Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Upper Priest

In this peaceful haven I am irritated with myself. Irritated because I have forgotten my camera. My eye sees frame after frame of composition: light, shadow, new life and ancient. How I wish that I could share with you the beauty of a place like this. But even a photograph, though providing a huge clue, could not convey the sounds, the smells, the movement, the beauty that is here.

Here is where I grew through my summers in northernmost Idaho. Priest Lake. Where I ranged topless as long as was acceptable, catching garter snakes and frogs. Where I learned bravery in darkness and how to keep a fire going. How to lay long and still in a meadow and dream of what it would be like to fly like the osprey, catching fish and feeding babies too big for a nest and too weak to fly.

I learned fear and bravery: walking home alone after play was over, through woods where bears had been seen before and limbs cracked in the distance. A walk of one hundred feet can harvest one hundred sounds and twenty scents if you are open to receiving them. Filtered sun, stabbing through trees taller than God’s fingers, spotlight life of flora and fauna which would otherwise be missed. One can be very alone and very alright in God’s magnificence. And I believe that if one wasn’t alright in this situation that there would be much worse places from which to leave the earth.

In between the sounds of boats and airplanes in the distance there is a symphony that everyone should be able to hear at least once. The music differs by influence of the breeze. The stillest breeze is needed for the flying insects to have their moment. Dragonflies can carry a tune if you let them. Horseflies announce their arrival so you may be put on the defensive. The same with the mosquitoes but fortunately I am later with my visit this year and it has been dry and I have yet to see or hear a mosquito. (Other times of year they steal the sound waves.)

This morning my father and I, with my pup in tow, headed up the thoroughfare that runs in front of the cabin up to the upper lake. It was a mid-morning sun that we set off to in his small fishing boat. Do you remember your elementary art class projects where you dappled white and black and yellow and green onto orange construction paper and then folded the paper in half? The result was a mirror reflection that transformed random paint drizzles into geometrically perfect reflective patterns. The thoroughfare and the lake are like this, turned on its side. The big picture, with shoreline as center, gives a mirror image of greens and blacks and sun. In the old days when we printed photos of the reflections, instead of “oohed” and awed over digital images, you would look at these prints and often find it impossible to tell up from down, the reflection so perfect. Other pictures, if there was a breeze, an ever so slight breeze, would blur the edges of the reflective side of the picture and that is the only way you could be sure what was up and what was down.

We head up the river, another boat up front a distance but otherwise we have this moment to ourselves. My father, who lives by himself, can’t help babbling off and on but I am so absorbed in the moment and focused on the beauty of God’s gift here that my “unh hunh” occasionally interjected is enough to satisfy him and I can be here, in this boat, recording the moment, sans camera, for you. There are moments when even my father is quiet and these are only extra treasure.

One of the reasons the quiet and peace is important at this moment is we are rounding the bend in the river where the bulk of my mother’s ashes are scattered. The white, bone shard ashes settled to the bottom, mixing with the white sand, when my sister and I scattered them in the summer of ’93. I am sitting on the front of the boat. The sun glasses are hiding my tear filled eyes. I hang my hand over the side of the boat and send a message to my mother: “I am up here. You are down there. I miss you so much.” The water laps “I know…I know” in response.

As we come to the upper lake, it opens up in front of us. Father turns up the power on the boat and we surge forward, the bottom of the “fold-a-boat” buckling below my feet. Between us and the shore the water boils sporadically as morning fish catch a breakfast of hatchling flies. Father shows me the osprey nest, the creek where he camped with my son and his cousin, the place where he hooked perch. We check out weed beds for future fishing. Something along the far shore catches my eyes and I point and plead him to cross the lake.

He then sees what I see, though neither of us are sure what it is. Only that it is big and brown. And moving.

We approach the cow moose on her territory. We switch to the electric motor so as to be more polite. But she truly does not seem alarmed. She is three-quarters of the way of her chest deep in the water and keeps diving down, sometimes totally submerging as she grabs great quantities of water weeds into her mouth. Father attempts pictures with his digital (we later find out he was on “flower setting” and so even this attempt to show you what I saw is foiled). The young cow moose is quite tolerant of us. She apparently has had many interactions this summer and so is not alarmed. We are the only humans she is entertaining at this moment. The sense of my privilege is immense. “I am not worthy” boils through my psyche. My dog is intrigued and stunned. This is the biggest dog he has ever encountered and he watches with keen interest as do we. Later when I ask my father how close he thinks we were he says “oh, thirty feet.” I say “wow” and in his true fashion, my father says casually “oh, I’ve been closer.” I have unkind thoughts about this man.

I watch in total amazement, unaware of time or place. And just as we are thinking to turn and let her continue her feeding without audience a movement at shore as her dark brown baby, heretofore unseen, ventures out into sunlight. I, with my puppy grasped to my chest watch her communicate silently to her own puppy “it’s OK but stay close.” This baby moose is a miniature replica of the magnificent creature we have been so entertained by. Again, we watch for an unknown length of time. I am not aware of anything else around me. Snorting, chomping, dripping water. The occasional flatulence from my father echoes across the water and I am reminded of our invasive nature. Dad, puhleeze! The noise startles my puppy much more than the snorts from this magnificent beast a few feet away.

The sun is getting high and again we decide to leave the beast(s) to their privacy and head back over the lake towards the river opening. We see another moose on the shores on the way back. Around this one a few power boats have gathered and all are watching this entertainment. I am such a fortunate soul. This will be a very long weekend with my father. But these moments, where God has placed us beside his other wonders has a very equalizing function and I am glad to have shared this glory with my father. As my father’s time is running its course it is these moments I hope to focus on. The time we spent sharing this gift of something much greater than the tension between us is what we should have and remember.
Photos on thoroughfare between Upper and Lower Priest Lake, northern Idaho, summer 2007, on another trip when I actually had my camera!

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