“I’m just swimming au naturelle,” he lied smoothly.

In children’s fables, the crafty trolls lived in the shadowy worlds of tunnels beneath bridges.

My troll preferred the trail above the tunnel, where he walked back and forth above the parapet.

Buck nekkid.

© Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great blue heron female taking off from nest, while her mate tends their eggs.

The great blue herons had laid their eggs about three weeks earlier, and I was eager to see if the adults were still on the nest, incubating them.

© Babsje (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

To reach the island and the great blue herons’ nest, I would need to paddle inside this narrow tunnel, one of my favorite spots.

The nest was a couple of miles from the boathouse, usually a pleasant twenty-minute kayak trip due south. I would paddle the length of middle lake, under the stone bridge, past the softly flowing waterfall, and emerge at the top of south pond just as I had done hundreds of times before.

As I approached the tunnel, a flash of movement from the path above caught my eye. A shirtless man was moving first towards the bushes at the right, and then he reversed direction and walked eastwards weaving amongst the bushes.

His behavior up there seemed a bit odd, but I was anxious to get to the herons, and so slipped inside the tunnel and was on my way after one last glance up at him. Exiting the tunnel, I exchanged pleasantries with two other kayakers. It felt reassuring to know I wasn’t the only one around that day.

The next hour was enthralling – the adult herons did their “changing of the guard ritual,” with the male arriving to relieve the female, who had been sitting on the nest. Sometimes the hand-off is perfunctory: the incoming bird swoops in unceremoniously and simply takes over the nest, while its mate departs quickly. Other times, they engage in pair-bonding rituals, greeting each other with elaborate courtship and greeting displays. This day, they captivated me with their feathery displays, spending some time together at the nest before the female took off.

Satisfied with my visit with the herons, I headed back in for the day after an hour. Just past the waterfall, I encountered the same two women kayakers seen earlier in the day.

One paddled right up to me and asked, “Did you see the naked guy?”

Uh oh, not only was the “shirtless man” I had seen atop the tunnel parapet “shirtless,” he was also pantsless.

The two women headed on their way and I turned towards the tunnel, heading back to the boathouse.

There on the path above the bridge once again (or perhaps not once again, but rather “still”) was the man – buck naked – walking across the top of the tunnel.

And there I was with my camera stashed below decks. What a photo op that was and I missed it.

He followed the path as it curved along above the shore, and ducked behind some shrubs, but not before he saw me seeing him.

We stared at each other, me from my kayak yards away in the cove, he on the shore, wrapping a blue towel around his waist.

For many people, it might have been a funny situation, but I was frightened. On the one hand, rationally, I knew I was safe in my kayak (unless he was the sort inclined to have a weapon), but I felt frozen by fear. In the past, I had been on the receiving end of several incidents of “violence against women” at the hands of strangers (such as stalking, rape, arson), and so this stranger’s strange behavior brought back a deeply-ingrained panicky urge to get away from him.

There we were, looking at each other. I didn’t want to upset him, wanting to appear nonchalant lest I do something that would incite him to try to follow me home later.

I mean, what do you say to a naked man parading around, and so I blurted out an inanity about the lovely weather that day.

To which he lied, “I’m just swimming au naturelle.”

Deep breath.

I paddled on through the tunnel, and once in the cove, phoned the encounter in to the boathouse.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the boathouse half an hour later and was told they caught him. The state Environmental Police and town police converged on the trail and when they caught him, he was still walking around on the path naked.

I didn’t press charges and the police made sure he understood that the lake is not a “clothing optional” sort of place.

I love happy endings.

But ever since that day, I can’t slip inside that tunnel in my kayak without first scanning the nearby shore and bushes and the trail above the parapet, looking out for the naked guy.

One day this past summer, I saw him again, in the exact same spot, walking back and forth across the trail above the tunnel. I had to do a double-take because he looked naked once again, but when I got the binoculars focused, I could see what he was wearing: light tan/flesh-colored socks, light tan/flesh-colored shorts, and a light tan/flesh-colored shirt. Just an illusion of being nekkid. Lol.

I love funny endings.

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This week, Erica challenged us with the topic of the way our perspective changes as we age. I mentioned in the post above having first-hand experience of violent acts at the hands of strangers. There are subtle scars that can result from those sorts of situations, reactions and memories that would be triggered in most any woman survivor, coping strategies we adapt for protection. Having been stalked more than once, I no longer drive a car. (In one state where I lived, anyone could go to the motor vehicle registry and pay less than $5.00 to get the home address of any license plate number.)

So, I don’t drive BUT I do kayak. I have discovered as I have grown older the liberation of being on the water with the great blue herons. It is a floating meditation. I’ll write more about that one day.

Actually, I’ve been writing that in one way or another all along.

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Thanks to Paula for her Thursday’s Special Non-Challenge Challenge.

Thanks to Krista and WordPress for the Daily Prompt: Brilliant Disguise. (What a brilliant disguise, for the formerly-nekkid guy to wear flesh-colored clothing to give the appearance of being naked. How funny that was.)

Thanks to Josh R and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside.

Thanks to Erica and WordPress for the Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years.

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A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Five Crows is on FaceBook. To give the gallery a visit, please click here.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

© 2014 Babsje. (https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com)

Great Blue Heron

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Posted on March 15, 2014, in ardea herodias, Art, daily prompt, DPchallenge, Great Blue Heron, Humor, Kayaking, Nature, Photography, postaday, Thursday's Special, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wildlife Photography, WPLongform and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. I enjoyed your story Babsje and though your heron photo is superb I particularly like a pic of your favourite tunnel :D. I am impressed with heron family organisation – people should take lessons from them 😀

    • Hi Paula, many thanks for your thoughtful comment, and I’m glad you like this post. You’re right about heron families, especially when it comes to incubating the eggs. Another fascinating bird is the osprey. When a female is sitting on the nest, the male does the fishing for the two of them. When he catches a fish, he takes one half of the fish to his mate, and only keeps the other half for himself. Touching.

  2. Such an interesting story, Babsje. I would also have been shocked and frightened. Maybe he is quite harmless and just loves being naked, but I do hope you don’t encounter him again. Your pic of the female heron is really awesome. 🙂

  3. Beautiful photos, I love the way you captured the heron’s take off but the symmetry of the tunnel is my favourite . Thank you and here’s wishing you safe kayaking always. Why do some men flaunt their nude bodies to all and sundry? It isn’t their most attractive parts and it isn’t because I don’t like men because I was married for 44 years. We have a man here in England that is arrested for this offence, released and then reoffends almost immediately.I have never heard of any women doing so.

    • Thank you for visiting and commenting, I’m glad you like the tunnel photo. That stone block tunnel is a gem, it’s not very wide and when the water is running high, not even wide enough to hold a paddle properly. After some tropical storms, the water streams in a strong current with visible whirlpools. Fascinating to see, unlike the exhibitionistic man. Odd hobby that character in England has!!

  4. As always, thank you for sharing your lovely photos and well-written stories. Today I also applaud your strength and perserverence – you have not let your past experiences define you or keep you from savoring the gifts of nature.

  5. I would have been scared, too. There are too many weirdos in the world today. Beautiful heron picture.

  6. I love the top photo-the angle of the bird and branch is stunning-

  7. My motto is more specific…Walk softly and carry a Canon!! Evidence!!

    Sorry you had an unpleasant scare though! Wonderful that you can kayak out to your nesting herons!! Great exercise and scenery too can’t be beat!!

    • Good motto, Judy! I had the Canon with me, but no way to discreetly get it out from under the front deck. Not that the guy was being discreet, himself, though.

  8. I love how Mr. GBH is lined up with the branch!

  9. I love the title of your post! There are some strange people in this world of ours – your experience does sound alarming.

    • Thanks for your comment. It was a bit unsettling, but the town police were quick to have a word with him so it wouldn’t happen again. I’m glad you like this one.

  10. This was a very interesting read. It’s not often you see a naked dude hanging out on a river with kayakers. Glad you got to see the herons though. We have a few on the lake I live on, and sometimes they’ll perch on our dock and stay very still. Some people think we have a heron statue for our dock that we only put out some of the time.

    • How interesting. Some people actually do place Heron ‘decoy’ statues out to deter them. I’ve never seen one in person, but there are scarecrow owl statues on several nearby docks here. Glad you like this one. Thanks.

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