I change out of my jeans, into an old pair of shorts that I keep at camp, and my purple flip-flops, because after a decade of kayaking, I still haven’t been able to figure out how to get into the boat without getting my feet wet. I’ve seen other people do it (most of them younger, more flexible and athletic than I) hopping in and out of kayaks with ease, on beaches, docks, floats, and rocky shores, but whenever I’ve tried it myself, I’ve been unsuccessful and ungainly, and the attempt has always resulted in getting far more than just my feet wet. Now, in mid-November, although the air temperature hovers around 60 degrees on this sunny, windless day, the water is far too icy to risk a dunking.
At first I try to leave Remy behind, shut in the camp, but as I wrestle my paddle and life jacket out of the shed, I can already hear his inquisitive yips begin to turn into a shrill whine of panic. I had hoped he’d settle down on the couch and sleep, the way he did in the summer when he was left inside alone, but I’ve underestimated his powers of reason. He knows we’re not living there anymore, so he’s sure he’s been abandoned. I relent, and figure I’ll keep close to shore and let him run along in front of the closed-up camps. I’m a little nervous about being out very far in that cold water, anyway, and I decide to actually wear my life jacket, instead of just stuffing it into the front of the boat.
Remy, as it turns out, doesn’t want to run along the shore. He wants to swim behind the kayak, but he’s already done so much running around, and fetching his ball from the lake, that I worry he’ll become exhausted. So I stay so close to the shore that he can half-swim, half-wade, and I have to continually duck the overhanging hemlock branches.
When we reach the shorefront of my brother’s camp, five doors down from ours, Remy climbs out of the water. Apparently remembering the bowl of cat food he raided dozens of times last summer, he barges onto the screened porch through the inward-swinging door, then finds himself stuck there, unable to get back out. Without even a dish of cat food for consolation, he begins immediately to bark and howl, and I’m afraid he’ll plunge through the screening before I can struggle out of the kayak, splash over the rocks, and clamber up the bank to let him out.
I decide a ten-minute paddle is enough and head back to camp. After all, I’m only out here for bragging rights. My first paddle of the year was on March 24th, the day after ice-out, and now I can say I kayaked from March til November.
I replace my paddle and life jacket in the shed, drag the boat out of the water, lug it onto the screened porch. Inside the chilly camp, I change out of my shorts and flip-flops and back into jeans and sneakers for the walk out the road to my car. It’s only four o’clock, but the sun is already slipping down behind the mountain as I draw the shades down over all the windows. I take a last look around in the half-light, whistle for the dog, and lock the door behind me.