Writing one of my favorite places: a nice way to spend the morning.

She checks the controls of the outboard motor by touch in the twilight, calming herself with routine. The motor catches with throaty confidence on the second pull, and she steers slowly out toward the bay. The boat lists as she leans out of the little wheelhouse, searching the surface for the telltale dimpling where patches of weeds lie just below, stringy stalks that will block an intake or tangle in a slow-moving propeller and set her uselessly adrift. Then, first gauntlet run, she cuts the throttle and drifts in the last sheltered, shadowed patch before she enters the open water, still bright in the sunset spilling through the cut. She looks both ways along the channel for the lights of other boats, then flips the switch for her own running lights. Contained as she is in the middle of the city, still there is no one looking at her patch of dark water this evening; no one sees the tiny bulbs flick on. She steps up on the narrow side deck, then pauses, holding tight to the handrail as the heavy-laden boat shifts and wallows, and the deck dips dangerously close to the water; but the craft is stable enough for her to make her way around, leaning down and reaching a hand to look for dim glows of red and green and white. This is no night to talk with the police who drift each sunset at the entrance to the lake, no night to answer questions about why the little boat floats so low in the water, what cargo she carries down the canal to its destination.

Reassured, she returns to the wheel and pushes the throttle gently forward, headed for the university boathouse, flanked by willows drooping nearly to the water. Silhouettes of cormorants gazing skyward line the treetops against the last light. She putters through the cut, bright with graffiti at the waterline. Cars whirr and clunk above as she passes under the first bridge, and then the concrete-lined passage opens out into the first bay, the lights of houses winking on the hill one side, the solid mass of university buildings looming on the other. The night-time chill rising off the water makes her glad of the warm jacket that she has zipped up to her chin, and she shoves one gloveless hand deep in her pocket. She pushes the throttle forward a touch more, setting a steady, polite pace around a buoy-marked dogleg, under another low, kachunking bridge and a high, roaring one. Sure enough, the police boat floats there, where the canal opens out to the lake, running lights almost lost in the jumbled reflections of houses and streetlights on shore. It is fully dark now, but the glow of city lights shows skyscrapers penciled against purple, and couples as dark silhouettes on a grassy hill; quiet voices drift from the brush at the water’s edge, then laughter, then the flash of a lighter. It is colder still as she rounds the buoy and heads for another pair of bridges, high and low, and she switches hands on the wheel. The canal narrows here; she slips past rusting hulks that have passed their usefulness in Alaska fisheries and silent boatyards that, in daylight, are full of shouts and whining power tools. In among the fishboats and drydocks are tucked run-down marinas where lights glow warmly and meals are cooking in boats not much larger than hers, the same blue tarps pitched over booms and swathing leaky bows, bicycles and masts and flowerpots swaying gently in her wake.