Listening when the Lake Sings

What is the song of a lake? What is lake music?

Most noticeable, of course, is the waves. Combine their rhythm with the distant sound of power boat motors, all humming different pitches, like bagpipes. Then add in seagulls, squawking intermittently, and laughter from shady picnic tables where families have gathered to barbecue. Follow it up with the wind shaking and rustling the beach grass and the soft sound of sand moving beneath bare feet. Finally there are the foghorns, those melancholy harbingers of cool lake mist.

Then we know it’s time to go home.

In the winter it is a different song. There are no barbecues or boats, no bare feet walking across the sandy shore, no grasses waving, adding percussion. It is quieter. It is a hibernation song.

Yet, still the lake sings.

In early winter, when night comes, the air cools and a thin layer of ice forms on the surface of the lake. One  morning as I walked along a path near the harbor I heard a tinkling sound, like an uncountable number of small bells ringing. It took me a moment to notice it; it was so soft, so delicate. That thin layer of ice which had formed during the night was being broken up by the gentle wave action of the lake. The symphony I heard was millions of thin slivers of ice moving in rhythm with the waves.

I was being serenaded by the lake, and the ice was dancing to its own high-pitched, ethereal song of nature as it performed.

The ice reflected the rising sun, dazzling me with sparkling lights. The ore dock reflected the chorus back to me. It was a tune filled with such sweetness, such longing, that I felt the lake sensed there was only a short amount of time for it to sing.

And so it did.

Listening to the lake music I realized that I only have a brief window of opportunity to sing as well. And I decided that I would.

But that was not the lesson I took away from this experience…

I’ve thought of that lake song many times since. How is it that one moment can stay with us? One moment where nothing really exciting happened–except we were somewhere and something made us feel a certain way. I didn’t plan for the lake to influence me that day with its music; I was just out walking and enjoying the early morning sunshine. But it did influence me–because I was observant enough to notice the moment.

So often we pass by things that could help us, lost in thought, remembering what we need to do, planning how we’ll do it, or chastising ourselves for what we’ve forgotten. We’re focused on giving ourselves a hard time for not doing something every second of the day and not accomplishing more.

We’re preoccupied with those who’ve hurt us.

What are we missing? Life could be singing for us and we wouldn’t even hear it. Life could be coaxing us to sing our songs and we wouldn’t even know it.

I’m grateful I was an attentive audience for that lake song, because even though those notes are still out there somewhere, ringing forever outward into the vast expanse of space, they are also living on in my memory. For all I know I was the only person to hear the lake sing that morning. I’m sure by the afternoon the thin layer of ice had melted.

I wasn’t there to see it go. I didn’t want to tarnish the memory by hearing the music fade away. I remember it at the height of its beauty, with the sun shining down on a million glittering shards of ice, and a million watery voices singing the morning into being.


The Traveler

In my hand, I hold a traveler.

It is a traveler who has not been exposed to sunlight in thousands of years, who has come a great distance along the bottom of a cold, cold lake. It is a traveler who has been continuously dragged and pushed and beaten upon by waves, sand and stones, finally making its way to the light, rolling upon the shore and showing its color to the world, its uniqueness, its beauty.

All along Lake Superior, as waves caress the beaches, tumbled stones are swept and hurled out of the water and onto shore:

The basalt, perfectly shaped into blue ovals, so zen, so serene, lying in the sand as if they have nowhere else better to be, as if they have arrived at their destination and are now on a long vacation.

The colorful agates, swirling of reds and oranges and yellows, well hidden in plain sight, rare, created in the formation of the land. They are so hard that only diamonds will cut them.

The Kona Dolomite, with its soft pinks and reds, nearly fading into the colors of the sand beneath them.

The milky white quartz, those perfect ovals with hidden shadows and streaks of gray smoke, containing unknown treasures within.

And the granite, easily overlooked, grey flecked, impenetrable, rounded like eggs, fitting perfectly in my palm.

Some have deep cracks. Some are irregular, rolling randomly, zig-zagging across the sand. Some are perfectly round. Some have holes right through them. All of them are unique, and together they create something even more beautiful than the individuals alone.

The stones on the shore have been scraped and shaped by other stones, their corners rounded and their edges softened through the long passage of time. They have been smoothed by the gentle caress of waves and polished by sand over countless years. Their rough edges are gone and they roll easily upon the beach.

Some people are like that. They are easy to spot; they maneuver effortlessly through every situation, even when things don’t go the way they had planned. They roll with it. They have softness in their face, especially around the eyes. They shine with unique and beautiful color. Their mouths curl up a little in a sly smile, as if they know a secret — a secret which even if they confided it to the rest of the world, we wouldn’t understand. When we’re around them, we’re calmer, more content. Their smoothness rubs off on the rest of us, almost as if they were polishing us, smoothing our rough edges, pulling us farther upshore and away from the tumultous waves.

There are some people who crack and chip. They are forceful, too large, too hard, or too strong. They leave a path of destruction in their wake that will take time to wear away. Yet sometimes they can be helpful, crafting the shape of other stones in a way the gentle polish cannot. They can be exactly what was needed.

What kind of a stone am I? Cool colored or warm? Small or large? Am I rounded, flat, oval or irregular? Am I uniform? Am I cracked? Do I have a hole that goes straight through me? Do I have a secret shadow within?

How I long to be smooth! How hard I work at it. How long will it take me to become that way? How many trials, tribulations, storms and tumbles? Rather than chipping or cracking when hitting another stone, I want to be more like those rounded stones at the lake, with each scrape, with each rub, I become smoother, more well-rounded, and help the other stones to do the same. I want to roll easier with the waves. I want to be smooth enough to be kept as a good luck charm in someone’s pocket, or on their desk as a reminder.

But I lose my temper, lash out, smash others, causing chips and cracks which leave marks on them, and on myself as well. I always regret it.

I also allow others to chip away at me, breaking off pieces that are well-worn, having to start over with fresh edges to soften.

Yet I keep on trying. I have to. A single stone on the beach seems so lonely. The chance meetings with other stones craft what it becomes. And so it is with us.

I rub the traveler in my hand, then put it in my pocket. It will not be a worry stone, but a reminder to keep going, to keep trying, to keep learning from nature and that perhaps one day, I, too, will be able to just roll with it.

The Wonderful Dream

Someday when I am gone I shall think,

“What a wonderful dream that was …

I lived in a cozy house

in a quaint, northern town,

surrounded by people and animals I loved.

I sat on the shores of vast bodies of clear water,

walked through thick forests,

and woke early to listen to the sound of the rain…”