Once upon a time, there was a grizzled old elf named Jer, who really enjoyed paddling his battered Old Town touring kayak around the summery waters of the Portage Lakes, near his warm weather home in the Akron OH area. The bearded old guy was feeling a little blue this season……hmmm….

Now this old green kayak – like the old elf himself, had been around the block (or the “waves” in this case!) a few times and had cracks in her hull and had faded with the ravages of sun and wind and water….the fiberglass seat had also cracked a little, and the neoprene spray skirt was not as “water-tight” as it used to be…..but Jer loved to paddle this fine craft around the lakes, and see great blue herons, all kinds of ducks, geese, beaver, swans, even an occasional osprey or eagle flying overhead!

Jer had an idea for a little holiday kayaking adventure, that he hoped would make him feel better and not so “blue”……this would entail a small detour back home in December, if he got all his work done in time, and a paddle around his favorite lake. He planned to return to the Portage Lakes that he loved so much, on the Winter Solstice, and decorate his beleaguered old kayak with some holiday decorations, candles, even a small tree mounted up on the bow of the boat, complete with cool, battery powered LED lights! Then, he would travel around the shores of Heron Lake, and deliver small gifts as a prelude for Christmas! He had a bag of small boats he had built at his workshop in his spare time, little birch bark canoes, Greenland style balsa wood kayaks, and even a couple of little Lyman lapstrake runabout replicas he had put together! What lake dweller, young or old, would not like such a great gift?

Now Jer the nautical elf was known to take a nip or two, of some seasonal – holiday appropriate beverages, on occasion, and his plan was to take a small stock of a couple of his favorite Christmas ales with him, to hand out in a festive gesture…..again, he knew most of his neighbors would approve and enjoy a special holiday ale on the solstice, so the plan was looking good!Some of his favorite on the water times, were in his trusty old kayak, before he had to head north each autumn and begin to work in earnest on all the toys needed for the Christmas rush! Jer is the “nautical elf” of the North Pole, and always takes much delight in building little toy boats of all kinds – sailboats, canoes, kayaks, rowing boats, and so many more! He also on occasion will build small lighthouses, for those really special gifts! His work speaks for itself, if you are so lucky to be gifted with one!

So, Jer set to work once he arrived back home, tricking out his ‘yak and stringing some lights on the deck and rigging up the little tree, it looked quite festive indeed! He put a small pack on the back deck, filled with the special nautical toys he planned to give out along the lake, as a “pre-Christmas” Solstice surprise to his neighbors and their children…..he hooked a small bottle holder in the cockpit, so he could partake of his favorite Christmas ale as well while paddling about on December 21st!

The day of the Solstice – or Yule as some call it, dawned clear and bright, a little chilly, but Jer had on his best red and green fleece and was stoked to be getting out on the still un-frozen waters of the lakes; this climate change stuff seemed to be a reality, as these lakes used to always freeze by mid-December, and lately, that has not been the case at all! Last year the lakes never froze over completely all winter! Kind of scary the way things are changing with the weather these days!

Jer’s old beloved kayak was looking quite festive, with some lights and greens and even some red and gold light / glow sticks attached to the great old wooden kayak paddle…..should make a great effect while paddling around the lake at dusk! Jer prepared his bag of holiday goodies, and loaded the boat for a late afternoon launch. The old elf was beyond excited!

The plan was to head around the northeast shore of the sparkling waters of Heron lake, hitting the 3-4 neighbors there first, then heading along the northern edge of the lake, between the large Swan Island and the wetlands where Jer would often take joy in playing with a couple of beaver who had their lodge there! Then on around the western shoreline and the now abandoned golf course, to the condos at the south end of the lake, past Dano’s Lakeside Pub, and finally along the eastern shore and back home!

He was also planning a short stop on the rather mysterious looking Swan Island, to decorate a tall fir tree there with some bird seed stars and peanut butter laden pinecones he had put together for the feathered creatures who lived on this large island. It seemed totally appropriate on the Solstice to also leave a special gift for the birds and other occupants of this lake…..all should join in on the holiday festivities! Jer was into communing with nature and all of the local inhabitants!

The hour long solstice paddle at dusk went great, and all the inhabitants of this blue lake were thrilled to see one of St. Nick’s most revered elves, out on the water, handing out handmade nautical gifts and small bottles of Christmas Ale for the grownups along the lake! There was much joy on this special day and feelings of camaraderie among Jer’s neighbors…..they had never seen him look so happy! Even the birds on Swan Island seemed filled with joyous spirit, at his generous gifts of food and the decorated fir tree that Jer had assembled just for them! A rare river otter even came out of the shadows, and with the resident pair of beaver, they splashed and played in the water as Jer went around the lake one last time in the darkness….it was a magical day and Jer was so happy to be out in his favorite kayak on this day and to spread some “solstice cheer” to creatures great and small, who call Heron Lake home!

Happy Holidays to one and all!

Written by Jerry Welch Resident of Heron (aka Miller) Lake – Portage Lakes, Akron OH

Dedicated to the memory of Derek Hutchinson, kayaker / adventurer – who passed away 10/12