Crows are smart and daring, so the hawk stands no chance as the black band attacks and parries in unison, driving the large orange-tailed bird above a sandstone cliff rimmed with hemlocks. Eventually, he puts away his talons, flaps his wings and retreats.

Crows are smart and daring, so the hawk stands no chance as the black band attacks and parries in unison, driving the large orange-tailed bird above a sandstone cliff rimmed with hemlocks. Eventually, he puts away his talons, flaps his wings and retreats.

Squawks and caws pierce sky and echo over rock.

As my kayak drifts slowly along a tree-lined bank, I see the action unfold high in the clouds. It doubles on my level in a clear, unblemished reflection atop a calm, secret lake.

Not many have been on Lake Katharine, and it shows.

Sitting in a state nature preserve about 25 miles southeast of Chillicothe, it's a pristine, spring-fed pool without the scars of frequent use seen at so many Ohio lakes.

Lake Katharine's quiet waters lap into shallow marshes where fish dart among the grasses, and they kiss fallen pines that provide a midday perch for turtles and wading birds like the green heron. Inlets meander through thick, green forest and past outcroppings that resemble the rugged beauty of the Canadian outback.

To maintain the natural beauty, park managers hand out only five daily permits Friday through Monday from April to October. To get one, you call between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the last Friday of the month.

If that's not enough to keep you away, remember that you've got to carry everything - even your boat - down 80 steps to a small dock on the preserve's north side.

Anyone who's made it down will tell you it's worth the trip.

Neither ominous skies nor radio threats of dangerous weather would keep the fishermen I met in early May from their tiny window on the water. They trolled the lake as long as they had daylight, slowly stalking weed beds and submerged timber from end to end. They stopped only to stretch.

Every couple of hours, a pair would paddle their boat to the dock, lie flat atop the wooden slats and take a wider look at one of the world's truly great places.