Sense of place: Joe’s lake

Joe's lake

In a recent contest, I asked readers to tell stories about places that had deeply impacted them. The various thoughtful responses will appear as a series of guest posts.

By Joe Sehl

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On June 26, 2007, my partner guided me further north than I had ever been, to visit his relatives. It was a very long trip, and the length sapped my patience and goodwill to its limit. He had been to this lakeshore destination many times as a boy with his parents and sister, and remembered it as miserable, lacking in plumbing, hellishly hot at times, and full of midges and biting flies and poison ivy. He wasn’t sure what we were getting ourselves into, which didn’t inspire confidence in me. The only consolation was his understanding that the place, in the possession of his cousin, was now a clearing with a cabin. His cousin had tamed some of the worst characteristics while still keeping it as natural as possible.

He needn’t have worried. As we rounded the 90-degree bend in the dirt road, I could see the lake, glowing in the late afternoon sunlight which pierced the tree line, and felt my impatience and annoyance swiftly begin to melt away. By the time I parked to one side of the property, I began to feel that I had stumbled into another universe. The wind blew steadily, and the trees hissed in response. The cabin was a bright, lofty, gorgeous place that had been built a few years ago, with a long deck, a patio doorway, and two tall, trapezoidal windows, all facing waterside.

After introductions to everyone present, we were invited to walk out onto the million-dollar view of lakeshore. The sand was off-white and exquisitely soft except where driftwood, pebbles and stones, bulrush stems, and other lake debris littered it. Occasionally the skeletons of walleye pike, picked clean, lay beached among tree roots where stormy waves had stranded them in the night. Those waves rolled in relentlessly, goaded by the constant wind, probably accounting for the fine texture of the sand. I could well imagine eons of summer waves and winter ice pulverizing the rocks into the silky sand between my toes. The water itself was almost russet red, and stretched to a flat line of sparkling horizon. A few fishing boats, mere dots from this point, could be picked out in the midst of the dazzle of the sun on the water.

Any residual annoyance at traveling such a long way was whipped away by the wind. I could only stand ankle-deep in the water and marvel at my reversal of fortune. It felt unreal, as if I might wake any moment and find it was a dream. After some minutes, the others repaired to the deck to sit and talk, but I remained on the shore and felt every last one of my work-related cares and knots of stress wash away.

I think my sleep that night was deeper than it had been in many years, as if the wind and waves, like the dreamcatcher that Native people hang over a child’s cradle, had captured my city-life demons in their web, permitting only good, restorative rest to reach me. Even now, the memory of it brings a cascade of longing to return and ground myself in the eternal rhythm of that echo of heaven. For thousands of years, those waves have pounded the rocks to silken particles and will go on pounding long after we are all dust. If that doesn’t instill a sense of one’s place in the universe, then I don’t know what will.

All photos are copyright protected and are the property of Joe Sehl.

5 thoughts on “Sense of place: Joe’s lake

  1. Wow, just reading that seemed to restore my weary head of some of its stress. The author painted such a calming scene. Thank you for sharing that.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I felt some of the same when I first read it.

  2. A year or two later I was lucky enough to accompany Joe and his partner to this paradise. I saw, felt, heard, and breathed its beauty, and now Joe’s magnificent words bring it back and add further depths of meaning. i especially love his thoughts on sand. William Blake talked about “the universe in a grain of sand.” Joe’s essay makes Blake’s point all over again! Caryl in Illinois and missing Joe’s Lake.

    1. Welcome, Caryl, and thanks for sharing your perspective on this place. Blake’s words are powerful!

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