soon there was so much chirping from so many species of birds that it ceased to sound like chirping, like when a clap becomes an applause.

I’m not sure why they all flocked to this place, but it wasn't only birds. After the sun peaked over the horizon, two river otters surfaced only a few feet from my kayak. One swam straight toward me so fast I thought he might try to leap into my boat to either lick my face or rip it off. I had zero river otter experience, was this aggression, curiosity, or playfulness? I was so excited to take their photo that I momentarily forgot how to operate my camera. I snapped a couple shots of unidentifiable brown blurs then they were gone. I did manage to gain my composure enough to take this photo, which I like well enough, but I'd love to see a river otter in the shot. 

After the sun was fully above the horizon, the birds quieted down, but I saw two deer on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, so I paddled closer. While one grazed the other suddenly ran toward the water and leaped in with a big splash. It swam like a Golden Retriever toward Monument Island, a nature preserve in the middle of the lake. I paddled as fast as I could to coast along beside her, but my presence scared her off course. I wasn't sure how long deer could swim and I wasn't prepared to save a kicking and drowning deer with my kayak, so I backed off then paddled to her other side to steer her back toward the island. 

Then I saw another brown mammal swimming along the shore. I paddle toward it quickly hoping to have another chance to get my river otter picture. It was a beaver. I took a few unimpressive pictures. Soon the surge in wildlife withdrew and the lake would go back to its normal self. Full of motor boats and skiers, fisherman and loud radios blaring from pontoons. But I felt like I learned one of the lake's great secrets. And so, like the crowd of birds who packed themselves together on every available branch on that little island; I came back to this place at this same time every chance I got.
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A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.