Some kind of magic lies among Jocassee.
It’s walked my conscious for years, from the waters to the woods. I tried articulating that once in a butchered piece for this very website two years ago, flexing cheap prose and run-ons. However and since, our family has been blessed times one with a daughter that we’ve been eager to share that magic with and I’ll attempt to tighten up my point this time.
Waiting to introduce her to something I very much consider a sacred temple has stayed on my heels like the clock on my wrist. The last Friday of June offered enough reprieve from the Southern Summer systems tending to blast our region with that hallmark of indecision carried by the sky.
Finally, the time seemed to arrive where we could attempt to call that bluff.
For months we’d rolled through the how, the what and when considering her impending day. Should we take our pontoon?
Would paddling serve us better in the name of efficiency, traveling light?
Paddling it would be.
I stepped out the back door just before 5:45 that morning, second cup in hand ready to survey the above and conduct the routine checks of our garden. Morning was breaking with a touch of gray. Tinges of color did pop here, they lit over there – that way, just a little. Behind this tree, that tree, light began to peek around the branches of the big oaks shrouding our yard. The air was light with no real thickness of the familiar low dragging dawn moisture we get up here.
Excitement started pinging around my brain knowing I’d have my unit island bound in the coming hours.
Just to play it safe, I pulled out my phone and did a quick radar check to confirm the intuition that comes from looking up and thinking. It appeared we’d be in the clear until at least 3:00 that afternoon. I downed the rest of my coffee standing between the shop and garden then walked inside to let Koula know that we were a go.
We finished up our breakfast then I went out to the shop to start packing gear. I filled two dry bags with some essentials: a couple sand toys, some towels, granola bars, nuts, first aid kits, knives and tools. We decided around the table that I’d place Nola between my legs in the kayak and Koula would split off on the paddle board in lead or trace.
I loaded the boat and board in the back of the truck, packed us a small soft cooler with ice, a few beers, plenty of water, and some cubes of watermelon. The gray continued thinning as the sun lifted higher with the birdsongs of first light. I rounded up my girls after stowing the cooler and dry bags, then just like that – we were headed west.
Some kind of sense starts waking up in my head going down Highway 11.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a week long expedition with Carson and Scott, a booze cruise day tripping with friends and family or a solo trip to straighten out my head. About the time I pass that Long Shoals stretch, it starts getting all over me.
The feeling is hard to isolate or explain but lands somewhere in my guts next to where strapping on kit to go look for the boogeyman did at one time. Should the reverence in primal discovery be a drug, it remains my eternal high. Send me.
As a daddy, I feel a duty to expose my child to the natural so there’s a chance the purity of symbiotic relationships with the wild glues itself to her little soul.
I want to hand her bricks for the foundation, but the design is hers.
I just want to watch what she builds through time.
We got to the back ramp a little before 8:00 that morning and to our island in just under 23 minutes.
A slight chop moved the water with just enough break to roll small boils of white along the tiny crests on the waves. Nola sat propped between my legs for the ride out with the neck pad of her life jacket poised for good stability and seemingly, pretty comfortable for her. She was scanning left and right as we glided along, watching the shoreline for signs of wildlife while I babbled to her. It worked out great and never impeded the stroke once.
Our pace remained steady, moving with the rhythm of the water. We avoided the small lulling troughs while moving head on into a fading breeze with her momma about 60 yards off our right flank. I don’t know if it was the setting or her temperament – I’m guessing both – but her noticeable sense of wonder for what we just accomplished together damn near moved me to tears when I felt the skid of sand beneath us beaching on that narrow spit of the island.
Once we hopped out, I shucked her lifejacket. Koula rounded the backside of the island to meet us just after, then stowed her board by a high jagged wall. The water was crisp, not cold. Nola immediately abandoned any reservation, hustling shin deep to the water’s edge when I cut her loose to squat and initiate her play with the sand and quartz. I waded out knee deep just beyond her before diving down the backside of the spit to let the slope of depth and the temperature change finish waking up my body.
The morning went by in a flash.
We swam, shook sticks at the sky, watched an eagle hunt the little finger cove to our front and crawled through washed out tunnels. Our hearts managed fulfillment once again over the simple and the opportunity to share it with our child. Watching her get tickled over the different bends of washed up branches or smeared colors in rock was like rediscovering it again for ourselves.
However, not much in this life goes without a price.
About an hour before our departure I counted an armada of 27 jet skis ripping through the main channel in a belligerent and full throttled unison. It briefly paused my joy and in retrospect, I should have let it slide. But that ain’t my style. I looked to the sky, summoned my inner Abbey and called for an immediate prayer of fleeting malevolence to be cast upon their skulls by the spirit of George Washington Hayduke. Lakes like Keowee or Hartwell are better suited for ventures of such and for those reasons, you’ll find me at neither. I’ll put that rant to bed until it needs to be brought up again.
I’m all about kicking a cliche in the teeth but there’s something to watching a kid, mine especially, wake up to the wild.
These little moments of firsts hold me accountable to the good, yet also check the duty at my feet to continuously guide her the best way I know how.
What I know is not much, but what I do know lies in these sacred places like Lake Jocassee and its ability to be our great teacher.
If I can show her that we are lifelong students of such, then I will find myself satisfied in knowing that she understands that we need this Earth far more than it will ever need us.