I find grace in the middle of a mountain lake
That's me in the photograph, 16 years old, in my swimsuit, standing in snow beside Scott Lake, high in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. Snowballs, stopped in the air all these years by the camera's shutter, fly toward me.Skip to next paragraph
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I dodged the snowballs my siblings threw at me by running into the lake. The water was much warmer than I expected, late spring, when only snow shaded by north slope and dense stands of evergreens survived warm sunshine.
I should have stopped to think, but warm water and sunlight overpowered any cautionary thoughts I might have had. Snowballs splashed around me as I swam toward where my older brother, Gerrit, and his friend Dave paddled a slow and clumsy log raft near the center of the lake, not far away.
Only weeks before, I had convinced my physical education teacher that I couldn't float. I followed his instructions carefully and, time after time, sank to the bottom of the pool.
He insisted that I could float, but he was wrong. Some people do not float. They are built compactly, densely, and they sink unless they keep themselves on the surface by some effort. I was one of those people.
But I didn't think of that. Sun shone on the warm water. The day was pleasant. I was young and strong, and I would swim to the raft.
I swam out of snowball range and kept swimming toward the raft. I swam some more. I shifted to a side stroke. I swam on my back. I returned to a crawl, and I realized the raft was much farther from shore than I had first thought.
I grew tired. I swam.
I didn't seem to be getting any closer to the raft. I looked back at the shore. It was a long way away. I'd been foolish to start, to get so far from shore while still so far from the raft. I needed to rest, and there was no way I could stop swimming, because I would sink.
I was too young to die, especially as a result of a stupid decision, but it seemed I had no other choice but to sink. I've heard that your whole life flashes before you when you are close to death, but it didn't happen to me. I just had a strong sense of regret that I had been so foolish, that I had lived such a short time. Then I gave up and prepared to sink. I let my feet start down toward the bottom, out of my sight because of the slightly muddy water - and my feet stopped on the muddy bottom.
I stood shoulder deep in the center of the lake and laughed and breathed deeply. The water in the lake was so warm because it was so shallow, I thought. It warmed rapidly in the sun. I laughed again. I'd had no idea the lake was so shallow.
Life seemed sweet in warm sunshine, in warm water. The soft mud of the lake bed felt good to my feet. Ha! I had songs to sing yet, dances to dance, stories to tell. I might live many years yet.
I started walking slowly toward the raft. I didn't think I'd tell anyone why I laughed in the middle of Scott Lake. It could be a secret between me and Scott Lake why life, already sweet and full on a warm mountain day, seemed even sweeter to me, even more precious. I had many adventures ahead of me.