The lake, mostly round, is
fringed by houses in many shapes:
Ramblers, cottages, waterfront villas, double-wides, and
one, a narrow, white two-story, with a
deep-red deck and white picket fence, that
was my summer home, at least
for a while.
Around the lake there are oak trees, cottonwoods,
hemlocks; there, tousled by the breeze, sways
a weeping willow—hear the susurrus of
its leaves above the water.
Keep listening, and soon the heron
starts to speak: Grok! Grok! Graaawk!
with the bullfrogs, above the din of
crickets, cicadas; in quieter moments,
doves mourn, grackles cackle, and the
Carolina chickadee chick-a-dee-dee-dees,
while a woodpecker drums away
at a snag.
For much of my life, I lived
in two worlds, stepping
from one to the other
with the coming of summer.
From as soon as I could fly—that is,
step onto tarmac, climb a
flight of stairs into
a pressurized cabin, and take off
on wings of steel—as soon as I
could do these things,
I was migrating from Seattle
to the Midwest, to summer
in northeast Indiana, home
to amber waves of
rolling grain; of flea markets
in Shipshewana; of taco nights
at the American Legion
in Orland; of Amish
corn grown seven feet tall
under a marbled sky.
In accordance with the climate—hot,
muggy, deliciously wind-swept—
my appearance changed:
I took on my summer skin, shedding
the layers, finding myself
perpetually shirtless in swim trunks,
a fishing rod in one hand, a
fine-mesh net in the other.
If they were biting, I’d catch bluegill,
sunfish, bass, perch, catfish. If not,
I collected insects—beetles, butterflies, dragonflies,
damselflies; I captured
frogs, toads, turtles, and snakes.
I waded the bogs and shallows with impunity,
feeling out soft-shelled turtles sunbathing
in the swamp with
my bare feet, careful to pick up and
toss aside any hissing
mud turtles, mouths agape.
Duckweed dried onto my arms
and legs; the loamy stench
of bog muck followed me
from fishing hole to fishing hole, until
my grandmother ordered me to rinse off
in the lake before coming in
Memories of this place
seem more like dream
than reality—or at least,
the oneiric and the generic conflate,
so that everything is bathed
I recall turtle races at the civic club, picking raspberries for pie,
currants for wine (this accompanied by
the smell of brewer’s yeast,
the frothy bubbles in the carboy);
playing basketball in
a friend’s barn, dodging the bats fluttering
under the rafters.
I remember the heady excitement
upon discovering my grandfather’s Playboy collection
under the guest bed; I remember fawning
over a much-older girl named, appropriately, Summer,
whose bikini-swaddled breasts
were a constant fascination to me.
Summer was from Alaska—another
summer migrant—and she hunted
turtles on a paddleboard,
so naturally, I was
Sitting in the prow, paddle
in hand, I dip into the
sun-warmed waters, marveling
at ripples colliding, overriding,
distorting my view of
the bottom below: here a school
of pumpkinseed, guarding their nests; there, a
largemouth bass shoots off, as if
from a cannon.
And there! A mossy boulder
that crawls across the weeds! It is a turtle,
an alligator snapper, and
I am glad to be afloat, my feet tucked
beneath me. “Hey you!” comes a voice
from astern, “Keep paddling!”
My brother is eager to
return to the house, to return to
that rustic modernity,
and so we
churn the limpid water, keeping our
eyes to the lake’s edge,
using the white picket
as a landmark.
Things were different here: for one,
there was real thunder, the kind that
rattles windows and sounds as if
the sky is being
rent asunder, right above your head.
to one another—“Hey Dick,” someone would
call, and my grandfather would reply, “Mornin’!”, or “Afternoon!”, or “Evenin’!”,
depending on the time of day—and if
you lived on the lake, you were
a neighbor, and people would wave to you
and know your name.
Meals were taken at the table,
no exceptions; manners were minded,
bedtime was at ten, unless—!—there was
some quality programming on
T.V. that everyone
could enjoy, in which case we
could stay up until eleven,
after milk and cookies.
Sometimes the fireflies danced all night, and
sometimes the chorus of frogs
kept me from sleep.
I would grow homesick for Seattle,
but it was not a terrible
longing, for I knew
my summer home would soon
be shuttered, and the lazy days
and sticky nights
would draw to a close.