Once more to the lake

I would dress softly so as not to wake the others, and sneak out into the sweet outdoors and start out in the canoe, keeping close along the shore in the long shadows of the pines. I remembered being very careful never to rub my paddle against the gunwale for fear of disturbing the stillness of the cathedral.  —E. B. White, Once More to the Lake

The final morning after breakfast I took the canoe out.

The wind was up. It took some purchase with each paddle stroke to propel it halfway to the far shore. More than once, despite my efforts, the wind took the bow. Finally, I decided to head up into it, cutting directly through the small waves that slapped against the boat.

Misty morning on Big Clear LakeEarlier that morning as I stood on the dock watching the mist roll off the smooth surface of the water, a beaver swam by, carrying a small fresh sapling in its mouth, ripples from its nose forming a V-shaped wake. Now the heavy waves on the open water obliterated the canoe’s wake immediately after each paddle stroke.

Eventually, with considerable effort, I approached a small cove on the northwestern shore, where I rested in the break afforded by the pines. I paddled past the Lake Labelle portage to the beaver dam, then turned and headed back down the lake.

A big hawk circled above one of the small islands in the center before disappearing over the tops of the pines. I looked up to find a cache of sticks near the top of a dead tree on the northern point. I estimated the nest to be two and a half feet in diameter.

Morning paddle on Big Clear LakeI let the wind take the canoe, using the blade of the paddle as a rudder to navigate along the far shore. Here quartzite cliffs, perhaps 80 feet high, bounded the eastern shore. The morning sun reflecting off the water shot dancing bands of light up the face of the grey colored rock, like scores of luminous gulls flying in formation.

One section of these massive giants had broken off, leaving a narrow channel of water between it and the cliff. I maneuvered the canoe into it and threaded the needle into a quiet cove on the other side.

Shortly, I touched the dock. Out in the center of the lake a lone loon taunted me with his morning cry. A gull dropped down to rest on the rocky outcrop directly off the dock.

I drew in a deep breath of morning air and surveyed the panorama one last time.

Big Clear Lake will always be one, but never the same.

Morning on Big Clear Lake

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3 comments on “Once more to the lake

  1. Mr. D says:

    I enjoyed the writing as usual. The pictures really helped me to visualize what you were describing.

  2. --dave says:

    Really torn by whether I should have tagged along, two years now since last there, but grasping pressures obligated staying home. The hike would have been beyond my pathetic present abilities, not that it’s a hard place to be just sitting at camp, which would have been most therapeutic along with the good company.

    I never knew of E.B.’s lake, and will hunt it down. Never enough of his; no doubt a surprise gift like Thoreau’s Rediscovered Last Manuscript, though you’ve hefted his Journals and known as I do how much of a lifetime they would require to read through just once, which is not nearly enough. White’s expert flow is more reader friendly, but addressed a different audience. Would he and Thoreau have even needed to speak much if together in the canoe? I imagine one gesturing to point out to the other the play of light reflected off the water onto the cliffs that so abruptly define Big Clear Lake.

    “Big Clear Lake will always be one, but never the same.”

    Sure looks like the weather held for you. Thanks for the pictures, both camera and pen. I’m there now, for the moment, unburdened and free. Just need a long foliage tour soon…

    Dave

    • Brian says:

      Thanks for posting, Dave.

      We would have welcomed the pleasure of your company, both in conversation and through those silent moments of stillness that define the grace inherent in experiencing the water and wildness of Big Clear Lake.

      Although their lives were separated by a century, both Thoreau and White understood that grace. They spent the greater part of their lives drinking it in. What more could a man ask for in this life?

      In my recent readings I came across an epitaph copied from a headstone in a small Cumberland churchyard cemetery, apropos this sentiment:

      “The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shape of things, their colors, lights and shades: these I saw. Look ye also while life lasts.”

      Brian

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