Be still, my beating heart! I’m sitting at the table in the house at the lake. The sunlight is shading the mountains pink and gray and the stillness of frozen swamps and a soft crackle from the woodstove makes me want to freeze this moment as well.
I love this place.
I love its subtle isolation — a couple hours from town but miles from Internet or phone signals.
I love its cozy crowded nights with friends out for the weekend.
I love its still afternoons with our two young boys not quite doing “quiet” time.
I love that mountain out the window, like an old face with knobby brows and balding head, faithfully watching. I love the three long hills, like boxcars of a silent train, standing behind the lake.
Thirty-three years of memories and this 5-acre piece of Alaska.
This is where I am. Even when I’m not. Where I came as a newborn, bundled inside my mother’s snowsuit. Where I come back to, year after year.
Where I miss my brother, who died. Where I hear his voice echo with the words, “The lake is your dream. Not mine.”
Where I first knew God. Where I find joy.
A week after I’ve spent time writing at the lake, I’m back. This time, I’m standing on 18 inches of frozen ice. We’ve hacked open an old fishing hole with the splitting maul and are waiting for a dolly to bite. My 5-year-old is running, following tracks in the snow while his big dog chases along.
A tug on my line pulls the bobber into icy water. With a quick jerk a silver and polka dot fish flips into the snow. Shouting with delight, I grab it with one hand and ask, “Can we can keep it?”
Keeping is the only choice. He’s swallowed the hook and won’t be swimming again. I watch his struggle for life with sadness.
The next dolly stretches from elbow to fingertip. Quickly pulling the hook from his lip I admire his shimmery beauty, then send that monster back. He slides from my hands with a strange noise. I imagine it as gratitude.
At nighttime a bonfire of scrap wood from the day’s projects and the full moon light up the darkness. The dog’s black bulk leans against my right leg, his ears lifting with the pop of coals and night silence. My big boy scoots into the chair with me, warming my left side. Complete. Sparkling stars of heat and light shoot up as wood settles into ash.
I hear Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” humming in my mind. I love this lake from my toes in their slippers to my fingertips typing out the words. I love this land from the core of myself. I love this man, who’s working, working, working so hard — and loving it, too. I love these boys who are my own. My very own! These little hands that will grow up reaching home, their roots running next to mine, running to the lake.
It’s morning already. A leaving morning. I sweep the floors slowly, checking bedrooms for that favorite teddy bear and flannel blanket. Propane off. Generator shed locked. Fire out.
Closing the door I see the fine-tipped black lines of spruce trees, lit by a disappearing moon. I look the other direction. A long silhouette of morning mountains overlooks this place in a changeless line of rock. This place where I’ve learned to live. And let go. And come home to.
I love this lake.