Judith had never driven a boat on the lake of that park. After a forecast rain of young summer from midnight until late morning, it was a little cold and windy in the afternoon, which caught many people off guard. Reckoning that the weather would be as warm and sunny as the past couple of days, they sallied out without pulling on their overcoats. Occasionally, Judith would hear someone complaining toward the sky of the unexpected cold front.

Having bought an hour’s ride at the ticket booth, Judith sauntered to Pier 2 and picked a four-seat boat with a mosaic cover of canvas, which was low that she had to stoop to squeeze into the driver seat. The driving system consisted of a wheel and a three-way control knob indicating “forward”, “stop”, and “backward”. There was no one responsible for instructing you how to operate it, for it was easy enough to learn it by yourself.

Out on the open lake, the wind was still blowing (or just breathing, it’s only a matter of perspective), plashing the otherwise flat, mirrored waters into a wrinkled face, restless but eerily sublime if she could be there at midnight, listening, sensing all alone, Judith thought. She was now feeling chilly, afraid of catching a cold, but the lake’s legal residents weren’t. Wearing their natural coats, the geese and mandarin ducks fed by park keepers were feeling enviably at home in the frigid waters, gliding now this way, now that, and occasionally making a high-pitched honk that seemed to be greeting passers-by, or sending for their fellows a dozen paddles away. It’s particularly interesting to behold the source of this propelling power at work. Close up, you could see their slender hind legs and webbed feet flail rapidly underwater like a pair of drumsticks.

As Judith bobbed toward the center of the lake and began mingling with the early summer surroundings, a poignant vignette came in view: a mother duck swimming past the boat, followed by five cute little ones, obviously her children. The ducklings would now cuddle up to Mother into a big fluffy ball painted with alternate stripes of orange and black, then would scatter a little but remain under the watchful eye of Mother, knowing that they were still too puny to venture out alone. A mischievous girl, Judith hollered toward them, trying to startle them. At first, the duck family did flinch a little in response to Judith’s staccato shouts, but they drifted away soon after, leaving Judith to it, to her self-humiliating antics: these lakewise birds must have been aware that they were simply confronted by some innocuous human goofball.

One interesting part of boating is to cross the middle arch of a bridge: the driver has to maneuver the prow of their boat across the “gate”. While the “hole” is not that narrow, the driver still needs to be careful, or they would bump into one stony pillar, oftentimes accompanied by an amused laugh from the pavilion overhead, and the resulting vibration would send those who can’t swim into a panic. There were four or five bridges on the lake; Judith crossed them all one by one smoothly. She at this point had forgot the coldness as the sun gradually dispersed the steely clouds. She smiled when she noticed that her voice could be reverberating in the “hole”.

Something hilarious (or humiliating, it’s once again a matter of perspective) occurred at the end of the ride, when Judith returned the boat to the pier. She spent a good 15 minutes, during which she failed untold times, to pull up in place. Her hands were apparently too clumsy to execute that delicate “curve” by which a boat can gracefully slide into its designated berth. All the while a pier worker carrying a hooked pole stood by, sighing resignedly but being purposefully patient, as if it was some sort of privilege to witness this female driver making such a spectacle of herself on the waters. He must be laughing inwardly at me, Judith thought to herself. She also thought of the time when she was learning driving; she failed three successive driving tests until she had finally made it.

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