A picture of me, legs draped over the trunk of an oak tree beside "Feather Pointed the Way Lake". We named it that, Jen and I , on a Thanksgiving weekend when we made our pilgrimage there, in the apogee of Indian Summer, walking the single-lane road, ankle deep in soggy earth, like two kids rambling through tracts of chocolate fudge. I remember the sky above, depth less, unbroken, the day hushed and noiseless, and the two of us walking along on either side, past charred stumps in the forest, deep sand rocks laid bare and smooth by rain, and ceaseless wind.
It was ours. We found it. Found it so we could give it away again, back to the Creator with our offerings of tobacco rubbed between fingertips, with sweet grass measured to the wind on the edges of an eagle's feather; brushing the white smoke around our bodies, around each other. Chanting low down in ourselves for something, for nothing to accept our simple gifts.
Jen is the one taking the picture. She is above me teetering on a margin of rock, looking down as I sit on a branch, the lake bluer than blue, flecked with leaves and farther out, towards the opposite shore, cold and icy as the sky in winter time. I seem lost in the play of light, a living penumbra, peering back at the camera lens. My navy shirt blends with the water behind, my skin is dappled by the bowery cool of leaf and twig.
Above the granite bulge lies the circle we made two summers before. We knew it was there, knew it in the pits of our stomachs, when trudging through the mosquito veils, we read the sign. A lone feather on a bare dry rock pointing the way.
Our minds could not cope with the unbounded growth of the land around us. We needed a frame. A reference point. Something to bump up against when the hunger had dug itself deep into our bellies, threatening to turn us back, a stones throw from the center of our journey. A little further along the road we saw the clearing, pale blue sky winking at us through breathing trees. As we climbed the rise, clinging to nameless weeds, I felt the blood throb in my neck and my head grow faint and faraway, pins and needles creeping in shadow like from the edges of my eyes. For a moment I seemed to drift midway through the struggle. I floated above myself and watched as anonymous hands clawed the earth before me, my distant feet a mile below searching dubiously for solid ground.
Somehow we fought our way through the tangled brush. We stood silent and awe- struck, looking down the thin sliver of a lake and knew without uttering a word that we had arrived.
It's all there in the picture of me sitting casually with my leg draped over the branch
of an oak tree. But the emptiness so large it threatened to teach us nothing escaped the
frame. If you look closely though you can see it in my eyes.
© 1998 Eric Gardiner, all rights reserved
appears here by permission