Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What I did on my spring break

Looking in on my mom- and dad-in-law last week in southwest Oregon, I swam each morning in a small lake minutes away.

It was an illegal act.

Though what should be illegal is the low regard the keepers of Cooper Creek Reservoir hold for swimmers.

It's not a swimmers' lake. Oh, it has a swim area. It's a tiny pocket, not quite a cove, poorly promoted and marked, about halfway along the length of the lake, and a hike down a bluff, far from the main parking lot, the one with long parking lanes for fishing boat trailers.

High contrast reminded me of  the lighting for
opening scenes of
Snow Falling on Cedars in the San Juan Islands
A gunky rope, fastened once and forgotten, delineates the swim area, where disuse has encouraged a thick forest of plants to reach their bony limbs through the mustardy water to the surface. Children's nightmares spawn here; or would, if any children ever dared swim.

Just beyond the fetid rope, the middle of the lake is given over to personal watercraft. Not that I could imagine Sea-Doo™® and Jet Ski©™ riders rooster-tailing this lake. Too small: At about two miles, Cooper Creek Reservoir is half the length of my home Lake Natoma, and only a couple of hundred yards wide.

Still, a nice how-do-you-do? to hardy swimmers: Don't swim past the rope. Or else. A second boat ramp nearby reinforces the threat.

No personal watercraft rode the water when I swam past the rope last summer, my first time in the lake. Just fishermen. In every cove and finger of the lake's midsection, where the Sea-Doos™® are supposed to roam. Every place I wanted to explore was already occupied, fishermen ensconced in the shadows, their lines blinking in the sun.

This visit I skipped the swim area and went where the fishermen launch, thinking that in the early morning, on the cusp of spring, I'd have the lake to myself. I didn't bother, until after the last morning, to read the signs saying I wasn't to swim that end of the lake.

No one in the superintendent's double-wide off the parking lot ever came out to tell me no. Barely obedient civility ensued.

Even last Sunday, St. Patrick's Day, with three fishing boats in the water, I went unnoticed, invisible, even with my bright orange "butt buoy" bobbing behind me, and a diver's blinking red light clipped to my goggle strap because of the morning mist. The water was maybe 50 degrees, a bit warmer than my home lake, opaque and pea green, mysterious.

I kept to the far alien shoreline just in case, wearing the water like a St. Patrick's Day robe, and the dark rising forests like a mantle, swimming leery that a boat might approach.

Water muddled my message: The forest behind had been clearcut, leaving
the spaces between these trees to shine.
It was stop-and-start as a result. Even when I gathered a swimming rhythm, a high strangling scream in the water made me stop abruptly to see a fishing boat roaring past at 40 mph to the far end of the lake. I don't know; I've always perceived fishing as a contemplative activity.

Since I was bound to do a lot of stopping, I made a game of taking mental images and then painting them back at my in-laws' place in the beautiful leatherbound book of watercolor papers my sister had given me long ago. The book is ever so slowly filling with images, mostly from camping vacations.

These are some of the results, two or three a day, which became a fine way of passing the time to talk or be quiet or listen to golf or spring training baseball or NCAA basketball or The Andy Griffith Show on TV.

Outside my mom- and dad-in-law's quiet forested place …
More to come soon.

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