“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” —Winnie the Pooh
I stopped just short of the water’s edge. I hadn’t expected this situation at all, as the trail was well worn, and seemed like it should continue. In this place, there were even stepping stones, poached from the nearby land and placed by some anonymous traveler, apparently for the benefit of anyone who would find them later. There were no signs, no warning whatsoever. Yet there it was: a pond, directly in the trail. I looked left, and I looked right, but there were no signs of travel in either direction along the shore. One minute I was strolling along the path, the next my progress was cut short. The pond itself was not newly flooded, but old, and well established, its marshy clumps of reeds overhanging the sandy earth of the shoreline. The trail just seemed to end here, as though it were the final destination.
I was perplexed. I craned my neck, seeking any sign that there might be others in the area. No one; I was alone. Did people come here to wash things – like clothing, or to bathe? That would explain the need for such a path. But there were no real signs of activity here, the trail simply ended at the water’s edge. Did people come here to fish? No way to be sure, but there were no obvious signs of fishing, and no dock, no fishing boats. Did people come here to gather water then? Possibly. The pond seemed clear, and fresh, as though it were fed by unseen springs. Cool water, rising from the depths of the rocky earth beneath my feet. It was a thought that felt refreshing, soothing, and reminding me that my feet were tired. I looked around for a clear space to rest on the low grass beside the trail.
Perhaps this is what people do here, I thought to myself. Perhaps they come to relax, and spend a few hours or minutes in the light of the late sun; to inhale the smell of the mud at the water’s edge; to listen and hear the small sounds of insects about their insect business and the talking breezes which chattered in a language of near understanding. Perhaps people come here simply to marvel at the tiny waves lapping the shore, whose miniature tongues curl like so many flames, persistently seeking to move, and then to re-move, the division between water and earth.
I may have fallen asleep for a while, but the sun had only advanced by the smallest degree. Time seemed to scrape its belly on the trail before the water’s edge, hanging low on its tired legs, as though urging me to continue alone. It was a lazy kind of day anyway, in late fall, with its blend of warm sun and chill draughts of air. The kind of day in which anything could happen, but nothing did. I would like to go on record to say that I believe in nothing beyond the present, as the future is unseen, will always be unseen, and each moment slips into the past before we can even put our arms around it. Why should this philosophical ditty matter now? Does it need to matter?
I looked back down the trail which led me to this spot. It was long and meandering. Sometimes steep, sometimes slick with moss, sometimes rocky, with sharp, dangerous edges, while on other days totally unremarkable, tame, even seductive. I don’t know what I expected to find, when I began this path, but this place was a surprise. I should say, “is” a surprise, as there is only this moment, the present – only now. This is a surprise. The trail is long. The water is clear, and calm, and settling into the nest of its vale like a cat settles in the laundry basket.
I am looking out to the lake now. It is bigger than I had thought, and I now see that it is dotted with small islands. I see trees on some of the islands, shrouded in a light mist, and having a bit of glow about them as the sunset places the leafless branches in soft silhouette. In my mind’s eye, I can see movement on the islands, but I know this is whimsy, or the work of an overactive imagination. I can feel that this place is only for me, and the other-worldly shadows that leap from island to island are just that – shadows, of another life, or another place, not really part of this landscape.
I am standing beside my father now, as he was when I was small. He is supine on the lawn. I leap upon him, but he catches me and holds me at arm’s length over his head. He lowers his arms, the pushes me back up, and I feel myself fall, bouncing on his chest as he laughs. I can feel that he is solid, immovable, permanent. Now I stand beside his bed as he becomes part of the world that gave him to me, fading into the rocks, the forest wood, the ocean – solid, immovable, permanent. I walk now with my mother, and hold her hand. I can smell her perfume, and the hand-lotion on her fingers, now on my fingers. Her lips are moving, but her words are so quiet, fading to pastel, then watercolor, now an unfinished veil painting, with no firm designs, no edges. I have so many questions for her, but each moment slips into the past before we can even put our arms around it.
At the water’s edge, I examine myself in the mirror liquid. I see my father’s chin, my mother’s eyes, my sister’s ambition, my brother’s memory. I see the hopes and dreams of my children, the lines and creases of past loves, together, in the present, right now. They are all in the face looking up from the water, but through them I see something new, something I hadn’t noticed before. I have been standing at the water’s edge, letting so many moments sift through my fingers, like bits of grain in a sieve, or the raindrops that had begun to obliterate the trail at my back, and I had not noticed something behind my own reflection. The glassy surface of the lake reveals its secrets as the sun begins to set, as the reflection gives way to the truth, and looking through my face I see stones. Stepping stones – and the trail – continuing along, unending, uninterrupted, beneath the vast expanse of water.
I laugh as I kick off my shoes, looking ahead, I continue to follow the trail. And now the moment at water’s edge has gone, slipping away as all moments do.