It was a crisp, fall Sunday afternoon, with the sun dazzlingly bright after a summer of relentless rain. I wanted to go off on an adventure to a place I’d never seen.
So I did what I normally do on such occasions: I turned to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The wildlife agency has an app that you can download onto your smartphone that features an interactive online map showing the exact location of every public access boat launch site in Maryland – almost 500 of them, along with maps of hiking trails, state parks, public fishing piers, and other places you can enjoy the outdoors.
I highly recommend the AccessDNR app. I’ve made it a personal mission to use the app to try kayak at all the public boat launch sites in the state. On this Sunday, I looked at the map – and noticed a red dot that I had not yet visited. It was at the Prettyboy Reservoir in Gunpowder Falls State Park, about 40 minutes north of my home in Baltimore.
So I drove up there, and after dragging my kayak down to the water’s edge, set off paddling across the glassy waters in the late afternoon sun.
Although it’s located in the woods of northern Baltimore County, the Prettyboy Reservoir was built by the city of Baltimore and is still owned by the city as a source of 19 billion gallons of drinking water for the region.
The lake is an artificial construct, formed by the creation of a 520-foot dam in 1932. But it’s remarkably natural looking – a salamander-shaped maze of waterways and islands, entirely surrounded by trees and rocky hillsides, with not a hint of the suburban sprawl and highways to its south and east. As I paddled across its empty waters and saw a bald eagle soar overhead, I almost felt almost transported back in time – hundreds or thousands of years, before Europeans colonized the area.
That illusion was broken by the vapor trails of jets far above the eagle’s path. But that contrast was beautiful, too.
As the sun set, the light burned red, gold, and orange in the trees lining the edge of the lake – a spectacular showing of fall.
I heard a splash beneath the tulip poplars hanging over the water to my right. I saw what looked like a water snake swimming from a cluster of logs by the shore. In the darkening waters, the reflection looked like a silver thread following a black dot across the lake. I decided to follow it, to find out what it is. I paddled rapidly to head it off before it could reach the far shore.
But as I got closer, there was a violent slap of a tail, a splash, and the brief appearance of a hairy back. I could see it was a beaver, not a snake; and now it swam away.
As it grew dimmer, a ragged V-shaped formation of Canada geese appeared over the tops of the trees and flew over the lake, heading south, and calling.
The formation of geese was a sign that – after this final blaze of fall glory – soon all the colors will be gone. The trees will stand bare, the cold weather will come, and another year will pass into winter…and then, after a long darkness, spring.
We can enjoy and appreciate the changes and the passing of the years if we have the courage to explore, adventure, and open our eyes.
To explore with the AccessDNR App, visit: https://dnr.maryland.gov/Pages/dnrapp.aspx