Forgotten Memories

As I was walking down the steps to the lake this past Saturday, I thought about the generational vacations I was witnessing and how to blog about them. My (ex)hubby had gone in to work for a few hours and my own children were off at summer camp, but the remaining family segregated themselves as if assigned.  The older generation sat on the porch, enjoying the sounds and feel of nature and happily chatting on any wayward tangent that presented itself.  The younger planted themselves in the living room, plugged into various portable games—a huge difference from when my generation was their age and you couldn’t keep us inside with even the best of bribes. My generation’s habit is to “porch with intent”, as we enjoy the older and try to include the younger, but occasionally walk away from both to hit the lake.  At that moment, mine included fishing gear.  But by the time I had settled in on the dock, the tiny details of my own location took over and I gave no further thought to the generational gaps at the cabin.

I have many fond memories of the cabin, such as walking through the woods with my grandfather collecting samples for a school project.  Other memories have emotionally changed with time and I smile at them now—like my father convincing me at twelve that the Old Ones lived in the woods that surround our lake.  [For the record, I’m still not entirely sure they don’t.] The cabin is a place of peace, with no bad memories [do we erase those from our happy places?] but too often provides specific memories that are forgotten until triggered, like the woodpecker this weekend that caused the long dried out pine to finally give in and topple to the lake with a thunderous crash—which I will forget all about witnessing by the time I finish writing this, until I see a woodpecker again.  My fishing time Saturday was one of those, and I accept this, but for the moment it’s fresh in my mind.

The lake that day was the quintessential canvas of nature, and a picturesque reminder of why I put up with the winters here.  The crystalline water provided a clear view of the tiny black minnows that surrounded me on all sides, which should have been a dinner bell for the larger fish, as they happily darted between my swinging feet and the safety of the dock’s shadows.  Above the surface, a herd of dragonflies serenaded me with their buzzing wings [yes, Bob, the significance of that was not lost on me].  A mother loon used our slough for training purposes as she taught her two children how to dive, much to their squawkish displeasure—I’m sure they would have preferred sitting in the living room playing Ninento DS with the others of their generation. And just out of eyeshot, there was a constant barrage of unattainable fish splashing at the surface to catch bugs.  It was perfect.  The lake belonged to me—the peace was mine alone—as I slaughtered night crawlers in the name of pan fish everywhere.  And then I made a new friend.

The water is high this year.  The dock is literally right on top of it, and if you didn’t know there were stanchions underneath you’d swear it was floating there.  The occasional boat caused slight waves, that washed across the top to soak my lower half and rolled underneath in a rhythmic thump.  Until the thump was accompanied by a clanking sounded.  I turned to locate the rogue stick that had obviously snagged on the low dock and found nothing.  Turning back to my bobber, a large snapping turtle came from under the dock and passed right between my calves.  Frank, as I decided to call him, was in no hurry.  He wasn’t hunting, diving, fishing, or even remotely acting as if he had a plan.  He was out for a casual stroll and paid no attention to the women above him.

Now I’ve had plenty of experiences with the snappers on our lake, two clearly come to mind.  When my sister and I were fishing in the boat and gabbing like loud teenage girls do, a lull in the conversation offered a strange breathing sound that scared both of us as we turned to see twin snappers had paused beside us.  Their heads above water, they sucked air with heavy determination and eyed our stringer with intent.  Yes, we left their territory in a quick hurry, giggling the entire time in an effort to overcome the fact that they’d startled us.  The other was a day much like this weekend, where I was alone on the dock and actually caught one on my fishing line.  Today I would simply cut the line and call it good, but at that time, my sixteen-year-old reaction was to scream bloody murder until my dad came down and bit the line.  Unfortunately, that snapper decided it liked our area and immediately swam under the stationary wooden dock at the shoreline [not to be confused with the aluminum one that we put out each spring that I sit on to fish].  Having much younger brothers that swam near shore, I watched as my dad grabbed first a rake and then a spear and leapt into the water to battle the snapper hiding in the shadows underneath.

This weekend was different though.  This snapper hadn’t interrupted an easily shaken teen, nor was he a threat to swimming children.  Instead, there was something majestic about Frank and his nonchalant attitude.  I sat and talked to him while I continued to toss my line in the opposite direction.  I offered to throw him the little ones, if he would just stay far enough away and not spook the fish I was attempting to lure with waterlogged worms.  And as he ignored me, his tail lazily swishing back and forth, I realized that I was watching a dinosaur.  I found myself suddenly overcome with a sense of awe and appreciation.  I was witness to a casual leftover from when the spring-fed lake was nothing more than a puddle—if it existed at all.  An ancestral remnant of brutal global climate changes and shifting paradigms. Frank not only has memories that he’s forgotten, he himself is a memory of a forgotten time.

Normally, I spend this weekend thinking of why we celebrate Independence Day and quietly contemplating the men that have fought and died for our freedom over the years.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m patriotic the rest of the year and come from a very proud military-speckled family, but I’ve celebrated the 4th of July with a touch of sadness for as long as I can remember.  As a parent, I have traditionally reminded my children that the fireworks, while beautiful in the night sky above the lake and clearly my favorite part of the festivities, are symbolic and that knowledge needs to be remembered in the midst of the oohs and ahhs.  But this weekend, I was humbled by a completely different celebration.  Not of freedom but of survival in general—specifically the survival that comes with change.  And for whatever reason, it continues to resound in my mind.

In the end, Frank slowly drifted out of sight toward his destination, which I imagine was a favorite fishing hole, while I continued to sacrifice night crawlers and contemplate the miracle of that majestic snapper, cataloguing yet another cabin memory to be forgotten until prodded.  A handful of too-small-to-bother-cleaning bluegills and pumpkinseed later, I walked away with an empty stringer.  I hope the dinosaur had had better luck.

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