There is always a heron to guide us when we paddle the waters of Lake Vesuvius.
As we begin to guide our canoe from the wide expanse of water through a narrowing path of floating plants, I strain against the horizon to spot him.
The long-legged guardian of water lilies seems to reliably be waiting for us, standing silently in the shallows as we round a curve in lake where the deeper water gives way into a shallow expanse of brilliant aquatic landscaping.
Each time he appears, standing stoically on spindly legs, my heart takes a pause from beating in my chest. When the gray giant finally spreads his wings and takes flight, without a sound or a ripple, it begins to beat again.
My heart soars with the bird as he floats up over water and settles on a perch high above our heads. There he waits, watching us, a silent noble sentry, as we slide our craft past him.
It is as if he is granting us passage through his kingdom of lily pads and their delicate white blooms. A winding path of open water weaves its way through the shallows. The glassy surface is broken only now and then by a leaping fish or frog.
The air here hums with a symphony of whizzing of dragon flies, the croaking crickets and gentle twittering of birds. The gentle lap of water against the canoe as our paddles dip in and out, joins in seamlessly to the soothing sounds.
Here we like to suspend our strokes and float silently — sometimes for long stretches of minutes — enjoying the simple solitude. Often our heron will leave his initial perch to fly ahead, guiding us as we pick our way through the maze of foliage. He never makes a sound as he moves from branch to branch, carefully tracking our every movement.
Now and then, other water fowl will follow his lead. Sometimes a nervous duck, or two, will swim a short distance in front of us weaving side to side to slyly check our progress.
Before long the lake of lily pads gives way to a narrow stream. Our heron host leaves us here.
The way forward is accented by steep rock walls on one side, that cast cool afternoon shadows on the water. Maneuvering under fallen trees and past submerged stumps we slide under the colonies of mud daubers and often through the webs of industrious spiders.
Slimming even further as it winds along, wildflowers grace the sunny sloping banks and eventually a sand and rock bottom comes into view inches below the canoe.
By the time we reach our favorite resting spot beneath a large sycamore, the water is barely navigable by boat. Here a small sandy beach sits along the bank, and the hiking trail passes nearby.
Shade is provided by the tree whose lowest branches bend almost to the water. Just off the shore, a solitary deep pool provides the perfect swimming hole for our dog, who is eager after the quiet paddle to fetch sticks and dive for rocks.
After a short break, we pile back into our little boat and turn it around to head for home.
As we emerge from the narrow stream back into the broad shallows, our heron will almost always reappear. Once again he takes his post high above us and watches until we have turned the bend and are surely headed back to the boat ramp.
Often as we float away, I catch him gliding gracefully down from the tree tops to settle in our wake.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653.