Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fresh Water

Roadside in the wilds of Virginia.

One of our cruising friends spends his land time (summer) on Smith Mountain Lake, a dammed lake in Southwest Virginia fed by the Roanoke, Blackwater and Bull Run rivers. Bill generously invited us to visit his home, Treehouse, this summer. In addition to enjoying his company, we thought cooler nights and cool fresh water would be a soothing tonic for summer sweats along the salty Neuse. And we were right.

Bill lives in Treehouse with two dogs, three birds, four aquariums, but neither partridge nor pear tree. Something is always happening. The motto seems to be: explore when awake, swim when hot, drink when thirsty, sleep when tired. Over cold beer on his dock, we talked about huge stripers and mythically large catfish that could clog dam turbines or swallow a SCUBA diver whole. Of course, we touched on the decline of modern civilization as well.

Steps down to the dock, boathouse and water.
Treehouse was in the shade of trees most of the day, yet the ease of leaping off the floating dock into deep, cool lake water -- refreshing, pale and dusty emerald green with small perch nibbling at your toes -- invited frequent dips. Zip around the lake for a while, interrupted by stopping the boat in a cove to jump in and cool off, then back to Treehouse to jump off the dock and cool off. We never had too many swims.

Treehouse's guest house. 

On one boat outing, Bill detoured by Smith Mountain Lake Dock where a torrent of prehistoric bronze-skinned carp happily eat popcorn from between your toes (not mine, but Cameron, Taylor and Bryan loved it). You can buy bags of popcorn to feed, but inside the dock store, there is a clear floor panel with tubes through which you can drop popcorn from a garbage pail nearby. One young man arrived, sat on the dock, spread peanut butter liberally on his toes and proceeded to receive a carp pedicure. Oooooo....not so sure about that. Kind of kinky?

Another popular carp hostel is a commercial waterside development known as Bridgewater up toward the northern end of the Main Channel  (Roanoke River pre-dam). We stopped in an art gallery and a wine shop, then strolled outside to play putt-putt on the deck covering the marina as a large thunderstorm built to our west. Cameron won the golfing, including a hole-in-one, then we scooted south ahead of two storms converging over the lake, passing along the way a few boats that continued to troll small children on tubes as the lightning bolts streaked and thunder rumbled.

When last Bill appeared in this blog (see link below), he was cruising solo with two birds, Boca and Papagayna (think Mozart). He has since adopted a 16 year old cockatoo, Rocky. For some reason, the normally talkative Rocky was struck dumb by the appearance of me and Cameron. Nevertheless, in the morning hours, he would leap from silence to piercingly earsplitting raucous cries followed by sweetly soft words such as "Hello Rocky" and "peekaboo." By afternoon though, when he wanted attention, he marched across the floor and pecked at our feet. He was an entertaining host.

Real fish, real faces.

Other adventures included hitting a submerged tree trunk floating vertically. Six inches showed above water when we circled to check what we had hit or had hit us. Once we lassoed it and dragged it to shore, we could see its full seven foot length and root ball. The lake was not fully cleared when the power company prepped the basin. Anything that would be twenty feet or more below the surface was left in place, including a lot of woodland and standing timber. Late afternoon, Bill took us up Bull Run, the undeveloped part of the 500 miles of lakeshore. We eased into a small feeder creek and switched off the engine to savor the silence, spotting a turkey and then a deer, at first only its ears visible to Cameron through the thick bankside brush.

Bill skimming at 40 mph.

We ate ice cream at the local dairy, Homestead Creamery. And we tasted the beer and ale at Sunken City Brewing Company's tasting room. See http://sunkencitybeer.com/brewery/The Dam Lager was passable, especially cold, but Bill was not too excited about it. The Red Clay IPA was a little too hoppy for my taste, but then hops is the current, and tiresome, rage among new breweries these days. The Porter was a good medium body ale with a nice flavor and smooth texture. But Bill was particularly perturbed by the history of the eponymous Sunken City. A hundred years before the lake was filled, the city expired due to a post (civil) war depression, and the grandiose schemes of a land speculator dried up. But it makes for a good brewery name nonetheless. 

After a few years of living on brackish water, it was delightful to visit a fresh water lake where relief from the heat and sweat were a few steps down the dock. Sadly, the water quality here on the Neuse, downstream from cities like Raleigh, Goldsboro, Kinston and New Bern not to mention thousands of acres of farm land, is such that repeated rinsing will only yield infection. Thankfully, the winds here continue to be awesomely consistent, beating back the bugs and softening the hot humid days.

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