It starts the night before. I heft my 11-foot white-and-blue paddle board onto the roof of my car, pulling my sturdy tie downs snug. Coffee is prepped in the maker, turquoise dry bag by the front door.
The 5 AM alarm isn’t pleasant, but since it isn’t pleasant for anyone that means I get the lake to myself. With the car heat on high, I drive 45 minutes along the Elk River, the road winding through pines and small ponds, then opening to views of the verdant valley with a dramatic backdrop of snowy mountain peaks.
It is 33°F when I pull into the lot at Pearl. Layers are essential: thick knit hat, down jacket, old ski gloves, fleece pants and neoprene booties. I don’t like being cold. I feel exhilarated when I push off, wondering if surfers have this sense of excitement, too, every time they launch themselves into the awaiting water.
I stick close to shore, comfortable in my solid balance on the board. Crawdads scuttle underneath as I glide by. The dip of my paddle is rhythmic, the stillness of the entire lake bigger than any thoughts I’ve brought with me.
Circumnavigating the lake, I know where to hug in close and where to give space: the old submerged wood and wire fence; the fallen tree with branches just beneath the surface; the beaver lodge, air bubbles rising up from between the heaped twigs and boughs, then vanishing with a soft pop.
White steam rolls across the navy water, and the golden-yellow sun peeks, just barely, above the mountains. A blue heron, whose fishing I’ve disturbed, flies off in a huff towards the opposite shore for more solitary hunting grounds. I pause, listening to one of the feeder creeks trickling into the lake, and spy an eagle overhead. I watch as it takes up its post at the top of a large evergreen, feeling very lucky. This is the first eagle I’ve seen here.
The breeze picks up near the dam, rippling the water into tiny waves that slap the bottom of my board. I look for the marmot scampering on the dam rocks, but it isn’t here again, and I wonder if it has moved to another home this summer. I point my board into the last stretch of my loop, turning my head to find the yellow, white, and purple blossoms tucked amongst the long grasses. Wild roses, their pink faces hanging right over the lake, compete with the pines to see their reflection in the watery mirror.
The cove where I’m parked is now warm with sunlight, slender white aspen boughs arching over lush emerald mini-meadows. The lot is empty and I relish the quiet between bird melodies drifting through the air. I say a silent thank you, taking it all in one more time, before driving back up the road, drinking my still-warm coffee.
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT