Friday, December 28, 2018

Lake Sagatagen

Standing on two feet of snow and ten feet of ice, I survey the placid, frozen plain of Lake Sagatagen (the most Garrison Keillor-esque name of all Minnesotan lake names).

A frozen lake is the Minnesotan monastic equivalent of the desert.

Two days ago, the inky, cracked ice of the lake was visible underneath patches of leftover snow. Now, after forty-eight hours of steady snowfall, the lake is densely covered in heavy, rich snow.

I first venture onto the lake alone in a small bay across from a marshy inlet. I gingerly step off the immobile floating bridge onto the thick snow, and walk out into the middle of the water—a journey that would have been impossible two months ago. The impossibility of the walk makes me laugh. I lie down, floating not on the surface of the water, but cradled in the snow. Big clumps of snowflakes keep falling on me, dirt thrown on a coffin.

After reaching the far side of the lake, and the lighthouse of the Marian shrine via land, I venture back over the frozen water. Instead of in the cozy, protected bay, I am out in open water.

The snow sparkles around me, dancing in front of my eyes and distorting depth perception, just as the desert dances and dazzles. I pause on my walk.

It's amazing how much noise our movements make: the rustle of a coat, the pounding of blood in our ears, the silent commotion of muscles heaving and hauling. I stop and there is nothing. Not a sound, but the wind.

The wind whips up in inconsistent spurts, and it whistles and whines across the lake like the melancholic desert wind.

I am, for a moment, daunted.

Then, an REI-approved eremite in camouflage hunting gear emerges from the hermitage of the ice fishing cabin several yards away. He searches about for a new patch of lake to drill an opening in. I am comforted by the presence of this accidental anchorite.

The other beings on the lake's surface: the ice fisher, the proud swan who stands squarely in its middle—rightfully wary of the predators whose prints pepper the paths all around the lake—and the pilgrim who sets off with his rosary across the icy desert, are all thrown into high relief. You see and sense them clearly. Despite the ice fisher's habit, there is no camouflage. Who you are is advertised from the moment you enter a fellow traveler's field of vision (which is expansive) and they can study you in-depth for the entire distance you approach. It's a rare intimacy.

The frozen lake, like the desert, is an infinity. Once you are only a few steps in, you look back, and you are already an unfathomable distance from the shore. In just a few short feet, you have become more a part of the lake than the land. You look back on the trees and think: funny, to think I was ever a part of that, that I was ever walking thereThe desert and the lake envelop you, they claim you quickly, and once they've swallowed you, you can never quite shake them.

In the sparkling white expanse of the frozen lake—a seasonal desert of sorts—you get a taste of the infinite. There is nothing extraneous, nothing ornamental, the world is pared down to its wild bareness. But the wildness, even though harsh—perhaps even in its harshness—beckons specifically to you, inviting you to be a part of it.

Once you have left it, once you are back in the safety of a world of screens, and books, and comfortable sitting chairs in warm-wooded libraries, you discover it has not really left you. Its wind rushes quietly across a corner of your heart, calling you always.

No comments:

Post a Comment