June 08, 2011

A wretch like me

Through the clouds

It was still cold when I walked down to the mountain lake: I was wearing a fleece and hoping the rising sun would warm my bare legs. I stopped at a coffeehouse in town to buy a strawberry-banana smoothie, which I drank on a little deck that looked over the lake.

I was thinking about Artist Friend, whose father died last week. I didn’t go to the funeral because he lives too far away, but I wanted to take some time to honor him. I’d tried taking a walk in my own woods the day I got the email about his death, but the swarms of mosquitoes prevented me from having a contemplative moment. This mountain lake, with its mirror-like surface, seemed a calmer place to put my thoughts.

My hair was still wet from the shower, which made me shiver as I walked. Every once in a while the sun would come bursting out from behind the clouds, and the lake would slip into shining, like a roll of aluminum foil that’s escaped from the box. A single kayak moved across the lake. I followed the path along the water, walking past summer cottages that weren’t yet open for the season.

When I came to the stone church, I realized that I’d been inside it before, more than 30 years ago — that time in high school when I went winter camping with a gang of teenagers. We’d been joking and laughing on the car ride into the mountains, but when we came to this town, the oldest girl (she must have been 18) said quietly, “Let’s go into the church and say a prayer before we hike up the mountain. It’s a tradition.” I still remember that moment: all of us in our bulky winter clothes and heavy hiking boots, sitting on the wooden pews to say a prayer before leaving our cars at the trailhead and putting on our packs.

On this June morning, the church wasn’t empty. I could hear a woman’s voice coming from the pulpit as I walked in. I’d forgotten that it was Sunday. The old woman in the last pew smiled and moved over a little to make room for me. The congregation prayed together, and I liked the refrain they kept using: “Holy God, Holy One, Holy Three.”

I could feel my hair getting curly as it dried. A man sat down at an old wooden piano and began to play. I recognized the hymn right away: “Amazing Grace.” It’s one that always makes me cry. I stayed until the minister in the dark print dress told us the service was over, and then I slipped quietly out the front door.

The sun was still chasing clouds across the surface of the lake. I thought of the time that Artist Friend came to visit me, and we sat watching the ripples of Round Lake as we talked. We saw a watersnake that day, moving toward us. I hoped that after the funeral service, he’d go fishing with his son maybe, or walking along a riverbank. By then, the air was getting warm. I took off my fleece and tied it around my waist, and let the breeze from the lake dry my hair.

10 comments:

Sandy said...

That sounds like a lovely morning.

susan said...

I save your blog for last because I like to savor your words.

Artist Friend said...

jo(e), thanks for thinking of me. During his illness, I've been realizing how much my dad meant to me and to all my family. It's sad that he's gone now, but as I tried to communicate at the funeral service, his influence has affected the lives of scores of people in all kinds of ways. As we remember him and exchange our varied impressions and experiences through talk and stories, he continues to grow.

Artist Friend said...

And I did go fishing on Monday night, in the Little Miami River. Hooked three big ones but didn't catch them--they just came to jump and tussle a bit and moved on. Spent time with a vulture who sat on a limb fifteen feet above me and tried to figure out what I was doing, and the pileated woodpecker that drummed all evening came by to check me out as well. The place I like to go runs through an ancient Adena burial ground, so when the river floods, like it did recently, skeletons are sometimes washed into the open. The park officials respectfully rebury them. No skeletons this time, just birds and fishes and a steady current.

jo(e) said...

AF: That sounds like a perfect way to spend the evening.

jo(e) said...

Susan: Thanks for the compliment!

heidi said...

I love the photo.

jodi said...

I love the photo.

Ampersand said...

INCREDIBLE shot.

Kyla said...

Holy cow! Some of your photos just take my breath away! You are lucky to live somewhere with such rich beauty all around. I don't feel that way about where we live! ;)