Of Water, Ice and Fog

In the water I am beautiful.
― Kurt Vonnegut

I grew up near Lake Michigan, although I really prefer to say that I grew up in Lake Michigan.  According to family stories, I swam in the big lake before I walked, and getting me out of the water at the end of the day was a challenge that often involved screeching, kicking, splashing and a basic all-around kerfuffle on all fronts.

On land, I was clumsy and slow-moving.  I tripped over my own feet and bumped into doorframes.  My family used to marvel at the way I managed to fall upstairs or stumble off the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit; I would skid on freshly-waxed floors or walk into low-hanging tree branches, and to this day I still cannot walk safely into a room with throw rugs.

But all of that vanished as soon as I hit the water.  I was in my element. I could glide beneath the surface, change directions, and stay under long enough to send my aunts into a panic.  When I dove and kicked in the water, my body would move along so gracefully that I felt long and lean and beautiful.  Strong.  It was the only place where I could be fluid and lovely in my movements.

I feared nothing in the water.  Oh, my aunts taught me early on to respect the Lake and all of its power, but not to fear it.  It was almost as if I had lake water in my veins instead of blood.

z5203lakewavy1

But time passes.  Little girls grow up and have to come out of the water eventually, changing and growing just as the lake changes with each passing season.  There is less time to swim and play and be beautiful in water; more time to buckle down and find a job, face life’s challenges, accept a life on dry land.

In the winter, Lake Michigan doesn’t freeze over in a nice, smooth sheet like a pond or inland lake.  It freezes in great jagged peaks and mounds that hide dangerous crevasses and air pockets.  It is beautiful and sometimes deadly.  A hiker out for an adventurous climb can sometimes disappear without a trace, without a cry.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth and Haley Andre

It takes courage to tackle the lake in its frozen form.  Courage that I lack.  I’ve never walked the ice or braved the pier in winter.  I’ve stayed safely on shore, no matter how ugly and clumsy that made me feel.

WINTRY WEATHER MICHIGAN

If we’re not careful, we can spend too many years standing on shore because it is just too scary to take a chance on the unknown.  We can congratulate ourselves on our wisdom in avoiding those hidden hazards; pat ourselves on the back for being the smart ones who know better than to take a silly risk.  We may miss out on some of the fun, we say smugly, but at least we will never disappear through a crevasse or air pocket without a trace, without a cry.

And then we wake up one morning and face the fog on the beach, only to realize that the ice is gone and we’ve missed our chances.   Opportunities can evaporate like the mist that drowns out the sunlight, and the mournful wail of the foghorn sounds like a lament of “Too late!  Too late!”

I want to swim again in summer, and feel beautiful once more.  I want to take off my practical shoes and not worry about how I look in a bathing suit, and I want to plunge beneath the surface again. And in the winter, I want to bundle up and take a chance.  For once in my life, I want to take a risk and climb on the ice with everyone else, before I disappear without a trace, without a cry.

I am ready for the ice in my veins to thaw into lake water.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly writing challenge: “Ice, Water, Steam.”

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/ice-water-steam/”>Ice, Water, Steam</a>

Seashells and Pinwheels

Describe your first memorable experience exploring and spending time in nature. Were you in awe? Or were you not impressed? Would you rather spend time in the forest or the city?

For me, “nature” doesn’t mean forest or city; it means water. 

My aunts bought The Seashell — as they named their beach house– when I was three years old, but family legend has it that they took my sisters and me to Lake Michigan on vacation even before that.  Aunt Marian used to tell stories about having to drag me, kicking and screaming, out of the water long after everyone else had tired of swimming.

The Lake was a big playground for us.  My aunts tried to teach us to respect it without fearing it, but I didn’t understand what they meant until the first time I went in the water when the Yellow Flag was up.

There were lifeguards on our beach back then, and they used a flag system to tell us how to treat the water every day.  Green Flag meant the water was calm and smooth and safe, Yellow Flag meant there was a certain degree of danger due to strong currents and high waves, and a Red Flag meant no swimming. Stay out.

I was probably about six or seven years old.  There were four aunts and three little girls, so we always had the full attention of at least one adult.  At all times.  In or out of the water.  We had reached the age where the aunts let us go in the water without them, as long as they were watching from the shore, and as long as the flag was green.  As the youngest, I still had to hold an adult’s hand in the water on Yellow Flag days.

On this particular Yellow Flag day, the aunts decided that I was ready to go in with  just my sisters. 

We were all just learning to bodysurf at that time, but hadn’t quite mastered the art of “reading” the water.  We would wait for the biggest wave, fling ourselves facedown into it with arms stretched out above our heads, and ride the current as far toward shore as possible.

We thought the biggest waves were the strongest.  Now I understand that a stong wave can be any size, but a wave that is muddy brown on top is a wave that is strong enough to gouge into the lake bottom and bring sand to the surface.  In other words, strong enough to knock you on your ass.

Which is exactly what happened.  Sort of.

The wave hit so hard that it drove my face into the bottom of the lake.  My legs went up and over like a crazy little-girl-pinwheel.  I came up for air and gulped down a faceful of the next wave as it crashed into me.  Then I went down again, scraping skin off my shoulder as I bounced along the lake bottom once more.

One of my sisters–I don’t remember which one–hauled me up by my hair and snapped, “Don’t cry or they’ll make us all get out!”

Cry?

I didn’t have time to cry.  I had to catch the next wave.  And the next. 

There is nothing in my life that has ever matched the feeling of being pounded and tossed about by Lake Michigan in her frenzy.  Helpless, disoriented, exhausted, waterlogged and almost afraid.  And starved.  I remember coming out of the water feeling like I could gnaw on some of my own extremities.

And I felt clean.  Inside and out.  Purged of all negativity.  I was recharged, body and soul.

When I battled the waves, I touched God.  And He touched me. 

I’ll never bodysurf again because it’s just too risky with my neck injury.  But I will always need to return to Lake Michigan when my spirit is aching or my soul is weak.  And when the lake is in a frenzy of crashing waves and flying spray, I can almost hear Him speaking to me, telling me to lean on Him.

And then I go home, strong enough to face the world again.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/daily-prompt-nature/