Lily Lake is an ongoing piece of theater, a place where the stage—Longs and Meeker peaks to the south, the range of snow-covered mountains to the west, Twin Sisters to the east and Lily Mountain to the north—stays the same but the actors change. That could be said of anyplace, but at Lily Lake I have a front row seat to theater in the round. I sit in my kayak in the middle of the lake, which is really the size of a pond, while the world circulates around me. I guess it’s actually theater in the round in reverse, because I’m the sole member of the audience as well as its sometimes unwitting and unwilling star.
People on the path that circles the lake sometimes point to me, smile or wave. I’m part of their drama, along with the ducks, muskrats and damselflies on the lake. I think there’s an envy, too, besides the curiosity. Kayaks look calm and serene on the lake. Two young women yell out to me to ask if I rented the kayak and look disappointed when I tell them it’s my own.
Last week, I first kayaked in early afternoon, under sunny skies, with people scattered around the shorelines. A group of teenage girls was trying their hand at fishing, and there was a lot of giggling and screaming. At the far end, a loud, boisterous group had a barbecue, the chef yelling out questions that drifted across the lake: hamburgers or dogs? One or two? Ketchup? A group of bicyclists had stopped to rest on the trail. At a picnic table a father was talking to his young daughter about the blue dragonflies on the lake.
They are damselflies, actually, smaller than dragonflies and they are everywhere, males depositing their seeds on the heads of the females, holding them down, so it seems the females will drown (and according to the articles I’ve read, sometimes do). When my kayak moves slowly through the frenzy of mating insects, I feel like I’m paddling through the clouds of blue ethereal creatures. When I come back in the evening, the damselflies are gone, not a hint of their early existence.
When I paddle by the beaver den, it looks abandoned. More than a year ago, I had seen the den, in the water at the edge of the path, get bigger from month to month. When the path started crumbling, the Park Service decided to close off that part and constructed a detour into the woods. But a ranger told me that two beavers died from tularemia, a plague-like disease; he had seen a third one a few weeks ago, but now the place looks empty. It breaks my heart.
As a constant visitor, I see a lot of changes at this lake. All year along I walk around Lily Lake, so I see the progression from the snow-covered lake and icy winds to summer paradise, the hillsides green with aspen, sumac bushes, yellow banner, blue and yellow warblers: from the cold emptiness of winter (right) to a place filled with life.
When I come back in the evening for a second kayak ride, the lake is quieter. A boy of about 9 is intently watching the ducks along the shoreline, and I apologize for putting my boat in there and scattering them. “That’s OK,” he says, and points out to me how the ducks lower their heads under their wings, perhaps to shut out the world and get some sleep. A budding naturalist, I think, and wish I could talk to him longer. But the sunlight that had briefly appeared between storms is swiftly disappearing.
Dark clouds have descended over Longs and Meeker peaks. When I finally decide I’m too cold and head for the shoreline, a final ray of sunlight hits the top of the Twin Sisters peak, bathing the rocks and pines in a pastel light. But it’s not the end of the day—or the play. As I drag the boat out of the water, a new group has arrived, and the children run toward the water, “Look, ducks! Mom, Dad! Ducks!”
And the drama continues.