The summer is winding down. You can feel it even in these last blazing hot days of August. The wildfires out West are raging nonstop as they spread across the forests that have been suffering a severe drought these past three years. The flames burn every tree and and scorch every bit of grass down to the black earth.
I wonder how from such destruction any living thing can arise?
Last week I spent a night in a cabin in northern Minnesota with my sister. We were there to pick up my niece Eva from backpacking camp. I hadn’t seen her since my mom’s funeral three years ago. I knew that she would look different to me, grown and matured, and I wondered if I too had aged in her eyes.
One night Kathy and I lay in bed and listened to the sad cry of a loon on the lake. For the bird there seemed no answer to its mournful query. It went on and on, a needy sound that pierced through the night, haunting us.
This week the bird’s lament resonates inside me, I feel hopeful but sad, grateful but also full of uncertainty.
What is this strange season of my life now?
Mac’s recent job assignment in Switzerland will mean living over there for another two years starting in October. Originally I had planned to spend the entire time with him like before but now I’m not so sure.
The thrill and newness of travel mixes with a longing to stay at home, to be near my daughter before she gets married, to keep our house running without neglect.
Life’s just like that I guess, there’s always a trade-off.
At my niece’s camp there is an incredible fleet of handcrafted canoes for the campers to use. I stood inside of the workshop with the parents while we listened to the camp director talk about the process of building the individual canoes.
It starts with a tree that is long enough to provide a true and straight plank and then the stripling wood is soaked so it will bend to shape. Each piece is painstakingly added to the longest boards to form a skeleton that will support the internal boards. The intricate sticks are glued and sanded and varnished to an amber coloured lustre.
It turns out that wood is a natural material to float even though it must be varnished and painted so as not to take in too much moisture and become heavy.
Each boat takes more than a year to craft. And each one is allowed out into the Boundary Waters for even the inexperienced young kids to row them across the lakes. And the director said that the campers took huge pride in their vessels. And when campers from other camps rowed past them they would stop and marvel over the individual grace and beauty of the workmanship.
Heirlooms. Vintage designs with fresh grey paint and shine.
And there is a great care and respect for the canoes, no banking them up roughly onto shore. Instead the kids unload their heavy packs in the thigh-high water and then gently guide and lift them to the next portage.
I like to think of my girl Eva with her strong brown arms rowing one of those beauties across a mirrored lake at sunset. It’s just an image I have. She’s a senior this year and will be floating along to college before long and I already miss her. How did she turn seventeen? But yet she still grabs me from behind and locks her arms around my waist like a little kid. I feel so lucky.
And here I float my old body along, wondering which way I will point the prow (or is it the bow?) knowing that the wind could just drift me where it wished if I let it.
And I say goodbye to summer with all of it’s promise – the vacations, the extra daylight to stay up reading with my book, the chirpy cicadas in the yard and the candy-like sweetness of watermelon grown down here in the South.
And I know that, like every other year, Autumn will rise from the papery ashes of these long hot days and we’ll be relieved of the baking temperatures at last.
And then, like the loon, I feel my heart fill with a similar cloying question: what’s next, what’s next – what’s next for me?