13 Sep

On the lookout for Ole Snappy

On the lookout for Ole Snappy

 

“On the lookout for Ole Snappy” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (September 13, 2015).

A late summer morning, and the lake is still. The paddle pulls us forward as we glide across its surface, our kayak’s ripples the only sound on this glistening mirror to the heavens.

Armed with binoculars, my 6-year-old helmsman sits perched in the bow of the boat. He scans the lake, on the lookout for Ole Snappy, an elusive 500-year-old snapper turtle the size of a Volkswagen Beetle and known to occasionally snack on the stinkin’ feet of unsuspecting swimmers. Never mind that this particular manmade lake is less than a century old. Boys, like lakes, deserve mythical creatures, and Ole Snappy is ours.

We paddle our way across the lake, ours the only boat on the water. For this moment it is as if the world has just begun, and we are its first explorers. We float along, daring young men in search of legends, myth-making, and immortality.

As we reach the other end of the lake, we spot a log jutting out from the water amid the reeds and lily pads that shroud the shallows. Binoculars confirm our suspicions: a family of turtles sun themselves on their own private floating dock. It dawns on me that we humans spend most of our vacations trying to be turtles. Shelled away by the water, we spend our days swimming, sunning, sleeping, and feeding on seafood. Turtles do this year round, and I begin to wonder who is more evolved.

With the tip of the kayak aimed at the turtles on their dock, I give one more stroke and then quietly place the paddle across my lap. We drift, ever so slowly, toward Terrapin Station.

All is silent as a soft, wind-blown current creeps us along.

We watch, and we wait.

As do the turtles.

Then, without warning, one of the four turtles on the log quickly shuffles off its perch and plops into the water. His companions follow suit, like paratroopers leaping from an aircraft in quick succession. They disappear, leaving behind only concentric circles rippling through the water. Quickly, they too disappear.

A shadow on the water draws our attention elsewhere. We look toward the shadow, then to its skyward source, and gaze in awe at the creature soaring just above us. A great blue heron wings across the lake. Its pterodactyl wings beat in prehistoric time, slowly and stately. Feathered slate never looked more majestic.

Our eyes followed the heron until it came to roost atop a pine tree far across the lake. Branches bowed as the bird seemed to dwarf even the tree itself.

There it would stand.

And watch.

And wait.

As would the turtles, safely hidden in the cool darkness of the lake.

Picking up the paddle once again, the boy and I slowly make our way back across the lake, leaving nature’s inhabitants to their patient game of hide and seek.

“Is Ole Snappy really real, Dad?” the boy asks.

I think of the turtles huddled together below the surface, wondering how much time is time enough. Chances are the same question is being asked there too.

I smile, and glance toward the great blue heron in his roost.

“He’s real, all right, son,” I finally answer. “He certainly is.”

And bringing paddle below water, I pull us toward home.