Tag Archives: kayaking

Defying Certain Death In Three Acts

Please, no autographs right now. I know I star in this blog, but I have to go play. Or climb something. Or both.

Please, no autographs right now. I know I star in this blog, but I have to go play. Or climb something. Or both.

Well, Memorial Day weekend got off to a big start Friday, with three death-defying acts:

Act I
When Amelia Shows She Can Climb

We had three grandkids overnight, and no, exciting as that is, it does not count as a death-defying act. After a morning bike ride with Amelia, Audrey picked up Nikayla at preschool, and we headed off to Willow Park in Marion for a picnic lunch/child handoff.

Where Amelia, unsurprisingly, defied death.

They have a climbing wall thing at that badly named park (badly named because there was no willow in sight at Willow Park) that consists of four plastic climbing walls, and two different types of side ladder things, one a metal spiral, the other I don’t recall but it doesn’t enter our story anyway.

The climbing walls lead to a platform perhaps 5 feet off the ground. The walls seem built maybe for kids ages 5 to 8. Amelia turns 2 today, and is small for her age, but nonetheless, she had little trouble scrambling up the climbing walls, even if it was a bit scary to watch her. Still, that was not yet defying death even if the action sequence was a bit exciting.

Once she was atop the mountain, the idea was to get down and repeat. The metal spiral ladder thingie was her chosen route. Now, we’re ready to defy the ultimate demise.

Amelia grasps poles on the platform with either hand, and slips her body off of the platform. She’s now hanging there by her arms. She stretches her legs out and finds the spiral with her feet. It’s a rather long reach for her peanut-sized body. The first time she got into this position, she accepted her mother’s help to move her arms to the spiral metal ladder, which she then descended on her own.

Of course, having survived once, her goal was to do it again immediately. Up the climbing wall, onto the platform, over to the spiral ladder, precariously hang there, swing your feet out, barely reach the spiral and then prepare to move a hand across the abyss, which requires you to stretch your arms to their maximum reach.

Amelia’s mother offered her aid, again. “No!” Amelia declared emphatically, and shook her head for emphasis—then she groped across space, finally securing a finger hold on the spiral. She then used said finger hold to lift her whole torso so she could move her other arm. All onlooking adults were poised for disaster, breaths held—but Amelia was unconcerned. She latched on, and quickly scrambled down, climbed, hung, groped, reached, scrambled down, climbed, groped, reached … etc.

Death was successfully defied. At 2, she has not learned the meaning of fear. Everyone who knows her has.

Amelia at park.

Amelia on the platform. In front of her are the two poles she will hang onto and dangle from. It may be scary to watch, but she’s not worried a bit.

Act II
An Act That Is Not Toni Safe

Fair warning, there definitely are creatures with multiple legs.

That afternoon, Audrey suggested that we take the kayaks out for the first time. It was a cool morning, but it was a nice afternoon, so Ben and I agreed. Ben and I loaded the kayaks and equipment while Audrey packed sodas. And we’re off to Pleasant Creek Recreation Area Lake near Palo.

The water was super cold and the lake a bit choppy. Ben and I went out first, and we headed west to the cove where a canoe rental area was once located.

We don’t know if it’s because the water is high this spring, but Ben and I found that the western cove extends to a narrow waterway that is apparently this lake’s turtle club. We saw multiple turtle sunning themselves on partially submerged logs—about a dozen in all, including one log crowded with six turtles. Many of them slid into the chilly waters as we neared, but we still got pretty close, and it was pretty cool to see.

The waters of the lake were very clear, and we could watch many fish swimming around. We saw a rabbit guarding the woods, a lone goose that we wondered about (others seeming to be more social) and a large bird that at first we thought was a hawk, but as it got close appeared not to be a hawk, but was fun to watch, whatever it was, anyway.

All in all, a fun first kayak outing. And, despite chilly waters, wind and some waves, not really death defying, but it serves as prelude. Cue ominous music.

After Audrey and Ben went kayaking, we drove home, and while Ben and Audrey went inside, I unloaded the kayaks. Ben came out to help carry in the other stuff, such as the towels.

Then, I went into my bedroom to change into a lawn-mowing outfit. My plan was to mow before taking my post-kayaking shower. As I was picking out my blue jeans, something tickled my right ear. I reached up to brush off the ear, and felt something moving on my neck. Again, reflexively, I brushed my neck with my hand, and something plopped to the ground at my feet.

Something with eight legs. Something that was rather large with eight legs. Sorry, Toni, but true story.

Now, the odd thing is that I didn’t scream like a girl or like a bonobo or like an owl or like any other creature. For some reason, the appearance of a Very Big Spider that had, let me remind you, been crawling on my neck didn’t disturb me at all. My reaction was to call Ben—not for rescue, but because I knew: A) He would want to see the spider and B) He’s a more experienced spider wrangler than I am.

That’s right, blog fans, sometime between my childhood and now I’ve become so blasé about arachnids that when I find a huge one which has been tickling my ear, my first reaction is: “How can I safely release this one?”

So, armed with a magazine and Tupperware, Ben trapped said spider, which he then released on our deck. And post release, I snapped its picture as it was escaping to the other side of a planter.

Yes. The spider defied death. Honestly, I was not at risk. It was not a brown recluse or black widow, blog pals, so I was really never in any danger. It was.

Spiker on planter.

Yes, it was big. Yes, it was on my neck. Yes, it was safely released in the wild. Later, we watched “Ruthless People.”

When I Mow and Plant and Trim The Dangerous Tree

We’ve arrived at our final death-defying act, friends. I mowed. Ben and Audrey, meanwhile, went to Home Depot to buy geraniums, and while there were kind enough to get me a new butterfly bush.

I had two in the front garden, but neither survived the winter. Butterfly bushes are touchy plants in this climate—they normally die down to the soil line, but usually come back. Not this year.

But, I do like this kind of bush, partly because its flowers are cute, but mostly because it does live up to its name and attract pretty summer fliers. I can’t say the butterfly bush defied death since it actually died, but hold on, blog fans.

The drought last year, followed by a long winter, was a bit rough on some plants. Of 10 Arbor Day trees planted last year, three survive this spring—a maple, a sweet gum and a dogwood. That’s OK, because I am not short of trees.

The butterfly bushes expired. Some other bushes in back survived, but have more than the usual level of dead limbs. It was a tough year. See more of my May 24 garden photos here.

And in the front yard, 2/3 of the hawthorn tree bit the dust. So, after mowing and planning my new butterfly bush, my goal was to cut off the dead top of the tree.

With old rusty bush trimmers, which meant holding the tree and gnawing at it for a while. It’s a hawthorn tree, so called because “haw” is an old name for “berries,” and this tree is supposed to bloom and produce decorative fruit. The other half of the name is because this pretty flowering tree sports 2-inch spikes of death, which I defied by cutting 2/3 of the top of the tree off.

Luckily, no blood was shed. And yes, I consider cutting the top of a hawthorn to be a much more dangerous act than having a giant spider climb on my neck.

Hawthorn tree.

The tree, trimmed despite it’s thorns of death.

So there you have it. Friday was a good day. The grass is mowed, the turtles seen, the spider released, and Amelia still showing her monkey skills.

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DANGER! Caption Contest


What's going on? You tell me, blog readers, in a comment.

On Father’s Day, Audrey and I went kayaking at our favorite kayaking spot—Kent Park in Johnson County near Tiffin.

By the way, if you enter Tiffin on the road from Interstate 80, the first “dead end” sign on the first road you encounter going around the bend in town is clearly a fake. The road is not only not a dead end, but leads to a 4-way intersection where you can either turn to enter the school parking lot or proceed to the main highway. Why the sign? Must be to keep out out-of-towners, I suppose, or maybe it’s just a comment on small-town life in Iowa?

Back to our tale, such as it is.

I posted a Facebook gallery of my Father’s Day activities, including the photo shown above. My sister Mimi suggests a photo caption contest—her suggestion is “Joe sees a UFO.”

Well, blog fans? Leave a comment and let’s see who has the best caption.


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The Day of the Snake—Screaming Like a Girl

Prairie Park Fishery

Image is from PDF off of Cedar Rapids City web site. Link to park info in post.

No, not me. Audrey. And, really, not even her.

We took our kayaks out for the first time this morning, and went boating at the Prairie Park Fishery, a new city park on Otis Road SE.  Here is a link to the city’s web page describing the park.

It was a fine, hot summery morning, a good day to be on a lake in a kayak. It was a bit windy, but fortunately the lake was fairly small and the waves weren’t much.

We did have a few adventures, though. On the way out, we discovered that part of the lake is quite shallow, and we had to be careful not to ground.

The true excitement, however, was on the way in. Audrey saw a snake swimming in the water, and shouted “snake!” This took me back quite a few years to when we were dating and were canoeing on Lake George in Illinois near Muscatine. I claim I saw a swimming snake. She claims I saw a stick, and when I yelled snake those many years ago, she stood up in the canoe, which caused an adverse reaction from me, since I didn’t think risking tipping the canoe was the right response.

Anyway, flash forward to today. Fortunately, Audrey did not stand in her kayak, but instead sped off. I saw the roving reptile too—don’t know what it was. It was small, but definitely not a garter snake, so I decided discretion is the better part of valor and sped off, too.

Like the Titanic headed for its doom, we both headed off without fear of the shallows in our minds. And both promptly ran aground.

Not badly, we both were able to back out of it without assistance or either of us having to brave snake-infested waters. And, despite Audrey’s colorful description of the outing in a text message, in which she claimed she screamed like a girl, there was only brief shouting, no screaming.

And no dispute. Clearly, snakes on a lake.

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A Nice County Park for a Summer Kayak Adventure

Bridge on trail adjacent to where we launch. The trail is a bit under a mile, and not very hilly--a nice, plasant stroll.

One of our favorite kayaking spots, one that we visited June 25, is FW Kent Park, a Johnson County park near Tiffin.

The ride there was a bit more interesting than usual, courtesy of the GPS unit Jon gave us to keep us from getting too lost in Puerto Rico. Audrey was able to get the unit to recognize Kent Park—hmmm—it can’t find one of the most well-known, globally famous, Commonwealth parks in Puerto Rico, but a county park in Iowa? No problem.

Detail of bridge. Green in background is algea filled inlet. This is a small Iowa lake, which does NOT mean crysal clear water, but most of the lake is not that green.

Anyway, the Magellan unit has a female voice, which was urging us to take the North Liberty exit. Our usual route to Kent Park is down 380 to 80, then west about a mile to Tiffin, then down Highway 6 to the park.

The GPS had a different route in mind, and we decided to follow it. It took us west down a fairly primitive Johnson County blacktop, then had us turn left onto a gravel road. We drove through several turns on gravel, wondering where we were.

Just as we were thinking the GPS would land use in an obscure piece of nowhere, one of the gravel roads terminated in a T intersection with Highway 6, west of Tiffin. The female GPS voice sounded a bit smug when it said, in its own special mechanical inflections, “destination on the right in 0.7 miles, you foolish doubting humans.” OK, you had to hear between the lines to catch that last phrase, but it seemed implicit in Ms. Magellan’s tone. We don’t plan to use that route again, but give Ms. Magellan her due—we think her route probably was shorter by a few miles.

Kent Park features a 27-acre lake, which is easily kayaked in about half an hour. The lake has lots of tiny inlets that are crossed by old metal bridges that have been salvaged from county roads. Where a stream enters to feed the lake, there is an inlet I of think of as “turtle bay,” because we often see turtles there, and indeed Ben and I saw several on this particular day.

Pretty blue dragonfly. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you might also spot a small fish in the water between the dragonfly at the picture border. This grassy edge of the lake is were we launch.

First, Ben and I went kayaking and Audrey read on the beach, then Ben and Audrey boated while I read and basked (and photographed). After a short swim with Audrey, I left on a lone kayak journey, since neither Ben nor Audrey wanted a third turn. We were at the park for around two relaxing hours.

Kent Park is a very nice place for a laid back kayak adventure. Our other primary kayaking spot is Pleasant Creek recreation area near Palo. The lake there is a bit bigger, but Kent Park otherwise has several advantages.

One is a nice trail that snakes around the lake and is an easy and enjoyable walk. Another is that the swimming beach at Kent Park is free, unlike the beach at Palo, and is immediately adjacent to a convenient place to launch the kayaks.

One of the inlets, seen from the bridge photographed above. Most of the lake is not this green, and even this inslet, which is way too yucky for swimming, is OK for kayaking. Water at swimming beach is Iowa lake brown, but not backwater green.

Some group, a summer camp of some sort, was also using the Kent Park lake that day. They were launching canoes form a boat ramp a bit north of the swimming beach. You could hear the almost frustrated voice of an adult male booming across the lake: “Travis, I don’t think they put rocks on that shore for little boys to toss into the lake. … Jeremy, I don’t think we want that kind of behavior. … Now wait until everybody is ready before we try to lift the canoe—I said WAIT.” Someone was having a long morning.

For us, our late morning adventure was more relaxing. If you’re in the Cedar Rapids or Iowa City area and want a lakeside park that offers pleasant family diversion, check out FW Kent Park.

Butterfly was pretty when it opened its wings. Tried several times, but this is as close as I got to getting the open wings shot. Insect is on the fence of the swimming beach area, but you can just step around the fence at the edge of the lake--just remember that, while water is OK, food is not allowed on the swimming beach.

A parting shot of the bridge seen in the opening shot, viewed from our "launch spot" at Kent Park.


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