catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 9 :: 2009.04.24 — 2009.05.08


Waiting, on the lake

Birch tree

the birds the bugs even the trees Boss
everybody thought I was a goner
when I was only resting in the field
I wonder what I looked like then
a warm stone waiting for the wind
that’s what happens isn’t it Boss you
make everything smoother whether
it wants to go that way or not…
Maurice Manning, From “XXIII” in Bucolics

As I woke up at ten this morning, I remembered all those childhood Saturday mornings I spent in and around this cottage, waiting.  I was definitely a single-digit riser, almost always in the sevens, and I’d spend a few hours biding my time until my best-cottage-friend Becky woke up in her family’s place two doors down.  She was double-digits for sure, even as a kid, and it was all I could do to keep myself from knocking on their back door, peering through the dusty metal screen to see if the TV was on yet.

I haven’t seen the sevens much during this week at the family cottage on Pleasant Lake, and if I have, I’ve rolled over and shut my eyes against them.  I’m on vacation after all, and for better or worse, I’ve outgrown my early rising habits.  My husband Rob and I have spent hours upon hours reading, basking in sunshine, listening to music.  Becky’s dad Bruce, who’s in town landscaping around the miniature lake palace that has replaced their original 1953 cottage, catches us on our way back from an afternoon walk.  He and Sam Adams are taking a little break together in the garage.  “Are you on Facebook?  You should look Becky up.  Yeah, she still goes by Becky.”  Maybe when I return to civilization.  These are lazy days.  Internet-free days.  Double-digit days.

And yet, there’s a voice-sounding very much like my own-that nags me, saying that if I’d just rise a bit earlier, there would be more hours to enjoy: more hours to sit out by the lake, listening to the wind chimes and geese and far-off lawnmowers and roosters.  More hours to enjoy the lapping of the water against the seawall, the sunshine that lightly toasts my knees while I read, the cold gray-white of the bare birch branches against the clear spring sky.  More hours to plow through my stack of memoirs, fiction and poetry.

You see, Rob and I have forgotten how to vacation and we’re trying to remember.  Or perhaps we never knew how in the first place.  We’re trying to push pause whenever the familiar reel of the Next Big Plan starts playing.  We’re trying to understand that doing nothing is doing something-or perhaps creating space to be done unto.  Sleeping in is a big par

t of that remembering.

And I think it might be working.  I’ve come to think of myself as a standoffish sort, not impolite, but not “nice” in the way we often describe people who are exceptionally warm and friendly and gracious, even to strangers.  And yet, when we run into town for groceries, I discover an urge rising in myself to smile at everyone.  I feel…buoyant.  Maybe I am a genuinely nice person after all, but the stress of an unbalanced life has gotten in the way.  Maybe there’s a new me on the horizon.  Maybe, as I enviously heard someone say recently, “I’m a hugger.”


I settle back into my Adirondack chair and take in the landscape around me, as I’ve spent many hours doing in the past week.  For the third day in a row, the sky is azure and I slept until ten.  It will be seventy degrees again, but the fair-weather sky forms a background for birch branches still bare from the winter winds that whip across the frozen lake, scaring new leaves deep, deep inside.

I think about the wisdom bred in birches that know how to wait.  The failure to produce green and give shade, as trees do in a way that makes them trees, is not a failure after all, even on seventy-degree days in April, but a waiting-a necessary time, perhaps, of being done unto.  A premature leaf may yet be startled to death by the memory of winter borne from the north on an unpredictable Midwestern wind, and so they wait for something that knows when it is safe for the young ones to open their eyes.  Their waiting is good, suiting later tree-ish purposes in a different and indispensable way.

Beyond the pair of birches in my view, flocks of buffleheads baffle the resident geese with their black and white bobbing for food during a rest stop on their way north.  Stacked-up docks and shore stations line lakeside lawns until a day when the waters of Pleasant Lake are a little less numbing.  Pregnant robins pick through the rubbish of groggy perennials and spring haircuts, foraging fodder for their nests.

All in good time, I hear another voice say, and I hope that someday, that voice will become my own.

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