Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Lake

E. B. White wrote an evocative, haunting essay, "Once More To the Lake," about taking his young son to the same lake White had vacationed at with his family as a child. It is a moving commentary on time, generations, and mortality.

This past September, Warren and I made a trek to a lake, although, unlike White, this was not one I had frolicked in as a child. In fact, it was a lake I had never seen before. On my very short list of things I want to accomplish in my lifetime is standing, wading, or swimming in all five Great Lakes. I'd knocked off Erie, Ontario, and Michigan decades ago, but never managed to get to Huron or Superior. Early September found us on our way north, to the Upper Peninsula, to finish the cycle.

It was a great trip, no surprise there. It was full of good food (most of it local), great sights (a giant Paul Bunyan!), and lots of time for me and Warren to be away from our daily lives and focus just on one another. By weekend's end, I'd stood in both lakes and fulfilled a long-held goal.

What I did not count on was being so totally captivated and mesmerized by Lake Superior. Almost five months later, I can close my eyes and still feel its pull.

Lake Superior is the largest and deepest and fiercest of the Great Lakes. It has a deep booming voice that one hears long before catching a glimpse of it. Depending on the shoreline, the waves are gentle lappers, firm, steady rollers, or powerful whitecaps all on the same sunny day and sometimes within less than a quarter mile of each other. I can only imagine what it must look and sound like at the height of a winter storm.

When we drove to Lake Superior, Ramona was only a week old and my thoughts were often on her out in Oregon. All of the land surrounding Lake Superior was once Anishinaabe land; the Anishinaabe these days are the Ojibwe or Chippewa tribes. The tribal presence is greatly reduced in this modern era, but I could not walk the sandy paths to the lake without feeling a strong, spiritual presence permeating the air. I found myself thinking of an older Ramona, a little girl, and wanting to bring her to Lake Superior and show her this, this magnificent expanse of sky and water that her people once came from.

Along with the whitefish and the local doughnuts, I tasted briefly a strong dose of regret that I had never been to Lake Superior with my own sons when they were boys. Don't misunderstand me: they had some great vacations when they were little, including days spent at Lake Erie. But something about the Upper Peninsula, about Lake Superior, about the weekend, made me wish for just one swift moment of being a young mother again and showing my two young sons the vast lake and exploring its rock strewn beaches.

We carried some rocks home from Lake Superior. Warren picked up his rocks in memory of his mother, Ellen, who had an affinity for picking up rocks on her travels. I searched for a small rock for Ramona, and then picked up a few small ones—more pebbles than anything—for myself. Ramona's rock recently went off to Portland; mine sit on my desk.

Lake Superior rocks are smooth and round from the constant churning of the waves. I sometimes rub one of them between my fingers, feeling the velvety contours, then closing my eyes and listening once more to the lake.

1 comment:

see you there! said...

I've never visited any of the Great Lakes so enjoyed your description. That photo of the smooth rocks makes me want to run my hands through them.