By Peg DiBenedetto
I grew up telling my brother he had big conejos. I thought conejos were cojones. (They’re not. They’re rabbits.) I thought I was insulting him. (I wasn’t.) How was I to know, at the age of ten, that big rabbits are just big rabbits, but big cojones are a good thing?
Flash forward several decades. I am kayaking on the Pepacton Reservoir on a late afternoon following an unsettled day, weather-wise. The sky had finally lightened and beckoned, and blue patches showed through gray cotton candy trouble spots. I felt confident in my decision to head down to the boat ramp and paddle out on the water.
The solitude of the reservoir calms my mind, slows my heart rate and lowers my blood pressure. I steer away from a couple of fishing boats in the middle and head eastward, up along the shoreline.
Trees muffle the Route 30 traffic as I challenge myself to silence. Water laps my boat as over and over I lift the paddle carefully, then plunge and pull it noiselessly. I’m hoping, as I round a bend, to see ducks. Or a heron. Or, if I’m lucky, an eagle.
This year there were a whopping 7 breeding pairs of bald eagles on the Pepacton; 6 nests were successful and produced 7 eaglets. In just 7 weeks the little balls of fluff grew to be the size of their parents. It took them three more weeks to fledge. Juvenile balds are huge; their flight feathers are longer than mom and dad’s, just to give them a little more advantage in the difficult task of learning how to fly. And now one of them blesses me by flying overhead! Looking up, I can see why some people think it could be a golden eagle. However, the rule of thumb is that any eagle you see in the Catskills between April and November is a bald eagle. Because the goldens spend Spring, Summer, and Fall in Canada.
The sound of a small plane drones high, and I think of my father looking to the sky; he’d say, “It’s a good night for flying.” I’m deep in my sentimental reverie of Dad and Betsy, his yellow Piper Cub, when thunder rolls loudly in the not-too-distant distance.
Yikes! I’ve worked my way towards the middle and uncomfortably far from the boat landing to be hearing thunder. And there’s a flash—was that lightning? Yep, it was. How fast can I get back to the launch? And the pilot in that plane above; can he turn and work his way around the storm? It takes big cojones to pilot a plane—or a boat—through a storm, and I hope we both have’em if we need ‘em.
I paddle hard and my mind conjures up the big lake in north Texas that looked like a freakin’ ocean one day because we couldn’t see land. For some reason we’d thought four medium-sized people and one large dog would be just fine in a canoe on a pleasant, sunny day. You know what happened, of course. The sky turned black and the lightning flashed and the wind picked up and the rain pelted down, and as white-capped waves crashed over my poor sister-in-law sitting in the prow, the dog sat nobly, wondering what the hell was wrong with these humans, and I crouched down in the hull with him in wonder of the awesome terror crashing around us. My husband and his brother argued back and forth about whether or not an aluminum canoe attracts electricity (it does) while paddling furiously for … how long? 45 minutes? An hour?… until we reached the dock: cold, shivering, soaked to the bone. My sister-in-law
has not one time since then set even one toe on the deck of a boat, no matter the size.
Rousing myself out of Texas and back to the Pepacton, I can see the launch. The rain has held off; no more lightning. Ten more minutes and I’m on land. Ten more, I’m in the car, and the first drops hit the windshield. The rain picks up as I reach the turn and climb the hill towards one of the angriest skies I’ve seen all summer. Around a bend, the rain abruptly ends. My rearview mirror catches light and I have to stop the car to get out and gape in awe. Behind me, brilliance from the setting sun has broken through the clouds, and double rainbows arc above the gleaming water. I am, at the very least, doubly blessed.~