If you live or vacation on a lake of small to modest size, you're likely to be familiar with the midsummer holiday tradition of the boat parade.
It takes place on nearby Lake Lemon here in south central Indiana on the Fourth of July. During a family reunion in upstate New York, I witnessed a similar flotilla on Lake Canadarago, north of Cooperstown – also to celebrate Independence Day.
That lake community honors the holiday in three stages. First comes the slow, pre-dusk parade of pontoons and outboards decorated with flags and colored bunting.
Then, as darkness falls, a ring of light takes shape as celebrants build bonfires and set small flares along the curving miles of beachfront.
To cap the festivities, a volley of fireworks erupts from a small central island for all to enjoy or (as in my case) endure. I have never gotten used to the explosive noise however much I relish the spectacular bursts and showers of light preceding the big booms.
For me the evening would have been complete after the neighborly parade of bobbing vessels and sharing of beach lights. Both perfectly accented the quiet beauty of the landscape that James Fenimore Cooper portrayed in his "Leather-stocking Tales." Gazing out at the lake as the sun dropped, I thought how aptly Glimmerglass, Cooper's fictional name for Lake Otsego to the south, also captures Canadarago's dark blue brilliance.
Our group (without a working motorboat) gathered on the pebbly shoreline and dock below the family cottages of my brother-in-law Ken as the parade rounded the lake's south end and came into focus.
The line of vessels lengthened as others joined in from their own docks. Taped and live music spilled across the water as boats passed, flags and banners snapping in the stiff wind. Cheers and waves were expected from us spectators, and we obliged.
Winning the lake association's prize for best decoration is hardly the point – most seemed simply to enjoy making the rounds with neighborly applause in their wakes.
Years ago Ken and his then-young boys joined the parade in their small outboard with only a couple of hand-held flags – memories Mark and Gavin clearly savor more than they would a trophy. I never heard who the winner was this year – perhaps the festooned pontoon with a three-piece band and dancer in its bow.
Had I been judging, I would have given the nod to a quiet, low-lying vessel that glided by in the thick of things, self-propelled and utterly unadorned save for her own fine feathers and the downy riders rafting on her back. The mother loon paused for her chicks to jump overboard and practice their dives as the line of boats moved on up the lake. When the youngsters clamored back aboard their cushioned craft, it took up again in the parade's wake.
Fires twinkled around the shoreline as full darkness fell, and I braced myself for the night's thunderous finale. As the explosives boomed and flashed over the normally placid waters, a passing duck and four anxiously cheeping chicks made a detour to our dock and took refuge under its boards.
I imagined the loon hunkering down among some reeds with her own brood for the duration. I was right there with them in spirit.