Lake life: taking lessons from the local inhabitants

Learning to fly, the art of self-defense, confidence – lake life offers daily lessons.

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    Lake life: A sunset at Sardis Lake in Oklahoma, is shown in this photo.
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I have the heart of a world traveler, but the body and temperament of a day-tripper. While I love to hear of others' travels, I have thrived by staying closer to home. By studying one place as it has changed with the seasons and the years, I have learned much about where I live and about myself as well.

Henry David Thoreau noted wryly, "I have traveled a great deal in Concord." Over the years I have echoed his sentiments as I have "traveled a great deal" around Silver Lake, my home of these past 30 years. This small lake community, south of Boston, has helped me not only to understand but to welcome, or at least to make peace with, the relentless change in my world.

I've observed the nesting swans as they hide each year, tucked into the tall grasses at the wilder end of the lake. The newly hatched cygnets' presence is telegraphed by the activity of the parents, heads bobbing in the grasses as they care for their brood.

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The Canada geese parade proudly about the lake with their goslings in the spring. The little ones grow quickly as their watchful parents guard them and hiss at anyone who comes too close.

At sunset, great blue herons fly to the top of the pines that cover the island in the middle of the lake, settling down slowly as the trees bow under their weight.

The geese, giving flying lessons in the fall, provide a front row seat on parenting in the wild, as they insist that their young learn to trust their wings.

I have also watched ducks paddle about the lake with their young, only to count fewer and fewer little ones each morning, as snapping turtles feed on the ducklings. The swans, as well, are often left bereft of their entire parade of young.

In the heat of summer, I have been drawn to the lake many times in search of cool breezes. I know the best places are also where the bitterest winds of winter blow.

One February morning I braved the cold, craving the sun, but more, the solace of the lake. The swans had been sitting out in the middle of the lake that past week – curiously, in the windiest spot. This day, they looked restless. They shifted and adjusted themselves on the frozen surface.

I left the large birds to their sitting and continued my walk. When I looked again, the two swans had gotten up. Now walking on the ice, their strides telegraphed different demeanors. The lead swan strutted, head held high, each step taken confidently. The second swan had her head tucked down, wings almost dragging along the ice, as if to help maintain her balance. And with every step her feet slid.

Suddenly, the first swan started running, full of assurance. The anxious swan ran as well, wings still dragging, head and neck straight out, determined not to be left behind. I could hear feet slapping the frozen surface. Then they were airborne, and gently whistling (from whence comes their name, which means "to sing"). They lifted up slowly and headed around the island, circling skyward.

We all confront challenges – sometimes we do so with confident grace, sometimes with slipping and sliding. I have always wished to behave gracefully through these times, but more often find myself in the camp of the slipping and sliding. How fortunate I have been to be surrounded by such wise teachers.

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