The northern Michigan lake waters were undulating with energy, striated with transparent blues that changed with the angle of sunlight. I sat on the dock and watched waves roll onto the rocky shore like a long exhalation, then listened to the inhalation as they pulled back. In the distance, the others were horsing around on a floating dock so I took off my glasses and jumped into the jade-to-navy depths. There would be time to sit and daydream later when the sun went down.
The water rushed over my legs and arms, covered my head. I opened my eyes enough to make out shadows and shapes beneath me. Swaying plants tried to entangle me, bits of muck floated up from the bottom then floated on. As I swam further out the sediment settled, the waters cleared. I could spot fish darting this way and that and sometimes felt them skim by my legs or nibble my toes. Though I was not conversant in the fine art and science of fishing, I loved their names as well as delicious flavors: perch, bluegill, yellow bass, trout, pike, whitefish. I dearly wished my parents fished. I enjoyed observing those who cast their lines patiently, admiring the skills of such a peaceful pursuit.
We played on and around the floating dock for hours, forgetting about the sun’s power to singe our skin after the initial slathering of baby oil. We engaged in uproarious cannonball jumping contests that left our skin smarting. I loved to dive and practiced making my body taut and thin and swift like a knife as it sliced through the lake’s ever-moving surface. On the way back up I followed the stremas of light, finally shooting up and out, silent, at ease. I felt at home surrounded by lake life.
Nearby powerboats showed off, young men and women demonstrating their prowess behind the wheel. I knew I would be waterskiing before the week-end was over and anticipation surged through me. There was nothing like the experience of being tugged through the water, legs straining to hold up cumbersome skis, the tips just out of the water, then that tug becoming a force that yanked me up so I could ride the surface. It was either stand tall, use every muscle in thighs, torso and arms to keep balanced and upright or fall, sputtering, into a choppy wake. Once up and steady, gliding and zigzagging across water was an explosive thrill for body and mind.
And then there were canoes, sailboats, and rowboats. I was happy in any of them. As I floated and bobbed near the edge of the lake, I searched unruly undergrowth as shapes and sounds caught my attention. Birds rose and darted and sang. Birches, pines, beeches and maples and oaks with all their variances of beauty filled me with appreciation. Serenity ruled.
In the evening I would gather with family, friends or neighbors on a rough lawn overlooking the lake to watch fall the lemony-orange globe of sun, that brilliant overseer of daytime whose light gave way to a phantasmagoria of color. And then arrived deep mystery of darkness.
Nature revealed itself differently in the soft charcoal black of evening. After we played the fireflies’ “catch-as-catch-can” game, their luminescence like blessings, a wall of sound surrounded us. Frogs’ light or bass voices, crawling and flying and biting insects, flip-flops of fish, the lake’s shushing vocalizations, four-legged creatures scampering and scratching, winged things (birds and bats vied for air space) with their odd Morse codes. Nothing was as emblematic of lake country as the eerie yodel of the loon, the song floating through the night. With red eyes peering from its elegant black head, its white and black striped body bobbing along, it was startling in its grave loveliness.
Later, someone might light a fire and bring out hot dogs, then marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers for S’mores. The talk would be generous, easy, traded with quietness that soothed. I would slip away, back down to the dock. Let my feet find the water, its silken coolness sleeking my skin. The fragrances of lake country claimed me, a damp muskiness of earth and fecund sweetness of water, both rare, ancient perfumes. Across the water were lights of more cottages and cabins, other campfires, and they were cast onto water in an ethereal pulsing necklace of gleaming points.
Above, the celestial map of heaven where stars looked to me as if they held all the wisdom if only I could only fly up to meet them. The moon illuminated the lake realms with an opalescent swatch of light, gentle and steady, powerful and unattainable.
I was filled with God’s Presence. I felt whole in and of myself, yet taken beyond the small self that sat upon a weathered dock. I felt flung far beyond yet held close to my body’s confines. Nothing could have convinced me I was not counted as a thread in that perfect, fathomless tapestry because I knew my place in it. Integral to planet earth and the universe. And I felt utterly safe.
This is why blue-green is my color of enchantment: it is the waters of my youth. It is the color of open sky and towering trees in the northern woodlands. It is the night air as twilight bridges afternoon and evening. It is the color that heals, that illuminates, soothes, brings forth living energy within parts of me that are deepest and wildest and ever seeking–and finding–God.
Today I let my heart write. For most of the afternoon I had not one idea, an unusual occurrence for someone who can write the moment pen touches paper or fingers hit keys. I was distracted by musings about a daughter who has been called to pastor a small Presbyterian church in northern Michigan. It is a place she values and, after years living in other states, she is coming full circle. She once resided near the very church she will oversee. In fact, she reclaimed and grew her faith less than an hour away, then embarked on the demanding journey to become the person and minister she is today.
I understand some of the significance of her return to the area. I was there her earliest days, later followed her stumbles and triumphs through time and distance. I know some of the cost of her work, her losses and gains. But beyond that our family of seven often visited the northern lakes and woods for happy vacations, stayed with her paternal grandmother and great grandmother not far from where she will be making her own home. Now she will design another adventure, each year another exploration and revelation.
Her tie to this country and to God awakened some of my own past today. My connection to northern Michigan country goes back over fifty-five years. My parents never owned a week-end home but we knew many people who did and who graciously invited us. It has been a long tradition for scores of families to “go up north” for the week-end or holiday getaways for snow skiing and snowboarding and also each summer, if possible. So we would follow the caravan of cars, trucks and vans along I-75 to scores of lakes. Michigan has 11,000 such inland lakes. There are 3,000 miles of Great Lakes coast. There is plenty of water for everyone.
Going up north was a joyous occasion. The bountiful landscapes called to me with an intensity I can only partly describe but recall viscerally though I have been gone from Michigan for 22 years. The breathless wonder I felt along those pine-strewn pathways, amid ghostly, stately birches; the joy that arose with scents and permutations of lake waters; the peace that entered my being like osmosis as I wandered ragged shores–it was a gift every time. It was no small salvation to be up north as I attended what is now called Interlochen Arts camp, where the arts and nature combine to provide powerful creative energies. My childhood and youth were rocked by life-changing trials. To my relief I early on discovered nature provided a conduit for God’s presence that I sometimes could not otherwise locate. Here was indelible proof that there was order, grace, symmetry, reliability, perfection amid irregularity, possibilities emerging from devastation and renewal from sudden loss.
The lakes, the forests, the secret, complex pulse points of places that returned hope and its innocence to my childhood were cherished. I called upon them as one calls upon Ominpotence for rescue. God heard me; I, God. There, I was righted when I faltered. With the singsong rhythms of the lake, Divnity sang old, regenerative songs. Within the seasons of the wild was the promise of permanency as all else shifted around and within me. There, kneeling on a piney cushion under trees, gazing out over the rippling water, emerging into sun and winds that polished my skin, I learned the earth’s story. It was courageous and wise. The outdoors gave wings to a weighted soul and guided me toward a faith that could not be contained within brick and glass, nor practiced only before an altar. This faith journey had its passage guided by a compass of the stars, which never left me, which never dimmed.
Along the way, happiness always returned. How could it not, with birds nesting and calling out? How could it not, with the rise of sun casting gold on water and the wind sculpting waves of teal, silver and sapphire? I would have never known that life could be so abundant, infused with delicacy and strength without those nights and days of water’s tales, campfires and fireflies unmasking the darkness and revealing miracles within enchanted lands.
Daughter, I know what calls to you. I have heard it, too. It is the voice of Almighty God that never sleeps, that cannot forsake us, that will not promise more than can and will be given. It is life lived in the center of the universe, inside the heart of a wood, in the great chalice of a lake and sky, in the opening of our hearts and hands: a victorious message offered all humankind.
(For Caitilin, may your days and nights be imbued with Love)