City clock chimed 4, consciousness slowly aware of spring birds gently wishing me well, as warm air tickled my skin through open windows. The simple tones of feathered friends, and the aura of this hour reminded me of rowing workouts in college. Like a power piece, thoughts pulled me into future months where I have the opportunity to spend priceless hours at one of my favorite places, the boathouse and with her owners. Their character speaks more to my heart than the prestige of a boathouse along Boathouse Row. Where I store my single wooden hand built (by me!) shell, she is the only vessel of her kind. There are no racks of racing shells, or whirling flywheels from erg pieces in an adjacent room. No trophies upon mantles. Here, lifejackets hang alongside fishing boots and row boat oars. Her red exterior has withstood winter winds and intrusive flooding. Structurally, she is held by cement blocks. Penny candy sold from an ancient register where kids count coins to make purchases. You can buy live bait for fishing or gummy worms to snack on. You can play a piano, eat burgers, or savor drips of melting ice cream watching the sun set softly across the lake. Interior tables allow lakeside dining near tanks of curious turtles. Bikers exit the bike path to enjoy a slice of this heaven, while sipping refreshing drinks.
Driving toward the boathouse, I travel between waterfront homes I have seen immersed during flooding. Massive logs remain lodged into the surrounding shoreline, reminding me of local resiliency and community. The sun warms my left side, ears catch lyrics from records bellowing from the boathouse. Certain oldies remind me of cassettes churning in my grandparents Buick. My grandfathers enormous chiropractic hands would tap to the rhythms on the dash, as my gram drove sending winks through the rear view. A beagle runs his little legs alongside my car welcoming me. I park inhaling deeply, mindful of my current surroundings and the instant peace. Being here takes my heart back decades, time stops. A sign hangs nailed to a tree posting launching fees, as the sun kisses the lake with her afternoon sparkly light. I hear my friend, and owner yell my name, he meets me shirt tucked into high waders, with a grin that lights his face. He grabs to hug me tightly, planting a wet kiss upon my cheek. I find his sister, of equal age and spirit and say hi. She tells me about family and questions my work and love life. I turn up my nose, smiling and prance toward the water. Judging from the NOAA site, and calm wind in the trees, I jot my destination out as the lake, not river. A flat water day is rare and fully taken advantage of. I respect and pay attention to weather, within minutes winds can turn transforming the lake from kitten to lion, leaving me like a pencil in a big sea.
It’s not easy to access the water like a typical boathouse. I carry my 23 foot shell toward open water with uncertain footing upon driftwood and washed up debris. There is no dock to rest oar locks on or to step in with finesse. Instead, occasionally sinking knee deep in muck, I struggle like a clumsy spider attempting not to flip or allow the wake to pummel me full force into the rocky riverbank, giving fishermen a show.
When spare time and energy permit, I help rake leaves and pick up sticks prior to mowing their lawn around leaping frogs. Following these tasks, and cursing manual labor over rowing blisters, I sit on the swing and look out at the lake. Kids jumping off the bridge bring me smiles remembering college. I immerse my heart and mind into this summer paradise, playing with boats, water and spending time with her owners. Perhaps spending time, without a time frame is what feels foreign, or perhaps it is the people themselves who bring out the magic. I am always in a better place after time spent here.
Fishermen chat near shore, a vintage Coke sign hangs lakeside as a point of reference upon my return. Boaters with motors are sparse today, my focus rests upon technique. Driving with the legs, not burying my oars or rushing the slide. Strangers sit at communal picnic tables taking advantage of this beautiful public space. It’s a place impromptu square dances, card games, and live folk music can pop up. One evening after de-rigging, the owner grabbed my sweaty hand, led me all smiles to the boat landing and began dancing with me. Dancing with my buddy to an old record as the sun went down was one of the sweetest memories.
A guest book signed of comments explains the joy of finding this treasure time forgot, where you can rent a rowboat with your sweetie. This is no place for watches or deadlines, customers wait patiently for a burger or for the owner to finish a conversation with friends or folks renting gear. His sister told me their parents would sit together each night watching the sun set. Their parents believed everyone in the community should have access to the lake. These siblings continue to share their paradise to all who can find the boathouse, this special place at the end of a local dirt road…