Three o’clock in the afternoon and I find myself with an open hour. It’s one of the first real days of summer, sun blazing in a clear sky. Today I remember that we live by the lake, so I head down the road to the dock at my mother-in-law’s.
I take off my shoes and sit on the end of the dock with my feet dangling into the water. I close my eyes. The breeze over the lake creates small waves that lap, lap, lap against the pilings below where I sit. The water smells pleasantly of algae. This lake odor evokes memories of summers past.
I sat in this very spot within minutes of arriving to this place for the first time 35 years ago. Willie and I were dating. It was the summer after our junior year of college. He was staying in the northwoods for the summer and I was working in Michigan. I came to visit, arriving late at night, well after sunset. Willie brought me down to the dock in the dark. The light of the moon and stars was dim, due to cloud cover. With the humidity, the night was a thick, viscous blackness. The lake level was low. Our feet hung over the end of the dock, but did not reach the water. Not being able to see, it felt as if I was on the edge of a precipice, with the water dangerously far below. Only Willie’s arm around me kept me safe from falling into nothingness.
Flash forward to Jazz as a toddler. She was fiercely independent and reluctantly took my hand as we approached the lake. We walked onto the dock, squatted near the edge and peered over at the small fish swimming in the shallows. In her delight, she turned and kissed me on the cheek.
Moving forward again to pre-teen Jazz. She and her cousins spent the summer together at Grandma’s. I was visiting for a short vacation and was with the girls on the dock. The four of them, all a little pudgy as they transitioned from their little girl bodies, were swimming, sunbathing, and laughing at nonsensical jokes. I was the outsider, taking my turn as the tolerated, but ignored, supervising adult.
Jazz at 17, recently graduated from high school. The two of us alone in our bikinis – diving off the end of the dock, swimming in the cold lake until the chill forced us out of the water to lie in the warming sun. And then the heat sent us back into the wet to renew the cycle. She had accepted me again as her mother and friend.
Returning to the present, I look across the lake and see two bald eagles fishing. They are perched in a tree along the water’s edge. One takes flight, gliding perhaps fifty feet above the glassy surface. Suddenly he pulls in his wings and, like a weighted arrow, he drops. As he reaches lake level he pulls up, legs out and talons wide. His feet skim under the water and then he is up again with a fish thrashing in his grip. He retreats to the tree, while his partner takes off in a repeat performance.
Once sated, the birds rise from the tree in unison. They ascend in large spirals, one following the other, until they are small black specs circling ever higher. I know they are soaring at such great heights for the pure joy of flying. Want of this experience drew me to learn to paraglide.
High above the Alps, I have communed with eagles, sharing an upward current of air, me in my glider, eagle at my wingtip, climbing away from the earth. Pure joy in the absolute freedom – feeling totally at home and at peace in my body, while at the same time, infinitely connected to the universe.
My hour of free time is over. I stand up, face the lake, and give thanks. I breathe deeply, capturing the lake air in my lungs to carry with me until next time.