Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Lake Loves Me

Sometimes the lake is white, sometimes gray, sometimes blue. Sometimes it mixes those colors. Today the lake is blue-gray. I sit there now, on the dock, with my striped drawstring pants rolled and my feet in the water. (If I could sit on the water I would.) As I sit, a heron—the same gray as the water—soars by, skimming the lake's wrinkled skin. It lands on a neighbor's dock.

When I cannot write, when I have nothing to say, when all of the books on the shelves have been read and often twice, when there is nothing to snack on in the refrigerator, when I've already had my quota of coffee, when it's too early or I don't feel like having a drink, when I have reached my saturation point with NPR and cannot take another note of Bach or Glenn Gould, then the thing to do, the only thing to do, is to walk down to the lake.

That's what I do here, mostly, in my new home: I go to the lake. First thing in the morning, when the day is barely lit, I put on my bathing suit, my dinky rotting Speedo, grab the gray-blue towel (the same color usually as the lake and as the blue heron that soared to my neighbor's dock) and make my way in bare feet down the sharp pine-needle covered lawn that slopes down past an overturned aluminum canoe and dilapidated picnic table to the dock.

The morning and the evening, dawn and dusk: those are my two favorite times to visit the lake. But also in the afternoon, when it's terribly hot. When I'm sad, lonely, depressed, worried, eager, anxious, confused, frightened, happy, or simply and totally at a loss: those are all good times for a visit with my watery friend.

This morning the lake wears a mantle of gray clouds. On the far shore somewhere a dog barks. Sounds: waves lapping, water slurping, bubbles breaking. A motorboat in the distance. Trees rustle. The wind sings into my ears while rubbing my shoulders.

Usually I get in the water. I swim. To the opposite point of land and back. Or around the point where I live, to the right or to the left—either way is fine. I count the neighbors' boathouses and docks that I pass. Six docks makes for a decent swim. I never see my neighbors. Their houses look abandoned. Their boats hang unused from gantries. Their lawns are manicured and their docks are sturdy, but cobwebs droop from ladder to post, from rudder to propeller.

The ghosts wave to me as I swim past.

In three weeks here I have seen only one neighbor. She was out watering some plants. I walked to and introduced myself. We made small talk. About the weather. About the water in the lake. It's such beautiful water, I said. Very clean, I said. Supposed to be the cleanest lake in Georgia.

Is it? said the woman.

That's what I read on the Internet.

Oh, the woman said. Really? I didn't know that.

That's what I read.


One day I heard the rasp of lawnmowers in my yard and went out to inspect. An elderly man sat on a rumbling lawn tractor. He introduced himself as "Old Man Howard." We chatted for a bit. When our chat was over Howard said, "Why you're just the nicest person I've met in a long time. I meet a lot of folks, and you're one of the nicest. I'm so glad you're living here."

And yesterday morning the postman knocked on my door. I'd forgotten to put a return address on a parcel I left for pickup in the box. We spoke for a few minutes. Robert, his name. Said he's pushing sixty and thinking of retirement. Doesn't really want to retire. Said that the average life expectancy of men after they retire is twenty-four months. Imagine that? he said. Said his father has just been diagnosed with colon cancer. "He's eighty five," Robert said.

I asked if he'd pull through.

"Oh, yeah. They'll cut out a piece 'bout this big." Robert showed me. "But you know, eighty-five, it's not one thing it's another."

I am glad for these encounters, but more glad for being alone with my lake. It's a good thing I didn't take a place in town. I'd feel landlocked; I'd feel lost. For all the people who'd surround me, I'd feel more, not less, lonesome. Oh, yes, I do still feel lonely at times. I miss my girl, my friends, the people I've known who've been good to me for years. And I have regrets that just won't leave me alone, too many to even list here. In fifty-two years I've made some terrible mistakes, with more to come. Like Mr. Wright on his hammock, I, too, have wasted my life.

But when I am with my lake I feel none of those things. I sit on the dock and look at the water, and I am comforted. My lake loves me. It forgives me. Better still, it will not desert or abandon me. It understands me. I sit there with my feet touching the water, waiting for the heron to take off from my neighbor's dock, thinking that moments like these have an important lesson to teach: namely that of doing nothing.

I think the problem with life, one of the problems (if I may generalize boldly) is that too many things happen. If we could prevent things from happening, or anyway, if we would all, each of us, try from time to time to do our best to make nothing happen, then I say on the whole things would improve. What the world needs—what we all need—is a place in which to do nothing, a place where doing nothing is not only allowed, but is the only thing that makes sense.

I have found such a place here, with my lake. I can't meditate. At all enlightened acts I am an abysmal failure. But I know how to sit with my lake doing nothing, or maybe just swimming (which is doing nothing in motion). For all my ambitions and hopes and failures and deeds worthy or noble, this sitting by the lake feels as worthy and noble as anything. It's my way of paying tribute, I guess: to love, to life—to god, if you like.

It is the only form of worship that I know and trust.


Cheryl Gower said...

Hi Peter,

I check in on your blog often--your website is flagged under "My Favorites"--and this is the first time I've commented. Probably because I'm in the middle of doing nothing and loving it. I don't have a lake in which to swim, just the Colorado River, but find the Arizona desert a charming place to do nothing. When I finish with that, I am reading "By Cunning & Craft"--that's how I met you. I'm up to the part about Revision and Rewriting. So much, so helpful. Thank you.
Cheryl Gower

Peter Selgin said...

Thanks for reading, Cheryl. A desert is as good a place to swim as any.