One of my goals this summer was to spend more time swimming in the lake. In May or June I jumped in once, but the wind was blowing and I took a mouthful of water when a wave broke over my head. I've heard bad things about drinking the lake water, but all it did to me was make me hack and cough for a while. Even distilled water would have done that, but the experience did cool my jets a little. My only other swim came a couple of weekends ago- while my brother-in-law was in town, Jane and I spent a wonderful afternoon swimming under the summer sun from a rented pontoon boat.
Now summer is almost gone and I just got around to taking another swim. Sunday, after doing a little yard work, Jane and I jumped in the lake to cool off. The water felt cool and refreshing after working in the sun, and the wind was down, so I was able to breathe the whole time. At first, we tried to jump in from one of the docks there, but there was no ladder, so getting out would have been problematic. We ended up wading into the lake from the beach at Scout Park. The lake is very shallow near shore, so wading in was a delightful, slow torture as the chilly water crept up our legs with each step. The bottom had lots of rocks, which made for pretty rough walking, and you have to walk out pretty far before it gets deep enough to actually swim. Nevertheless, it was a nice experience and it reminds us how lucky we are to live near a lake.
Afterwards, we were lying in the grass drying off when Jane remarked how few boats were on the water despite the perfect day - about 80 degrees and sunny, not much wind. We were in Raleigh, North Carolina last weekend, where throughout the summer the three big lakes in that area are constantly crammed with boats, and the relative tranquility of Storm Lake was not lost on us.
After our swim, we went for a bike ride along the lakeshore. We saw a couple of guys with three hunting dogs playing fetch from a dock. The dogs flew off the dock at top speed, and time seemed to stop as they hung in the air, stretched out mid stride in a beautiful swan dive, then splashed into the lake like little kids jumping into a pool. They grabbed the dummy, swam back to shore, delivered it to their master's feet and waited for the next toss with glittering eyes. Sometimes real life is better than TV, but you have to be out there to see it.
The fall bird migration has probably begun, but it's hard for me to tell because the songbirds travel in stealth mode on their southbound trek. Not to mention work keeps me out of the woods. Jane had a fire going on the back porch Sunday after our swim, and as we were lounging, I noticed there were no chimney swifts flying in our neighborhood. How long have they been gone? I've seen them late in the afternoon every day since May. They are the acrobats of the evening sky in the summer, pods of three or four birds flitting high in the sky on pointed, backswept wings, chattering in short bursts of high-pitched notes. If you can get close to them, you'll see their body is oddly textured, like charcoal briquettes, not like feathers at all. They really do live in chimneys, and they really are swift, making them among the best named birds. And they eat bugs, so you have to love them.
Late Monday evening I saw some chimney swifts downtown, but only a few, and it seemed to me like they were flying funny. Usually swifts are high in the sky, but these downtown birds were pretty low, and they seemed to be unsure of their direction, turning and looping around the buildings. I think they were mulling the migration.
However, the barn swallows are still out in force, and I did see some purple martins this week, so not all the bug eaters are gone. It just seems too early for them to leave us.
I'm not sure about the names of the three islands in the lake, but I think the one near the college is called College Island, or at least it should be. It is more of a sand bar than an island, and a narrow spit of sand extends from it underwater towards shore. The spit seems to be a favorite place for birds to hang out, and they sit in a straight line like soldiers when they're there. One foggy morning last week, three white pelicans were sitting on the spit with a few seagulls. It seems pelicans are the unofficial mascot of Storm Lake among the local bird watchers. When they glide, it seems like they have an engine powering them, they move with such confidence and authority. Long white wings tipped in black, contrasted against the blue sky, stately flocks arrive with the first warm weather of spring, assuring us the winter is over. It's a little bittersweet seeing them head south again.