Sunday, August 12, 2007

Wolf Lake Vacation. . .

Years ago a family member rented a lake cottage and invited all his children and grand children to spend a weeks vacation with him. I have such wonderful memories of that week, more than twenty years later it still ranks as one of the best weeks that I remember in my life.

This summer Jackie and I decided to do the same thing with our family. We found a cottage to rent up on Wolf Lake, just east of Muskegon, Michigan. I made the arrangements in February. It seemed like a long wait from when we made our plans in the bitter cold of last February, but our wait finally ended last weekend. I asked my kids (they did not respond) and Jackie's three daughters and their families to come spend some time with us. Julia, Ryan, Jakub, and Allie drove up with Jackie and I last Saturday. They stayed until Monday. Jackie's youngest daughter Kim, and her oldest daughter Jenny and her three boys came on Sunday and stayed until Wednesday. Jackie and I were by ourselves from Wednesday afternoon until we left on Saturday morning. Does it look like we had a good time? It was amazing. From start to finish, it was unbelievable. It is beyond my words to describe. . . how good a time we had. . .

Almost the entire country was being flame broiled under a huge heat wave this week, but we, only 130 miles north, were really at times quite cool. I don't think that it got to 80 until maybe Wednesday. The weather was really wonderful and being with the girls and grand kids was almost like old times. . .

Years ago when the kids were small, we went snorkeling as a family. All the kids had their own fins, and face masks, and snorkel tubes and everywhere we went camping or swimming we always took our equipment along: Pokagon, Potato Creek, Muskellunge Lake in the U.P. and Lake Michigan. We got kicked out of Potato Creek State park. Jackie and the kids and I were out in Wooster Lake swimming around with our fins and masks, when this DNR guy just went ballistic on me. He was on the bullhorn screaming for us to get out of the water, etc. I didn't know I was breaking any rule. We got out and he yelled at me, in front of all the other people, for 10 minutes or so. "What would we do if everyone decided to go swimming outside of the beach area??", he screamed at me. I thought very much to myself, "Well then it would be like almost every other lake in the country I guess. . ."

My daughter and I found a class ring while snorkeling up at Van Buren State park in Michigan. There was a high school name and some initials in the ring. After a little sleuthing Adrianne and I were able to reunite the ring with the young woman who had lost it in the strong waves of the day, a year before.

Just as an aside, maybe a mile or so south of Van Buran is the Palisades nuclear plant. It may have changed, but at the time we were going up there, you could swim in the cooling water coming out of the plant. It was like a river with a very strong current, maybe 15 or 20 feet wide, of very hot water rushing out of the plant into the quite cool water of Lake Michigan. Your upper body would be in 100+ degree water and your legs in what? I don't know maybe 60-70° water (depending on the time of the year). It was strong enough that you could body surf in this hot hot current. It was really weird. You had to walk down there from the state park beach. There were always quite a few people and boats would pull up quite close. This was way before 9-11 and all the terrorist/security issues, etc. You probably cannot get this close anymore. The fish loved it also. I stuck my head under the water and opened my eyes once and saw very very big fish swimming in this hot river. I don't know if they were trout or salmon or what, but they were very big fish swimming in amongst all the people.

I'm getting way off track, but this week was the first time in probably close to 15 years that I have been snorkeling. My son and I got our scuba diving certification together. I bought classes for us, I think it was for his sixteenth birthday, but he had asthma so bad at the time that it really kind of spooked me. I didn't really know all the implications of diving and asthma until we took the classes. He was medically approved to take the classes, but if you have an asthma attack while scuba diving it can very easily be fatal. So I never continued with that, but I/we loved to snorkel.

Anyway, we had just a great time snorkeling this week. I was able to go with all the girls and started teaching the grandsons how to use the fins and masks, etc. I could really tell that my breathing was out of shape for the first day or so, but by the end of the week I was in top notch shape. I was out there snorkeling for a minimum of 4 hours a day and most often for 6 hours or more. This lake had an abundance of these very large snails. Probably 90% of the shells were empty, the snails had died and left the empty shell. It was easy enough to find live snails. I mean there were just hundreds of these snail shells on the lake bottom. That picture is of some that we collected without any effort at all.

I think it was on Sunday, I was snorkeling around and picked up a shell. I found a snail that had just recently died. His little trap door came open and his flesh kind of just hung out there. It didn't retract like a live snail would. It was apparent that it was dead, so I started thinking that as many empty snail shells as there are, these have to be an important food source for the fish, etc. in the lake. I pulled on the snail flesh and he came out of the shell and promptly kind of sprung back into a corkscrew shape. I swam out into the deeper water and just let the snail meat go while I watched. Boy-o-boy! In short order there were quite a few fish fighting over this not so little morsel. I mean this would be a decent mouthful of food for me. . . my mind started thinking of escargot and . . . well that's a story for another day. . . :)

Anyway, one thought led to another and after seeing those fish fighting for the snail meat, I had visions of Jacques Cousteau and clouds of fishes surrounding him as he spread chum through the waters of some exotic reef. . . . in short order I was in the car on my way to buy some sardines and some wax worms. WOW!!! What a grand time.

It took a little while to start. I would swim (the grand-kids and all the girls also did this) to the end of the pier and I would get just a small bit of sardine meat, maybe a little more than a thimble full in one hand and a wax worm in the other. I would snorkel out to where the drop off just started and I would kind of break up the sardine meat by rolling it between the palms of my hands and disperse it into the water. I would then fan it a little in the direction of some bluegills and sunfish that I saw. At first they were afraid and didn't know what to do, but it wasn't too long before they caught on and they just loved the sardine meat. Then I would hold the wax worm very still under the water between my index finger and thumb. It took a little while, but it wasn't too long until they were coming up and taking the worm out of my hand.

Basically this is how I spent the bulk of my vacation, for at least four hours a day, I was David Stokely/Cousteau on Wolf Lake. It was cool. The grand kids loved doing it and the girls really got into it also. I changed over to Jack Mackerel after the second day. It was much cheaper (I fed $12 worth of wax worms alone) and the fish liked it as well as the sardines. I kept the worms and the mackerel on the end of the pier. I would pick up the meat and the worm, swim out to the feeding point, feed the fish and then I would swim around the raft making a big circle maybe 50-75 yards in total length. I thought I would get some exercise while feeding the fish and then swim back to the pier and begin the process again.

It wasn't too long before I had clouds of fish swimming with me and waiting for me at the end of the pier. It got to the point where they were biting people swimming on air rafts and biting the buttons on my shirt if I took too long getting back to them. It was just awesome. They got to the point where they weren't afraid of me at all. I could gently stroke their sides with my finger. They would come right in front of my mask. Occasionally they would really bite my ear lobe very hard, mistaking it I guess for a big fat worm or maybe in some funny fishey way just liking to hear me squeal and see the big cloud of air bubbles that came out when they did that.

I had bluegills, sunfish, perch, small mouth bass, musk turtles, and painted turtles coming in to eat. The bass and the perch never ate from my hands, they ate the fish that I was attracting. The musk turtles were interesting to me. I knew they were somewhat of a predator for fish and I thought that the fish seemed a little spooked when the first one showed up, but when I fed the little guy (I had to swim down to the bottom and put the food right in front of him) I had a big surprise. The fish just turned, attacked and started stealing the big piece of food hanging out of his mouth. He had to dive under a big mass of seaweed to keep his mouthful of mackerel.

Who knows what all I would have attracted to my little feeding station of I had continued. Jackie spotted a really big snapping turtle rising from the depths for air not too far away after I began doing this. I really didn't want to contend with a 20 or 30 lb snapping turtle trying to grab a wax worm from between my fingers. Have you ever seen one of those guy eat? They are some serious critters. I enjoy all my fingers and toes. I don't really have any that I want to part with and the guy who rented the cottage to us, told us of some really huge northern pike in the lake. That too would be something to come face to face with under the water.

But I, we all had such a tremendous time. I don't want you to think that it was all about fish on my vacation. We had just super times grilling out virtually every night, playing games of all sorts. The Perseid meteor shower peaks this weekend and we watched meteors on several nights. My birthday was on Monday and the girls made me a birthday watermelon with candles. They knew I wouldn't eat cake and ice cream so they came up with that. The grand kids loved it. It was the best watermelon I think I've ever tasted. . . all in all it was the best birthday I can remember.

My relationship with God is very very much strengthened. I spent almost all my time under water snorkeling, praying to God. Watching the heavens, watching meteors is a wonderful time to pray. I got lots of Bible studying done. I brought many reference books and Bibles.

Last night about six-o-clock when I got out of the water for the last time, I was just overcome. It just completely swept over me. I think I wept off and on for almost an hour. . . Jackie too. . . we were both just completely overcome with the emotions of the week. . . memories of parting. . . memories of goodbyes. . . memories of what had been and was no more. . . It was a tremendous week, but it was ending. . . It was a wonderful time, a spiritual time. . . a holy time of closeness and love with each other and with our beloved family members.

You know, I'm tired of this. Shakespeare was undoubtedly a brilliant man. Is that an understatement? He understood people, emotions, and the ways of people, but his line "parting is such sweet sorrow" is to be frank, a bunch of hooey. . . That may be the case when you are a love struck teenager whose depth of knowledge about hurt and missing and sorrow are focused upon stolen kisses in the moonlight and being reunited in the morning, but for me there is nothing at all sweet about parting.

The ache of being separated from the ones I love is not sweet at all. In another day, in another age, in other cultures there would not be parting as we know it in our society. Look at the Amish, numbers of generations live in the same house, the rest of the family is usually within a country mile of one another. Yes there is the parting at death, that is not avoided by anyone and it surely is no sweet sorrow either. We all await that reunion.

But to me that will be the highlight of heaven, the eternal end of parting. . . no more goodbyes. . .never again!!!. . . We had such a wonderful time this past week and we have a strong desire, firm plans to do this again next summer, but no one knows what the future holds. The last weeks vacation I had at a lake cottage was mere months before my first marriage ended. . . My ex father-in-law whom I love dearly to this day, maybe sensing something in the wind, invited us all together for a week in two cottages at Gun Lake. Within five years, much less than that I think, three of the four couples (his four children and their spouses) in those idyllic days at the lake were divorced. . . drops of water flying through the air from happy splashing kids, replaced with salty tears overflowing eyes and running down little cheeks as their worlds came crashing down around them. . . .

Who knows. . . I'm surely not trying to be the prognosticator of doom, but the wheel of life turns and no one knows what lies ahead. Life is filled with unexpected turns. . . no one can know the future. I confidently said good bye to those little fish, with every intention. . . meaning to come back again on another warm sun filled day, with my can of mackerel and my little cup of wax worms. . .

I am tired of good byes. I am tired of parting. It ain't no stinking sweet sorrow. . .

I love you my Lord!
I thank you with a depth beyond anything that can pass from my lips for this week!
I hunger for the reunion in eternity with my loved ones. . .

Thank you Lord. . . help me get them to you. . .

Dave Stokely

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