Turning left off the main road, the truck rattles and dips down the rutted dirt road, our two dogs smear the back windows with wet noses, steamy breaths, then excited front paws. Ahead the ground and sky stretch expansively in a beautiful yet alien way.
The mood is light, as it always is when heading out to the lake, this lake in particular - it turns out, whether there is water in the lakebed or not.
I've loved this lake for 25 years. My two children (then age 3 and age 5) and I lived at this lake in a truck and a tent for four months one summer long ago, homeless for the time, gathering strength with the song of each tiny wave lapping ashore. The rest of the story, maybe another time, but I have never failed to remember that summer, or those watery soul-strengthening songs each night, every and every one of the dozens upon dozens of times I've come to this lake ever since.
Under a clump of young willows, about 60' in from the full-lake line, we park in the light shade. Yellow finches and black-capped chickadees flit among the willow leaves, short sharp chirps matching the quick movements. The dirt road continues on ahead, branching off in three directions across the empty lake bed.
This weekend, there is no line of water visible at all from this spot; the lake bed on this side of the small, boomerang-shaped lake has been dry so long the ground underfoot is covered with low-growing plants mixed with patches of bone-dry sand and assorted rock.
As we walk along, the dogs run ahead, sniffing here, kicking up dust there, racing up an exposed seam of volcanic rock that erupted eons ago and cooled into long lines of jumbled sharp black rock. Small birds dart and swoop.
A wing catches my eye.
Then a long glide.
Two white Vs play up ahead.
Why so many water birds, I wonder, when the water has been dried up for so long?
My stride slows, the dogs still running ahead at full tilt, my husband having long since mentally moved on, at least, binoculars suctioned over his eyes, pointing towards trucks parked in the distance, tiny remote flying things barely visible to the naked eye buzzing about overhead.
My head cranes in the opposite direction, up toward the top of the trees that ring the outside of the old quarry, now a dry island rising up from a dry lake floor.
Herons circle around, chasing each other, hanging out in treetops.
(can you see the two flying by?)
(the two land in the trees - my small camera barely able to keep up with their speed - many takes, snap two seconds after they fly out of frame.)
I grow curious about the herons and/or egrets and change the course of my walk off-path.
Bushwhacking through tangled shrubs, weaving past boulders, I eventually reach the lip of a small hill, then jump down, my eyes taking in the oasis spread out in front of me. Two white herons, or egrets, fly up over the treetops far above, one alights in an old oak while the other seems to disappear into the still-green alder on the far side of the sheltered 'cove.'
The old quarry is a secret heron grotto.
I squat on my heels as the great blue heron I'd first seen out on the open lakebed flies into the quarry and lands on jagged boulders across the pond.
The dogs suddenly break through the brush, bringing their loud mayhem along as they both run straight for the water, slurping and splashing before dropping into a cool swim. My husband draws silently up behind.
The heron merely hops one boulder up, two over and coolly stares.
...I take photos and smile.