1. FROM A WRITING RETREAT THIS SUMMER
Shimmering like white starburst fireworks, sun on gentle waves. Air is still. Calm before the storm? Heat hangs heavy in the late afternoon stillness. There is scarcely any movement. I am deeply at peace.
So many water metaphors. Diving deep, touching bottom, not touching bottom.
Water and air mutual — water, H2O, contains oxygen and hydrogen. So does air. Air contains water particles, humidity, condensation, inside and outside all the same.
A moment of deep ache inside my ankle. Cheek tight with water. I didn’t want to open my eyes underwater, unsure of what toxins might lurk in the cold, cold waters of Lake Michigan. But I did. It was reflex. But I didn’t want to. But I did.
2. FROM A WRITING CLASS
Remembering a moment of light, diamonds, a starscape, galaxies of stars, rippling, dancing on the surface of the lake. A moment of grace, suspended, hardly daring to breathe, afraid of disturbing the numinousness of the moment, of somehow affecting what the lake was doing. Dancing stars — wasn’t there a TV show called something like dancing stars? — this gave the term a whole new meaning, a wondrousness — indescribable, ineffable, fleeting. Tiny pinpoints of light, tipping the ripples with so much pure sunlight it was painful to look at, so I looked away — and when I looked back it was gone. The water still rippled, still sparkled, but not with galaxies of tiny diamonds, not the same, not like this. The moment, gone forever.
Like all moments. This moment, and now this one. And now this. Gone too.
Yet it tugs at memory. No, not tugs. It’s rebuilt, in perfect detail, by memory. Memory. Not as reliable as we think. The brain does all kinds of wild, crazy things to build memory. Each time you remember something, you remember it differently, but you’re not aware of remembering it differently before. Another good reason to write things down.
I just saw a documentary about brain research that shows that even the moment, each actual moment, is constructed by the brain based on past experience in combination with objective reality — there’s a tiny lag between when your eyes physically see something and when you register perceiving it, during which the brain builds a picture, moment by moment. The image of the trillions of neurons firing is so much like the galaxies of diamonds reflecting off the water. Connections — neural pathways — the water itself.
Pause. Long pause to feel into this moment, where there’s no water reflecting anything, only filtered sunlight illuminating a patch of pine flooring. This moment, hungry. Cheese.
3. THE VERY NEXT DAY AFTER OUR CLASS
More light reflected on water. In the canoe, finally. Pointing the bow towards the sparkling, shimmering, diamonds-under-halogen path drawn by hot sun on the ripples of the lake, Twelve Mile Lake, big enough to have real waves, but not today. Alone in the canoe, facing the stern, paddle drawing through the water in complete silence, dip it once and keep it there, turn it at the end of the stroke so it’s parallel to the boat, slide it alongside to the top of the next stroke, pull, turn, glide, pull turn glide, repeat, repeat, till you get there.
Following the path of sunlight dancing on the water, sunlight drawing me in, pulling me to itself, elusive. Just when I think I’ve caught up with it, it dances ahead of me. Follow me! Follow! Follow the light.
Can’t go wrong with that. Pull, turn, glide. Follow beckoning light. Breathe.
Turning the canoe around now — an exercise in patience, allowing, just letting the turn unfold. There is no hurrying a 180-degree turn in a canoe. Swinging the bow around just takes the time it takes, and no matter what you do or what you may think of it, it still has to complete its arc.
Turning back toward shore always looks so different, reading the language of docks and trees being a learned skill for me, not one that comes naturally, not carved on my DNA the way it might be for those who were born on these lakes.
Light behind me now, escorting me back to shore, where I make a textbook-perfect landing, carving a deep vee in the sand exactly where I want it, then hopping out, tying up the canoe with the yellow braided plastic rope, and turning around once again, to swim in the light, entangled in the diamonds under halogen shimmering gleaming sparkling on the water.
Immersed in light, in this moment, I am free.