The Kayak, Me and the Camera 7/31/2007
We were at our cottage in northern Wisconsin this past weekend and on the ride home my husband shared a few paragraphs from a book he had just finished reading. It was about a father and his son who sailed the inland passage (precursor to the Intercoastal Waterway) from Massachusetts to Florida and back on a 24 foot catboat in 1912. The father, Henry Plummer kept a journal of the year-long trip and when he returned home assembled 700 handmade copies of a book recounting their adventures. Attracted by the excerpts my husband dangled in front of me, I’ve been lured into reading the third printing of this classic, The Boy, Me and the Cat. If you are not intimidated by the plethora of sailing terms (most of which mean nothing to me) you discover Henry has a lovely writing voice and a great sense of humor. My husband lamented the fact that Plummer never wrote anything else but I am wondering if he wasn’t really lamenting the lack of having such an adventure.

Unlike Mr. Plummer, my adventures are of a smaller scale and so is my boat. I don’t haul turtles onboard and make soup of them while marveling at the colors of their shells and the dignity of their heads. And much to the relief of the farmers in the area I don’t shoot stray cattle on shore to further ward off hunger. (Evidently, perfectly legal in 1912) However, every time I slide my kayak into the water whether it is a lake, river or tiny pond it is an adventure of discovery for me.

Pecor Lake

This past weekend I explored small Pecor Lake located just a few miles from our cottage in Oconto County, Wisconsin. Though I have a boat loader for the top of my car to hold my kayak I have never installed it so I put down the seats in my PT Cruiser and slide the thing in the back of my car to transport. It’s okay if I am just going a few miles but I do intend to install the top carrier before our trip around Lake Superior this fall.

I knew that Lake Pecor was a gem even before I retrieved the kayak from the car because there was tall reed grass growing in the perfectly still water by the boat landing. I spent a half hour wading in the water photographing the patterns that their reflections made while fish nibbled at my feet and toes. Every time I was startled by a bite I jumped, causing ripples in the water and disrupting the perfect reed reflections. I know there are no piranhas in Wisconsinbut a school of adolescent bluegills can create quite a feeding frenzy when there are brightly painted toes in the vicinity. (Note to self- when fishing for bluegill paint a dot of #133 “Femme Fatale” on the worms)

After a Bite

I love the shallow draft of my kayak that allows me to paddle close to shore among the lily pads and submerged logs. Though Mr. Plummer’s Mascot had a shallow draft he found himself aground on many occasion due to storms, tidal changes, etc. I haven’t got stuck yet but the wind has occasionally pushed me into shallows where I have rested gently on a soft murky lake bed. This often happens when I am frantically trying to focus my camera as my subject floats out of the frame. A firm push off bottom with my paddle usually sends me on my way.

On my first kayak forays I only took my Holga camera. It would not be ruined if it went into the water because it is plastic and has no electrical components to short out. Plus it only cost $17 so if I had to replace it, it would not be too painful. As my confidence in the kayak and myself grew I added equipment to the camera bag nesting between my legs. Soon my point and shoot digital and my 35mm SLR shared space with the Holga. And I always seem to share space with a few spiders and miscellaneous bugs....but no four-legged creatures so far. I had a friend relate a story of taking a canoe for the inaugural paddle of the summer only to have a mouse crawl up her leg while well away from shore. Her husband tried to calm her by pointing out how scared the mouse must be to find itself adrift but I don’t think that was of much comfort. I check my kayak carefully each time now before I step in! Perhaps Mr. Plummer was very wise taking along a cat on his voyage but I’m pretty confident it would be more bother than worth in my small vessel.

I have found each lake has its own personality. Pecor is small, quiet and friendly to paddleboats, canoes and kayaks. Jet skis would be obscene. (Frankly, I find them obscene on any lake.) Though small, Pecor is large enough to host an island that would be fun to explore. I skirted the shore of the lake marveling at the patterns on the submerged branches and logs.

I noticed a single stem of reed that bent over the water to form a perfect heart shape. I spent 14 minutes paddling back and forth trying to take a photograph of it. To get a shot like this I anticipate the current/breeze, get in position, gently balance the paddle on the top of the kayak so it doesn’t fall in the water, grab my camera from my lap and shoot as I float into just the right spot. As soon as I put down the camera and grab the paddle I am obviously way out of position for another shot so I begin again. If I want to bracket the exposure or use different cameras this could be an hour long affair- thus the wise choice of a 1-person kayak. It would drive anyone else along for the ride insane. Of course there are the times that I am perfectly in place and realize I forgot to advance the film or discover too late I am totally out of film. I watch the shot drift out of the viewfinder as I not so silently reflect on how stupid I am.Sometimes it’s impossible to get the shot I want and I come to understand the fisherman’s frustration of dealing with ‘the one that got away.’

Fish were jumping close to shore as I progressed around the lake and I immediately thought of my dad. I had no idea what the fish were but they made too large a splash to be little pan fish. We would have to come over with our canoe and poles. Maybe we would skip the #133 for the worms and hope for bigger game. I paddled into the center of the water lilies at the far end of the lake enjoying the two different species – one cuplike with butter yellow petals and the second with white spiky petals and a yellow center. I drifted among the sea of green circles listening to the bees gather pollen from the purple flowers on the nearby shore.

Lith Photograph/ Holga Camera

I took a leisurely paddle around the small island trying to find an easy place to beach the kayak. With the mass of tangled roots and vegetation around the edge I decided to wait until winter and explore the interior with snowshoes. A paddle boat with a young girl and boy passed me as I headed back to the boat landing and my waiting car. We smiled and nodded, not needing to do anything more to acknowledge the beauty of the day.

For more photos in the series go to:
The Kayak, Me and the Camera Set
on my Flickr account.

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