“If you got no more sense than to run over a fence in a boat you need to stay out of the water.” — Mike Smith
Never trust a weatherman. The Tuesday which had been so brightly predicted was cloudy and overcast. But we were committed, so off we went to H. Neely Henry Lake. Mike had been working on the motor of our pontoon and we had to take it for a test run. If it didn’t strand us somewhere in a deserted cove among the 339 miles of shoreline, we planned to spend the night on the boat.
The day did not have an auspicious beginning, weatherwise or otherwise. We were tired and worn out by the time we got everything in order. You know the old adage, “It ain’t the age, it’s the miles”??? Well, I’m here to tell you that when it’s the age AND the miles, the results are not pretty.
Mike had errands to run that morning before he could ever get the boat ready to put in the water, and I did household/packing stuff trying to ignore my sinuses from hell. Finally, sometime in mid-afternoon, we were ready to go. All our necessary stuff was on the boat. We had turned the key in the house lock. We had climbed into the long-bed work truck, and slammed our respective doors. Blessed silence descended over us and we both slumped in our seats at the same time. We looked pityingly at each other, and Mike summed it up for us both:
“Honey, I hate to think we’ve come to the point where we’ll have to pay somebody to go have fun for us,” he said.
So we started off with a laugh and a prayer. That’s not a bad beginning for an overnight adventure. Right?
Neely Henry Lake isn’t that far from us, so in no time we were on the water. The motor fired up and off we went, enjoying the wind in our faces. We picked a quiet, wooded inlet to turn into and spend the night, since the afternoon would soon be fading into early evening. Mike turned off the motor and we simply soaked up the solitude and blessed peace, the quiet broken only by bird calls and herons fishing. Mike’s fishing poles stayed racked, getting an occasional eye but no energy to do anything about it.
The sun barely made an appearance among the clouds, the light filtering through in that edgy brightness that hurts the eyes and can still give you a burn. But a friendly breeze, neither warm nor cold, stayed constant, ruffling the surface of the water, chuckling and gurgling against the pontoons.
Lake Neely Henry. Provides recreation, conservation, and electrical power.
I’m no fisherman – by gift or inclination – so I take along my latest book, a magazine of cryptograms, a notebook, some binoculars, and a camera which coughs, drags, and complains about doing its job. But, hey, hope springs eternal, and every once in a while a picture happens.
Since our primitive camping days were over 20 years behind us, our sleeping bags had long since been grist for the Goodwill. So we took plenty of blankets and thick long sleeves. I bunked down on the padded seat in the back, which is plenty long enough for me to stretch out on, but just wide enough for a body with no arms or legs. Mike stretched out on the carpeted floor space padded with blankets. The night was cool and damp. The clouds ran off for a little while, and all of a sudden there were a million pinpoints of light in a Blue-Ray sky.
“I can see the Milky Way.” Mike’s disembodied voice came softly out of the darkness. I flung off my blankets and padded over. He was standing, looking up in awe and wonder. As I slipped my arms about him, we held each other and drank in God’s wondrous showcase and thanked Him for this moment.
The next morning was cool and damp, and Mike dug out the old hooded cloth coat he complained about me packing because he wasn’t going to need it. Umm-hmmm. He fired up the little gas whachamacallit, dragged out our small iron skillet, and whipped up eggs with cheese, link sausages, and toast. I don’t know if it was the outdoor air, the fact that the cell phones were turned off, or the fact that nobody knew exactly where we were, but that was the most delicious breakfast I’ve had in a long time. Mike thought about fishing, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort, fired up the motor, and we went for a nice long ride.
Lake Neely Henry on the Coosa River covers three counties, one of them our St. Clair. Small, rounded or rocky islands appear often, some of which look like blasted bedrock with trees. Great blue herons wing their way across our bow, or stand like living statues against gnarled driftwood. I had just gotten the binoculars sighted when I saw one statue come alive and make a lightning strike at the water. He missed whatever fish he was after. I also found another use for the binocs. I could hang the strap over my head instead of around my neck and the wind wouldn’t blow my hat off. Just passing along a little tip here for people with big hats and small heads.
One such island sported something hanging from a couple of trees. We puttered in for a closer look. Some weekend campers had tied bicycle handles to long ropes for swinging out over the water. At the end of the island a small eddy whirled, bubbling the water.
Gorgeous homes with grounds sweeping down to private docks and boathouses line the hillsides. Every once in a while though you see some places that evidently belonged to some die-hard pioneers who have no problem hanging on amid the one percent.
At one dead-end, a working farm, complete with cows and silo, sits incongruously like a counterpoint to the recreational theme of the lake – though Neely Henry, with Neely Henry Dam and Reservoir, is also a source of electrical power, a conservation site for fish and wildlife habitats, and provides flood control and irrigation.
Farm-on-the-lake picture from a previous trip when the camera worked better.
As Mike and I motored as far as we could go on that end, he stopped so I could take pictures. Pools of blue sky appeared among the clouds, and the sun peeked out occasionally. Trees hung out over the water, creating a dark cave underneath. Inside that darkness, I spotted glowing eyes and snatched the camera away. Mike laughed and told me they were cows. I looked again. Sure enough. Underneath the trees were black cows wading in the dark shadows. A silent crow watched us from a high limb in a dead tree. Spooookeee. As we were turning around, I spotted a long row of metal poking up from the shore coming out several feet into the water.
“What’s that?” I said.
“It’s a fence,” Mike replied.
“In a lake!!?
“You never heard of fish farming?” (I cocked an eye. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know fish can get out of those little wire holes).
“But somebody could run over it!”
“If you got no more sense than to run over a fence in a boat you need to stay off the water.”
Actually, Mike lectured, the fence kept the cows — who can swim but don’t want to — from getting out by wading through the water to go around a fence. When the water gets too deep, they decide freedom ain’t worth it.
We anchored a little way out from the dead-end with the farm and cows and watched as the sun broke up the clouds. A cormorant dived just off our bow, and from somewhere fluffs of dandelion sailed by us. Butterflies braved the stiff breeze to get to the far shore. Rising up from the shoreline, hills like cloned pyramids march off to the horizon and beyond. In one far dip is a small hill which has been cleared of all but one strip of trees, and looks for all the world like the plumed helmet of an ancient Trojan warrior.
I started doing cloud shapes and saw a chicken chasing a prow across the sky. Not a ship, just the prow. Mike says he’ll just take my word for it. Cloud shadows flow across the hills and some early fall foliage light up in their wake. It was time to go home.
That evening, with everything packed away and the boat covered against any inclement weather, I got up to go get a drink. I got up, but the moving part was beyond me. Moaning and groaning I looked like the Tin Man before the oil.
“Are you stiffening up, too?” Mike asked
“We’ve just gotta quit having so much fun,” he groaned.
Just then the phone rang. It was my brother Paul. The one with some kind of bond between him and fish so that they come gladly to his line no matter where he fishes. When I told him we’d been on the lake, he asked immediately if Mike had caught anything.
“He was too tired to fish,” I said.
Paul’s response could be heard clearly across the room, the shock and horror evident in every syllable.
“TOO TIRED TO FISH !!!”
To Paul, that was like saying you were too tired to breathe. But we did all right. We had a great time. Even if we did pay for it later.