The little girl was friendly and direct, in the way of children.

“The first time I was here, I went barefoot and sliced my foot open on a fish hook and had to get stitches, so now I just wear my sneakers in the water. It’s really nice here.”

We looked around for fish hooks — who but a slob would abandon a fish hook on the ground? — didn’t see any and jumped in the water. It was freezing. With good fortune, we didn’t feel any hooks, either. We toweled off in the warm sun, cold water electric on our skin, and were on our way.

We brought Muffy the Ducky on our next lake visit. As we inflated and rigged her, a father and son who been fishing at the ramp were leaving. When we got down to the water we could see that they’d caught some lunkers by the size of the fish heads and blobs of guts in the water. It was an improvement of sorts; a previous time here we had come upon empty tubes of boat glue — used for their intended purpose, one hopes — malt liquor cans and a slightly soiled sanitary napkin. And a pair of discarded black tights, size 4 with — brace yourself — a pair of green aquatic growths emanating from two little dangling turdlets. Rocky Mountain oysters, indeed. Whatever happened to “Don’t be a litterbug?” 

Last summer, at the same spot, we had watched a young couple berate their children for horseplay in the water. This wasn’t unusual; what caught our attention were the proudly glowing cigarettes that the parents sported in the water. This was the most extraordinary dedication we’d witnessed since Sergei the Russian steeplechaser wore in his wide grin and smoking Camel while bobbing on an inner tube through Beaver Creek Rapids, just below Chicken Raper on the Dolores in the spring of ’97.

Why return to such a trashy place? Perhaps it’s the memory of the first visits, with no one there, hauling on the roof a baby blue fiberglass canoe named Bubbles that was longer than the VW Bug, and enjoying peaceful camping trips to isolated coves. In the end, with warmer temperatures than home and a preview of summer in the offing, a grove of cottonwoods providing dappled shade, and geese with goslings waddling along a grassy shore, it’s really nice here. 

Slightly horrified but determined, we moved to a more pristine bit of beach and launched. It was a big lake; we felt confident in finding a clean bit of it to enjoy and this proved true. Blue sky, a slight breeze, the cold snows of winter a distant memory, we paddled upwind in the lee of a line of low sandstone cliffs, anticipating a downwind run on our return.

To be waterborne satisfied a basic urge and we were perfectly content, paddling among the large blocks fallen from the cliffs, peering through shafts of sunlight dancing below us, feeling the water’s three-dimensionality. Time drifted. A rogue gust of wind knocked us off balance, out of our reverie, nearly knocking us into the water and alerting us to a change of direction.

And so the paddle back was also into the wind, freshening, cursed at first, then accepted, as a sailor on the sea beats stoically to wind for home. A good workout ensued. Alerted by distinct lines of oncoming ruffled water, we could brace for the gusts. Back at our beach, we dove in the water. It was cold enough to take your breath away.

On a whim we decided to visit a nearby farmer friend before heading home. He was putting his tomatoes to bed for the evening when we arrived, cranking shut the side-vents on the greenhouse. “These are my spoiled princesses, very high maintenance,” he declared. “But I pamper them because they’re worth it; they’re my bread and butter.”

The wind had died and it grew hot. We spent the delicate and imperceptible transition from late afternoon to early evening sipping cold beer, watching the sun sink low and grow yellow while my buddy moved the sprinkler around the apple orchard. The trees are 80 years old, gnarled branches swooping gracefully to form symmetrical globe-shaped crowns. Pruned and shaped through the years, they are sculpted works of living art.

Rows of lettuce, purple and proud, were next to the carrots for which Stone Free Farm is famous, Scarlet Nantes, orange-red sugar bombs, the tassels already, in early season, over a foot high, the protruding round heels of the carrots already an inch thick. I thought of my humble spinach house back home in the hills, the sprouts only just now poking bravely through the soil, and had to chuckle. A different world. Onions and garlic burst forth in perfect lines, vigorous picture of health, the soil meticulously tended, loamy, weed-free. The man is a master at his craft.

The local farmers market had already started for the season and he bemoaned the lack of foot traffic, but understood people staying home, given recent health scares. It looks like it’s just going to be a skinny summer, he said, adding that he’s still glad to be doing what he’s doing, even with the long hours and heavy lifting. Life in a cubicle was never for him. Amen to that.

There are worse fates than having to watch the sun go down through the branches of an apple orchard on a warm evening, drinking Mexican beer; having to listen to a little girl squeal in delight as she runs through the sprinkler, having to accept her cold, wet, mischievous hugs; having to wrap her in a towel and hug her back to warmth; having to duck under the branches of a huge lilac bush resplendent with purple blossoms on the way out of the orchard and be bathed in perfume, the sunset calm and perfect, with not a piece of litter in sight.

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