T he sound that she hears is a dragging blanket slipping over smooth stones, dropped by the tired arms of the most recent glacier as it melts away and moves or perhaps just drifts north. It is the rhythm of slightly skewed pulling waves petting the stones, rubbing the stones, as though the lake was this woman, standing alone in a room, hearing music that no one else hears, moving her graceful hands through the air, tanned skin passing through curtained sunlight, listening to and feeling the creak of rubbing bones and stretching ligaments. She is watching the waves made from her hands, fingers, and arms weaving back and forth in endless rushes, and she is willingly lost in that sound. Surely, she must be lost to that sight, never wanting to return.
The skies above the lone woman watching over Waugoshance Point and these wetlands in Wilderness State Park are an early summer blue with rising striations of ice white thrown off to the east or here to the north and a single cirrus mare tail plumes like a delicately moving feather pen sitting alone on a desk in an empty drawing room. Midges line up in flight squadrons to investigate her transient presence and then fly off in one satisfied formation. Dragonflies, or mosquito hawks as they are called in more romantic southern places, and damselflies dash above and land everywhere near the small pond behind where the woman is sitting. Their delicate wings, made of such fragile, cracked panes, reflect all colors or no colors, depending on the refraction of individual sight lines. Ancient souls, the dragonflies feed on the large population of mosquitoes, then rest for a moment to scratch their heads or peer with bright, metallic eyes at the hundreds of images offered to them in this brief world. Their many colors, all shining like living medals which need no bestowing by higher authority, dance private ballets to music whose notes the woman thinks she hears, but still cannot gather on one complete string; the snatches of their humming are pearls burst from a necklace, only to vanish in the humid air.
A band of eight herring gulls settles beyond the twine which is strung to posted warning signs indicating that this is the nesting area of an endangered species, the piping plover. The gulls do not care for plovers, or humans, or dragonflies; they are a spoiled, smart lot, grooming their white and gray feathers with golden curves of bill and hooded Beaudoin brown eyes. Unconcerned with her presence, they peer at the woman occasionally, now and then taking an irascible, poking jab at nearby brethren, who, in their flight, have offended them by landing or departing abruptly. They spread their wings to quibble with one another; still, they are at peace, if only for brief moments. A few common terns come waving by, steadily weaving a pacing flight above the shore, now finding a target, dropping into a curving U shape to pluck some living thing from the slow roll of waves.
The woman knows that she is sitting on the floor of an ancient lake, perhaps the one they called Algonquin, or some other, older and nameless water ghost. The wind passes a cool hand over her forehead and through her legs, as though to remind her again of the glacier, as it whirls the mostly golden grains of coarse sand, and mixes it into the flow piles of stones and fossils: horn coral and brachiopods, and others whose names are unfamiliar to her. The rocks and stones are individually beautiful: a few are black as a volcano's heart, others show red granite streaks checked with quartz, and many are pieces of broken, plain sandstone. A large boulder sits nearby, waves of the old lake bed frozen in slanting lines across its face. Squatting in dark compactness, it is a venerable fetish waiting with bored impatience for vanished worshippers.
The beach chair in which she rests her body is settled next to the weathered, silver trunk of a long dead tree. A large mass when living, it serves now as a prop for books, a bottle of sunblock, a journal hastily purchased for 10 cents at a garage sale in nearby Cross Village, compact binoculars and her now relinquished, long-sleeved, blue cotton shirt. Picking up the binoculars to scan the nesting area of the plovers-- a small spot of shoreline that she has volunteered to protect at the park on this busy holiday weekend-- she spots a larger shorebird, the common killdeer, trotting around in the sand and picking for food, as most birds seem to spend their waking hours doing. She did not expect to see the tiny male plover, but nevertheless he joins the killdeer in idle beach combing. The plover's mate is incubating eggs somewhere on the reservation set up by humans to protect the birds from human encroachment.
He is a nondescript little bird, easily missed, easily pressured by larger birds and mammals. Relaxed, he sits on the rise of sand, hiding the thin orange legs upon which he had been standing and looks around from his different view of the same world that the woman looks at--the same world that the dragonfly and the gull and the beer-bellied fisherman the woman saw earlier in the day all see from their varied perspectives. He lives a sacred life here among the condemned, close to the annihilation, closer to the nothingness that all of fragile earth expects will come some day but will not acknowledge.
Watching the bird for several minutes, she sighs and places the binoculars back onto the stump. She settles into the chair again, swatting futilely at an errant black fly that has come in for a good bite and then she searches out where the lopsided lighthouse, a target practice bombing site during World War II, sits in lonely dissolution. What will these few days of protection buy for that bird? she thinks, and says to the distant building, adding, Will it buy anything for me? As legs continue to be pulled out from beneath this once plentiful table of natural wonders, she considers once again that these days seem to create less and less distance between us and the mythical angels. Her question begins to drift off somewhere out onto the straits of Mackinac, to continue floating on to wherever questions always go once they are asked. She smiles and looks for the male plover again, but he has gone.
When she is not looking for adventure in nature, Linda Rosenthal is a freelance writer who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has won local and national prizes for her poetry. She frequently writes about the Great Lakes region and has been published in numerous regional magazines, newsletters, and newspapers.
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