May at Racoon Creek State Park, Pennsylvania
Updated: Jan 28, 2021
“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Day 1 – Sliding down to the tent site…
We arrived at the camp site long after dark. It had been raining for most of the day and the “drive trail” leading down to the camping pad was saturated with water. I opened the door and pushed my bare foot squarely into a viscous pile of mud squished up by our tire. Mud and organic material coursed up between my toes and muffinned out onto the top of my foot. The mucky mess made a great first impression.
Day 2 – Deer me…
E disappeared down a grassy path into the forest below camp to enjoy some solitude and take photos. Her lengthy absence and missed lunch prompted me to trundle down the hill to look for her. E turned up far to the left of the path, contentedly snapping pictures of forest plants and spiders. I continued on down the path to explore after making sure things were O.K. with her.
The patchy grass path filled in with deep green forbs as it descended into the valley. A small creek bore in from the left and paralleled the path on its way down into misty greenery. Near the floodplain, the path led into a wilder brushy area and was bisected by a blazed foot-trail which bridged the trickling creek to the left.
I stepped carefully onto an animal track that cut through the brushy area. The path veered right and crested the top of a high bank that bordered a swollen and turbid creek. The creek looked very inviting even though sediment swirled up from the last few days of rain.
A young fawn popped out of the brush behind me and trotted back up the trail I had just walked. Not wanting the fawn to bolt, I ducked down into the grass, waited a few moments, and then quietly crept up behind a large tree.
The fawn had only run a few yards before stopping to look back. Seeing nothing, it slowly meandered its way back down the trail to where I was crouched. Twice the fawn alerted to noise from the camera shutter, but then went back to browsing.
The fawn’s approach continued slowly through the high grass. It suddenly deviated from the grassy path, jumped down into the nearby stream bed, and was lost from sight.
The stream gullies high brushy banks effectively blocked the fawn from sight so I crawled up onto a trail bridge that spanned the creek. A quick glance up creek confirmed that the fawn hadn’t noticed my close approach. I watched as the fawn delicately ate mouthfuls of clay from the stream bank wall. Its lips picked around supporting roots and other debris in order to get to the “choicest” clay.
A small breeze blew past me down into the stream gully and alerted the fawn. It ceased mouthing clay and stood stock upright to investigate. Noticing my closeness, it jumped up the stream bank and bolted a short way into the surrounding forest. It stopped to check for pursuit and then slowly walked down into thicker brush.
The photo-moment was over so I slowly backed up the grassy path and walked uphill towards camp. Having lain in the brush for a while, I checked myself for ticks as I walked. Much to my wonder, I somehow escaped being arthropodic ingesta. I wouldn’t have been so lucky had I been on the shores of Merchants Mill Pond.
Day 3 – Cheep, cheep, cheep…
I dropped J and a friend at the lake shore near the boat launch while I drove to the park office to buy Boat Launch Permits. J eagerly started fishing the lake and was rewarded by a few bites and “almost caughts” by the time I returned. A nearby swallow enthusiastically watched Jared struggle to land a fish. Others fishing nearby had done less well.
It was the maiden voyage for our yellow folding Citibot kayak and I was eager to see how it paddled. It set up quickly on shore, and as predicted, easily outpaced the bulkier inflatable Sea Eagle kayaks on the water. The depth of hull and good design also gave it fair stability, an important consideration for when used for kayak photography.
We paddled in the direction of the swimming area along a shoreline still largely shaded by ancient hemlock trees. The coolness of the lake permeated through the hull and provided welcome relief from the heat of J’s shoreline fishing spot.
I spotted a largish green frog hiding deep in the shadowy waters of a shallow cove screened in by hemlock. As I watched, small midges alighted on its head and eyes while it waited for unsuspecting dragonflies or other insects to come within eating range.
Further down shore we passed a congregation of butterflies feasting on top of a splash of heron poo. Perpetually dissatisfied with their feeding order, they quickly shifted position with tiny flicks of their wings.
After a brief delay at the butterflies, we crossed the lake to the far shore. I deviated from playing tag with J’s boat to paddle farther up the right shore and photograph flowers lining the lake edge. The purple flowers were a splash of color amidst the browns and greens of a summer forest.
J and I continued the paddle up to the swampy area on the shore farthest from the dam. As we paddled, an osprey circled overhead and then alighted with an scrabble on a dead branch high above the lakes. It perched for a moment, overbalanced, and almost fell off the branch before assuming a more dignified position. Perched with confidence, it watched the activities below with interest.
Near the shallow swamp-end of the lake, a number of fish slurped and splashed in the shallows. One overzealous fish propelled itself onto land with the force of its tail slap. It bucked into the air in fishy arcs until splashing back down into the water.
A heron circled and alighted on a well concealed branch on the opposite side of the lake from the osprey. It panted while resting in the sun, grew too hot, and then turned and flew elsewhere.
A family of Canada geese kicked a watery path across our bows and headed for a nearby island. Once there, the goslings hopped from the water onto shore and started foraging while their parents kept watch nearby. Each gosling emitted a constant stream of “cheeps” as they fed.
I grounded the kayak into sediment muck with the consistency of jello and sat immobile in the sweltering sun while hunched over my camera. My patience paid off, and the goslings ultimately stumbled closer as they fed. Magnified through the camera lens, their struggle to feed was as comical as the best bumbling in Abbott and Costello movies.
Daddy goose grew tired of goslings feeding close to a noisy threat (me) and recalled them with a few short chirps. One gosling ignored the call and stayed behind to work a particularly fertile feeding area. It cheeped in distress and dashed for the water when the rest of the family started to paddle away. It regained the pack amidst a flurry of splashes.
A frantic spotted sandpiper searched shallow muck near the shoreline for hapless prey. Probes of its beak brought up tiny creatures that were quickly gobbled down. It flew off after the geese took to the water, uncomfortable at being the new center of photographic attention.
I baked in the sun waiting for J to finish fishing the far shore. He soon paddled over and we both vacated the swampy end of the lake before getting heat exhaustion. Our sweltering paddle back to the boat launch was interrupted for the briefest moment when J and I swapped boats onshore. He immediately commented positively on the speed and maneuverability of the Citibot when compared to the barge-like tandem inflatable kayak.