Finding Beauty at the Bottom of a Lake

The lake I live next to is lowered every year during the month of January. It is a man-made lake that is fed by a creek, which lies some 50 yards off the banks of my home. When looking at the barrenness after it’s lowered, it is easy to feel like the bare lake bed, its collection of stumps, and debris are suddenly revealed; ugly and unsightly. Something to hide.

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The truth is that there is a particular beauty that unfolds over the weeks and sometimes months that the lake is mostly empty. This has been an annual event that for the last 15 years and I have watched. In the first few years, I dreaded it. I certainly would not invite guests to my home to behold the sodden tree trunks and the refuse sitting at the bottom of the lake. In the last 5 or so years, I have actually looked forward to this process. This rebirth of the lake. The beauty of the entire process.

Here are those discoveries:

Seagulls.  I live some 100 miles from the North Carolina coast. Typically, we don’t ever see seagulls this far inland. I have no idea why but the lowering of the lake attracts flocks and flocks of seagulls. Like clockwork every year, once a few tree stumps are revealed, there are the seagulls. How wondrous is that? I don’t need to go to the beach. I can sit in comfort on my couch and watch these marine birds frolic in the lake bed. No need to gas up and drive to the coast. The seagulls stop by every year for a visit.

Canadian Geese.  Regardless of the time of year, there are geese. But in the winter time, it’s like watching West Side Story; one gaggle are the Jets and the others are the Sharks.  One group slowly approaches in an arrow head formation while the other approaches from the opposite direction in a similar formation. They head towards a collision until one flinches and suddenly, they are in retreat. I can image Sir David Attenborough’s voice describing the encounter. I realize now that the larger group is usually victorious in claiming their turf. Regardless, it is an elegant dance.

Herons.  Herons live on the lake all year round. Typically, I only see one or two during the summer and fall. The lower lake level brings out a flurry of activity. Just yesterday, I saw four of them strategically placed down the entire riverbed about thirty yards between each of them. I’m sure the allure was the poor fish population which has no where to hide when the lake is lowered. So there they all stand, like sentinels waiting patiently for their prey to swim past. Rather like shooting fish in a barrel as they say. Rain or shine, they wait for their next meal in their stoic blue-gray beauty.

Ice.  The lake would typically never freeze over. For one thing, we are in the South and aren’t supposed to get long-term, sub-freezing temperatures. For another, if the lake were full, there would typically be too much movement for it to freeze. But every January, the temperatures drop and with the lower water volume, they readily freeze over. This is when the fun begins, as the ducks and geese are literally standing on ice. It’s quite the show as they ice skate with their webbed feet.

Wind.  Obviously, there is wind all year long. The remarkable thing about the lowered lake is that there are different coves and jetties that are created. There can be stillness within inches of a gust whipping across a different pool on the lake. It’s like different-styled brushstrokes across the masterpiece in an ever-changing mix of texture and light.

As I sit here and write, looking out at the lake, the water is slowly reclaiming its space. It rained yesterday, and those drops have slowly added to the level and the creek has disappeared below. The lake renews itself once again and, eventually, will reclaim its banks. It’s a wonderful process, unveiling secrets and beauty each year.

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