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January 26, 2013: Ice

January 26, 2013

On the first day of 2013, I fell into Lake Michigan.

The thing about the lake, and about winter, and about global warming, is that all of these things add up to something very deceptive. The waves splash over the sand, a thin sheet of ice forms (it would be thicker if this were a true Chicago winter), the wind blows great gusty swirls of sand over the ice… and on and on and on. All of these layers add up, and they often stretch out, too- to the point where the cold, gritty mass reaches far into and over the not-so-solid lake water. I think I knew this, but with all of the awe and anxiety and sleepiness typical of a new year’s day, I walked out onto the ice and fell in.

Before it happened, I stood very quietly, and for quite a while, watching the morning sun etch pink and grey mirrors into the flashing, bobbing little waves and along the paned windows of the old brick homes behind me. Our dog danced and tip-toed and sprinted sideways along the cold sand. Gulls flew overhead.

My spouse and I have been reminiscing a lot lately about our lives in Seattle. We talk about when the cat was a tiny grey puff who made a great game of climbing into our sofa. We remember delicious Pacific Northwest IPAs, sailing in the San Juans, curling (me), drinking Fireball whiskey while I curled (him), sharing love and meals with friends, roommates, new babies, my church family. I tell him about the night my girlfriends and I accidently set the oven on fire and then, with the callousness and wry humor one develops in grad school, scraped the fire extinguisher chemical powder and the charred top layer off the brownies and dug into the pan with forks and spoons. We talk about hiking up the lush, fern-lined trails of Mount Si, smelling the misty air for damp evergreens and rotting logs, and then returning to the city, parking at Top Pot, and spending long, luxurious minutes savoring old-fashioned donuts dunked in Ovaltine lattes. We don’t mention how invariably one of us, usually me, would always become irrational and irritable on the walk down Mount Si and pick fights with the other- a marital crisis that could have been averted if we had just packed more snacks. We try not to recall the exhaustion and fear wrought by so many tenuous, poorly-paying adjunct instructor positions and skimpy -but coveted- fellowship competitions, and we usually avoid the memories of tense budget talks, growing credit card debt and  the heavy, ever-present pain of not knowing where we would be in a year or how we would afford it. I am a crier, but I really cried in Seattle. I also laughed a lot, and ran a lot, and lived.

I thought about those things while I stood on the ice that morning, and then, since I think the universe may not want us to miss too much because we’re busy missing something else, the ice broke and I crashed into the water. It wasn’t nearly as dramatic as expected or as reads here; all told, I was in only about a foot and a half deep. The ice and sand held and then they didn’t, and I felt strangely quiet and calm as I pulled my heavy shoes up and out and clomped to a sturdier space. My legs were white-hot. I leashed up the dog and walked home. Having faced something not nearly as threatening as it could have been, but just as momentous as it needed to be, I felt ready and sure.
photo (36)Now that I’m teaching again, and teaching some 120 students at that, most afternoons the dog and I head to a long, empty shoreline about four miles away. While I walk slowly and think about the day,  he scampers out onto the strange, frozen forms. He trots lightly up the low jagged ridges, pushing his face into the wind, then hops over each crevice with the abandon I imagine of Muir’s beloved Stickeen. Some days the water is so flecked with frozen chunks that it rises and subsides like a breath, a singular grey mass that rolls over the icy, sandy peaks that are now so many feet taller than me. I don’t let myself imagine falling in here. I stay where the ground is sure and walk firmly to the north.

photo (35)


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One Comment
  1. I love this post so much.

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