Island Adventure and an Impromptu Malacology Lesson

The sweltering temperatures of the first half of our family trip to the lake weren’t a fluke. The NOOT even has the audacity to claim that it’s my fault, since I planted those coffee cup elephant ears that are most enjoyable in the rain, certainly condemning us to drought for the rest of the summer. We’ve had the same hot weather for the last month and a half, and as a result, the lake is drastically lower than it was when we visited at the beginning of June.

The fluctuation in water level (very common on Truman Lake) in no way hinders exploration of the area’s natural wonders, and I’m always eager to discover what new phenomenon I’ll stumble upon. In a way, the changing water level makes the lake more like a river, always changing and becoming something not quite the same. And I can pretend that I get easily lost on the water because it always looks different, instead of the real reason, which is that I have no sense of direction.

The island I paddleboarded around before is now significantly larger with a good fifty feet of more recently exposed shore between the wooded interior and the water’s edge.

Kalen and I traipsed through the brush and I observed, “This is where I paddleboarded before.”
“Over there on the sand?” he asked.
“No, here. Where we are currently standing. The tops of these bushes were just poking out of the water.” It was, at least, an interesting comparison.

Before the rest of the family arrived, we had a couple of days with just the five of us: my parents, Kalen, Pippin, and me. The island’s gentle bank made it an easy place to land the boat and give Pippin a chance to run off some energy and hopefully cool off a little by wading on the shoreline. It also allowed him to do some land-based “business,” which I think we all appreciated keeping off the boat.

A portion of the island featured an unusual combination of sand and clay that felt like kinetic sand, but because the mixture wasn’t consistent, every four or five steps the ratio would swing clay-heavy and we’d sink in up to our knees. I don’t think it technically counted as quicksand, but it was the closest thing I’ve experienced (much to the relief of my much younger self, who feared quicksand would be a much more common obstacle than it has turned out to be, based on its frequent appearance in various cartoons; I also thought I would have seen more anvils by this point in my life).

Other places near the shore told the story of the various wildlife that had visited over night. Deer tracks coming and going from the shore spoke of does and fawns wading over from the mainland. Large bird tracks, likely blue herons but possibly egrets, could be seen in and out of the water. My favorites were the raccoon tracks with their humanoid handprints, thickly peppered over the shore and leading to a flat tree stump covered in shiny fish scales: a dinner table for a tiny, triumphant masked fisherman.

We pondered the motivations of mollusks as we saw their tracks in the shallow waters, often turning in circles and making loops. One track still featured the mussel in question who had scooted in a straight line for two and a half feet before making a 90 degree right turn. I’m still at a loss as to why it might do that. I also don’t know what happened to the mussels whose tracks were still visible but the mussels were nowhere to be seen. I would suspect the herons or raccoons, but their tracks weren’t nearby, so maybe mussels can swim away?

A quick diversion: I decided I shouldn’t be lazy and maybe ought to do a little research on Missouri’s freshwater mussels instead of just shrugging “idk, maybe it swims?” I’m so glad I did because there are some mussels with spectacular names. There is a species of freshwater mussel in Missouri called the “fatmucket,” and I lost several minutes laughing at that. Also had a laugh at the “giant floater.” Can’t overlook “purple wartyback (purple pimpleback)” as though “pimpleback” is somehow less disgusting than “wartyback.” And someone at the Missouri Department of Conservation deserves a raise. The list of 40 mussels offers a brief description of each one before you click to further information about any specific mussel. It seems the person writing the descriptions was really trying despite grappling with boredom because some of these descriptions are gold. You can peruse them all here, but I’ll share my favorite, the “monkeyface” mussel, which clearly inspired the most professional way to say, “hell if I know…”

Image of Monkeyface mussel, Quadrula metanevra with the description, "Finding the monkey's face in this mussel's shell is left up to the imagination."
I’m genuinely thrilled that my tax dollars and fishing license helped this happen in even the tiniest way.

I still don’t know whether mussels can actually swim, but we’d better get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Because it was so warm and Pippin has a lot of thick fur, we did our best to entice him to wade in a little deeper than he normally would. He’s happy to wade, but he’s never been a fan of swimming, despite countless well-meaning strangers’ frequent professions that he looks like a Labrador retriever (he doesn’t, particularly, largely because he isn’t). One end of the island had a shallow crossing to a much smaller island and with only a little coaxing (and demonstrating that we could walk across with the water only up to our knees), he made the crossing and then whizzed around the island several times with an exultant case of the zoomies.

Mom and Dad trolled the boat toward the island to pick us up and, in his excitement to see them, Pippin did swim out to the boat, just a little bit. He tried to jump into the back of the boat, missed, and tried again. The water was only about three feet deep, which is certainly shallow enough that he could keep his head above water and still reach his back paws to the ground, so he jumped a second time and caught the back of the boat with his front paws. Dad stepped to the back and lifted Pippin by his harness, and to our amazement and relief, narrowly avoided somersaulting directly into the water. In classic Pippin fashion, he showed his gratitude to Dad by running between his legs, which again nearly sent Dad overboard. I wish I had video or pictures of the debacle to share of with you because it was certainly entertaining. You’ll just have to imagine it, much like the monkey’s face in the monkeyface mussel.

Even near the marina there are often exciting things to see. There were several turtles bobbing around the fish cleaning station eating scraps tossed away by fisherman. I love how the word “turtle” seems to not only fit with the animal itself but also how it moves, both in and out of the water. I can’t explain how, but it’s a good and appropriate word, almost onomatopoetic. Good job, whoever invented that word.

There are also otters that visit the marina from time to time, and while I didn’t see any on this trip, I have seen one there before, which was both startling and thrilling, especially when I discovered that the hacking, barking noise was not a yappy dog with kennel cough that had fallen off the dock when its owner was not paying attention.

We did see a Mysterious Blob. Realistically I want to believe it is some sort of egg cluster, but I just watched the episode of Wellington Paranormal with the fatberg monster, and it looked eerily similar, so I’m not so sure anymore. If anyone from the Missouri Department of Conservation or the Paranormal Unit of the Wellington Police Department is reading this, I’d love your input, although I do understand that Mysterious Blobs, normal or para-, may vary significantly between New Zealand and the Ozarks.

If anything suspicious happens at the marina, we’ll know we’ve discovered another cryptid. Be thinking of clever names, just in case. I like “Nessie” but I fear that one’s already taken. If you’ve got something better, or have any other thoughts you’d like to share, leave a comment!

6 thoughts on “Island Adventure and an Impromptu Malacology Lesson

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  1. Love the retelling of your adventures! Not sure what to name that mysterious blob. Sure looks like an internal organ of some kind! 😳

    1. It does, doesn’t it? Like a very unhappy liver. I’ve asked Dept of Conservation about it on Instagram, so we’ll see what they have to say!

  2. Pigtoe and sheepnose are pretty funny names, too! Thanks for writing. Are you home now? Have not seen you walking Pippin yet.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Brenda! Yes, we got home on Tuesday, but have been walking fairly early in the morning before it gets too warm for Pippin.

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