Retreat

I slow my breath and my paddle
to enter this place
navigating carefully over submerged rocks
into the sudden calm between wooded islands.

Here
hidden from the wind of the open lake
there is silence
occasional birdsong
and the rhythmic drip of my upheld paddle
now at rest
as I drift through water so still and clear
I can trace the spiraling of water lily tendrils
all the way down to their silted bed.

My body too is still
and my senses alert.
I am waiting
hoping
remembering another morning
now summers ago
when
quietly rounding this last bend
I came face to face with a solitary loon
– close enough to see its red eye
glowing with primeval fire.

It was unafraid
unhurried
and I breathless
awed.
We were alone
together.

Already surprised
on my new kayak’s first foray
by the discovery of this secret lagoon
the meeting felt like an astonishing gift
like a promise.

So I return here
an annual pilgrimage
always hoping for another encounter
expecting it even
but finding only water insects
and my own longing.

Yet this year
this time
as I turn back into the wind
past ancient watermarked boulders
I am struck by the absence of the bird’s body
but the lingering of its presence here
through my memory, imagination
my expectation, my waiting
my leaving and my returning.

And, yes, this is how a thing becomes sacred –
a place
a moment
a life –
hallowed by what was and is and might be
by desire as much as its sometime fulfillment
by surrendering to the rhythm of presence and absence
to the gift of the fleeting moment
that asks us both
to linger and
to move on.

An unseen squirrel
who knows no other home than this
cries a warning.
It is time to leave.

I am reluctant
ready
strangely restored.

 

(Skiff Lake, July 2018)

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