Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The formation of vacation memories

The thing that I reliably forget when I go on a trip to a beautiful place, like the north shore of Lake Superior, is that all my ramped up, picture postcard visions of my journey will curl in the reality of it. I will take all my eagerness to see a moose, or my vision of the lake, or my dream of what peace is, to the actual place, and though everything looks right, when I unpack my carefully nurtured perfections, a wild wind immediately picks them up, whips them into the air, and dashes them into pieces on the rocks.

"Here I am then." I say.

My wife and I have come to this lovely Frank Lloyd Wrightesque house on the shore of Lake Superior for the second year in a row. Because we have been here, and at exactly the same time of year, it was easy to have held cherished visions of the place; the water, the view, the fires, the air, the birds, the stars. And though these visions do strangely seem to fall completely apart in the uneasy tumult of first arrival, after a day or so they mostly reassemble themselves into something wonderfully familiar, and yet entirely their own.

But I also had new ambitions for this trip. All that wild water out my door and at my feet stirred a longing to be on it. And while the rigamarole of testing and dragging up my inflatable canoe and all its attendant equipment stood as a barrier, as did my trepidation about the lakes mercurial tempestuousness, and my fear of its icy dangers, as I prepared to come here these barriers slowly broke down. That thought of me on the water, out there, part of the lake, looking up at our house rather than down at the water, floating out among the shorebirds, eye to eye with the wilderness, slowly peeled away every resistance I retained until, on the very first morning at the lake house, I was pumping up my canoe, assembling kayak paddles and life vests, and entirely ready to pursue the perfections and wonders of my small floating dream.

It was sunny and 70 degrees. The lake was much on the calmer side of its nature. I dragged the surprisingly heavy inflatable through the thick weeds and grasses and wildflowers while my wife brought our equipment. We struggled over the rocks to a suitable launching place, and we set off onto the largest freshwater lake in the world.

It was much as I presented at the beginning of my comments here. My precious visions of boating wonders, my postcard dreams, were picked up by the winds of reality and dashed to pieces on the rough stone shore. Then they were picked up by the wind and dashed some more. Then they were blown into the pine trees and ripped apart on their branches.

No, it was nothing dangerous or dramatic. The lake did not suddenly surge with despotic waves, nor did the sky abruptly peel over with darkness, issuing ominous bolts of thunderous light. It was all small things really, small but insurmountable.

My wife climbed into the boat and then I followed, my foot dowsing in freezing water as I pushed off and then immediately seizing with one of the bizarre and painful cramps my feet are prone to. As I struggled with this we oriented ourselves on the water and made sure of our ability to move up the shore, down the shore, away from the shore, and, most importantly, towards the shore. Right about at that point the swarms of biting flies found us.

The rest is a blur.

I remember looking up at our house. That was okay. And I remember seeing several of our neighbors houses along the shore, which only made me wonder how if one is going to spend a million dollars on a house why would one not focus on the beautiful and harmonious rather than on the Big and There, but admittedly my mood was not at its most forgiving by then. I have a vague sense of paddling, looking down to the stones in clear green water, and swatting. Oh, no, actually I remember the swatting clearly. I remember whacking two flies biting my knee and killing them both in a single blow. I think that was my major highlight of the whole excursion. I can remember clearly that I did not anticipate that that would be my highlight, but it was. I can even now feel the murderous triumph.

We came ashore, half stashed/half abandoned the boat, and hurried inside. I stood looking out the windows at the serene and beautiful lake in the sun. I was sweating. Sweating! I dislike sweating and feel I should be free of it if I'm going to come this far north, even in the summer, especially in the summer.

"I'm never going outside again!" I vowed to my wife.

The breeze slowly came in through the screens, and my brief flurry of sweating abated. It was quite nice in the house really. What a blissful and excellent plan to never leave it again. How wise and clever I was.

Then I heard the call of a strange bird. I scanned along our many windows searching for it, but I could not see it. I wanted to see it.

"Oh well." I said, and I stepped outside.

I walked along our long balcony following the sound of the bird. The bird flew off and disappeared, and I ended up on the the far corner of the balcony facing the woods just above where we landed our boat. The breeze was perfect. The air was wildly clean. The lake made a stirring and gentle noise on the shore that you could feel inside yourself. What was all this harmony everywhere? The world was illuminated. The miraculousness had a strange quality, and my eyes cast about for some kind of source. I looked down to the edge of the woods and saw it there, my glorious Lake Superior boating dream, dashed, by the wind and flies and cramps onto the rocks, blown into the trees and torn into thousands of pieces. There, under a gentle sun and soft light and pure air, under a clean heart and happiness, was every piece of that broken dream, identifiable now only as wildflowers.

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