Retreat

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The lake held the memory of the afternoon’s hard wind, waves chopping the water with a few caps still curling into white, as we crossed to Five Mile Island to watch the sun set.  Earlier when we paddled out of the lee of Bear Island to try kayaking straight into the north wind, the entire surface of the lake was wild, two and three foot waves slapping our boats up and down, spray blowing back at us.  We could hardly move against the wind, but the kayaks handled well and we turned and paddled back along the shore of the Island, into protected coves, skirting rocks and docks, letting the late summer sun warm us.  

Now this morning there is no wind, but the water is still moving.  I’ve missed being next to water, experiencing the changing face of the lake, yesterday’s dark, ripping waves, the softening flow as the wind died in the evening, this morning’s flicker of the cloudy morning light on the rippled surface.  After dinner last night, we watched the moon rise, first like a half-circle orange cap on the opposite shore making me wonder what unknown neon casino had opened there.  The moon rose into a bank of clouds and disappeared, then come out again like a big yellow egg, making a wider and wider path across the water as it got higher.  The path of moonlight came straight across the water to us, sitting on the camp’s deck 20 feet from the shore.

“It looks like a slow, sensuous flash of lightning,” David said, and it did, snaking and shifting in the moving water, zig-zagging into a smaller and smaller line of light until it was just a random flash here and there at the water’s edge.

This has been a brief and welcome retreat.  It was an initial treat when David and I first came out to this island camp for three days in July of 2008.  We’d only known each other four months, and those three days were magical.  We were away from all the complications surrounding our emerging relationship, like orange traffic cones we had to navigate — the need for discretion among David’s family and friends, my family and friends’ thoughtful wariness, the difficulty of finding time to be together in the face of the usual work and family demands on time.  Here on Bear Island we were alone, on the water, letting what was happening between us unfold and sweep along with the constant shift of the lake.  We talked and wrote and read poetry.  David made a pastel painting that is still tacked to one of the cabin’s walls.

We haven’t been back in the over two years since, and we were barely able to squeeze this visit in among our fall commitments, but we did it.  Yesterday morning we packed the car, stopping to admire the morning glories climbing their string through the blossoms of hydrangea as we carried gear and kayaks from the barn.  Driving north, we talked about the rise and fall of intellectual and artistic communities, the human need to connect and stretch individual thinking and creation by reaching beyond ourselves.  And we talked, as we always do, about the need to retreat, to have unconnected time to create.  Kayaking out to the camp was a bit tricky, with loaded boats and a hard wind, but once we rounded the north end of the island we had the wind at our backs and reached the sandy beach in front of the cabin easily.

Now we’re having our usual coffee on the deck, but we have a field of lake in front of us, instead of pasture or yard.  The sun is drawing shifting paths of sparkle as it moves across the cloudy sky and lights on the undulating surface of the water.

The wind is picking up again, this time from the south.  It’s time to pack up and kayak back to the car, drive home and, for me, get ready to leave.  I’ll be in Chicago tonight, but I’ll have this window of waterfront time to take with me.  Retreat.

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About Grace Mattern

Grace Mattern is a poet, writer, mother, grandmother, partner, friend, family member, gardener, triathlete, hiker and for 30 years was the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. She resigned her position at the Coalition on June 15, 2011 in order to concentrate on her writing, while continuing to engage in the movement to end violence against women as a consultant and advisor. Her chapbook Fever of Unknown Origin was published in 2001 and her full-length poetry book The Truth About Death was published in 2012.
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