Fall has always been a bittersweet season for me. The bitter is a story for another day. But the sweet sometimes brings to mind a time when I often felt lost and unfocused, and a place where I felt safe and grounded. A place that brought me peace and still brings me serenity in remembering-Fisher Lake. I barely think about those autumn days. But when I do, I find myself wishing I had slowed down, and taken it all in, to be remembered like it happened yesterday. Instead, I am left with fragmented recollections that embody a time when joy and pain, anticipation and boredom, confidence and fear, pride and shame, love and heartache, become jumbled together in a place without parallels or absolutes. A time when I could experience each of these emotions at full strength, in a very short time span. I was a teenager, and I was a hot mess (and the hot part had nothing to with my looks).
But even on my worst days I could get in my canoe and paddle to the middle of the lake, have a good cry, and float around aimlessly, in a post-cry trance til I’m awakened by a fisherman swearing at me for floating into his line. Even that small interruption couldn’t pull me from my place of calm. That lake has some strong juju. Here are some slivers and chunks of what I remember most from that time and place, pieced together like a puzzle without corners, and told as if it happened a moment ago.
September and October in Michigan, windows wide open to get that last blast of fresh lake air. That crisp, tart essence off the lake mixed with the slightly mildewy, earthy musk of wet leaves; smells of life slowing down for a long winter nap. The artistry of the trees, painted with autumn colors, mirrored in the glasslike water of the cove on a quiet morning. The drone of the speed boats gone, in its place the soft, whistling zip of the fishermen’s lines as they cast into the cool water.
Bullfrogs, toads, and tree frogs burrow into their hibernacula. Sandhill Cranes pause for a rest on their way south to start a family. Life arcs from play to work to survival among every living thing.
One by one the docks pulled in, metal skeletons wrestled from the muck. Boats bellies scraped and cleaned from a summer submersed. Trailers backed up to the shore, to take the boats away for winter storage. When I was a child I pictured a giant indoor pool held our boats, because I didn’t want to think of them sitting out of the water and gathering dust. Much nicer to picture them bobbing happily in a pool of clean water with their other boat friends.
The only boats left for the autumn months were canoes, kayaks, and small fishing boats. Canoeing across the lake to catch the sunset disappearing behind our house, setting the tree line on fire just before it extinguishes into night. Legs draped over each side of the boat, skimming the brisk surface, as we wish on stars under an October sky. Taking in the lake smells and sounds one last time before the freeze begins. The distant crack of a twig somewhere on the shore as a muskrat builds his winter push up. The smell of small leaf fires, and slowly rotting pumpkins mingles with the cold-infused fresh air exclusive to autumn nights. The brief return of the distant jingle of peepers in chorus. One last mysterious song before their hearts stop temporarily in frozen sleep.
I skipped many nights of studying just to get that ‘last’ night on the lake. Once the first flints of ice appear on the surface, the canoes and other small boats are carried in, stored upside down, and tucked under tarps beneath the house.
We found distractions to keep
us busy during the waning days of Autumn, as we waited to return to the lake’s frozen surface with skates that rivaled Bobby Orr’s and Dorothy Hamill’s. We babysat for neighbor kids. The family next door are also another story. I miss them, and cherish the many memories of time spent in my second home. We raked leaves, cleaned gutters, and slung fast food (for a paltry $2.25/hr) to finance the most “necessary” distractions.
We watched high school football (Go Wildcats!), college football (Go Irish!), and pro football (Go Lions!…please!?!!); and we played our own version of football on a small patch of grass near Little Fisher.
We ate our weight in every kind of food dipped in fat or sugar (or both)at the St Joe County Fair. Holding hands on the Ferris wheel, we hoped all that food wouldn’t come back to haunt us thirty feet in the air.
Halloween festivities, silly pranks and scary movies, one of which has been done to death over the last 40 years, (no pun intended). Every year, atleast one person dressed up as, and painted on the make up of KISS (usually Gene Simmons). The pranks got a little more daring as we grew older, and had wheels to make a clean getaway. No one at Buy Low ever questioned us as to why we needed so much toilet paper, and soap, and so many eggs during that last week of October. Once the final roll of tp laid bare, we spent our last quarters at the car wash, cleaning the retaliatory egg goo off our cars.
On clear nights we sometimes gathered around bonfires in fields and backyards. There we warmed our cold wet hands, sleeves, and pant legs (some of us got carried away at the car wash). Bottles of Annie Green Springs and Boones Farm Strawberry Hill passed around, and clinked together in fuzzy camaraderie; beer cans scrunched with strong hands and hard foreheads, after the last gulp of Miller Lite. The smell of burning oak and sugar maple, mingles with scorched leaves and other scents (legal and illegal), we brought with us. Pockets of hot steam escape the wood, popping and crackling, and sending up sparks that resemble the fireflies of summer past. Mingled among those sounds were the tones of intermittent talk, and bursts of laughter. The distant woosh of cars and semis on a road nearby, the loud rumbling roar of a muscle car, as it practically hops forward before settling in, among the cars and jacked up trucks, around the fire. A lonely train horn wafts through the leafless trees to harmonize with the strings, horns, drums, and voices of Led Zeppelin emanating from a car stereo. The lyrics and the last leaves of October swirled around us, and spoke of a journey more cherished than the destination.
🎶I am a traveler of both time and space
🎶To be where I have been…🎵