I wake up wanting wildness; wanting the long view; wanting to be somewhere at the edge of what I know. I can’t explain it. It’s feels exactly like hunger, and even after breakfast it is still there, gnawing in the pit of my belly, and so we go, all four of us.
We take chocolate and walnuts, and chai marsala tea. We wear boots, and layers and our warmest gloves. We drive North, to the Champlain islands, to where lake meets sky, the water frozen into a smooth wide sheet till it blurs, yellow and milky at the edge.
The boys have the right approach. They pile into the car ready for adventure, and climb out when we park, curious, wide-eyed, already running towards whatever they will fine. The unknown is an invitation, a lure, a wild promise.
For T and I it’s harder. It requires effort to shake off expectations and preoccupations, and the ground is icy and uncertain beneath us.
My breath catches where my breastbones join.
The boys run ahead, propelled by innate curiosity and instinctive balance. They run out onto the ice following sled tracks, unafraid, reckless in their abandon to know whatever this is, this ice, this world at the edge, this day, this newness of now.
For them, sliding is play. Falling too is it’s own wonder: a flirtation with gravity. A chance to be airborne and to come down again, hard and certain, but without the pain of height and the thud of inflexibility. I watch them as they fall, over and over on purpose. Running, they hurl themselves knees first toward the ice, then slide out ahead in a graceful uncontrolled arc, yelling with glee.
I yell warnings after them unheeded, and feel afraid I am of this. Of what I can’t control.
Without planning, I’ve arrived exactly at the wild edge of the unknown that stirred me from sleep like a hunger, though when we left the house I didn’t for a moment picture it like this: ice as far as the eye can see, with fishermen dotting the horizon. We slip-slide past the holes they’ve left, drilled drilled down into the quiet dark, where Lake Perch swim slowly through still water without sun.
The boys want to poke their booted toes in; I imagine hypothermia. My voice snaps fiercely in the cold air. They look surprised. And when we come close to the shore, they walk along the lake’s broken lip where the cattails rattle, and as the ice cracks and bows under their weight, they laugh with glee and stamp harder. I bark warnings, imagining them sinking under.
So here I am, learning to exist at the edge of the unknown, where my fears rise up again and again. I am afraid what I can’t control, of the things I do not know, of outcomes that aren’t certain, of edges I don’t know how to trust.
It takes a long time for me to realize why I am here, skating on dark ice; how these these moments are exactly the metaphor I need.
My breath catches. I release it.
Out there, on the wide open of the icy lake the fishermen silently sit on over-turnned buckets, not moving at all.
Their stillness is a kind of knowing I must learn. Their patience quiet and long.
Wearing thick parkas with fur close to their cheeks, they watch the small hole at their feet for signs of life. Sometimes there is a flicker. Once, twice, they pull in a fish. But the point isn’t that quick action; that flick of wrist and tug of line. Waiting is. Waiting, until even that ceases to be the point, and they simply are. Being. Hearts beating a steady thunder under layers; breath gathering in the stillness above them, signaling a silent gracious prayer: to be alive. To be alive.