One second of eternity at Lake Willoughby

IMGP1041Lake Willoughby, grated into plutonic rock by a deep glacier, is a 300 feet deep, water filled scar between two mountains with biblical names, Mount Hor to the West and the Eastern Mount Pisgah. If you stand on the North Shore of the lake, it actually has the appearance of a deep fjord, though there is no outlet to the sea. Instead there is said to be an underground aquifer connecting the basin of Lake Willoughby to that of another eerie body of water beyond Mount Hor, Crystal Lake. In my mind that acquifer had the form of a water filled cathedral, in my mind I saw swimmers gliding swiftly through a space abandoned by a people even older than they were. There was an incredible, inexplicable light the way I imaged this. You have to keep in mind that I imagined this within a dream without actually seeing it, two steps down and under. Even though my sober mind took offense with the inexplicability of the light.

While I was thinking and conjuring up images within the dream I stood at the waters edge of the lake as I had done many summers and the water exactly like the water of lake Willoughby as I remembered it acted like a mirror. The surface seemed to be like a sheet of glass of finest quality, separating the clearly visible underneath from the still world above, and the mirror image of this world like an incomprehensible fourth dimension in between both worlds. Again I saw the forms in the distance, gathering around precariously piled up, submerged boulders. Each winter these boulders avalanche down Mount Pisgah and roll into the lake to form the outline of an inaccessible stone city, creating an intricate mountainous terrain. I wondered how long it would take to fill the deep ravine of the lake with boulders and fleetingly thought of the old story about the small bird wearing away a mountain with his beak to mark the passing of the first second of eternity. In my dream I had this thought.

deep blue pride / from my new novel (nasciturus pro iam nato habetur, quotiens de commodius eius agitur)

IMG_2442One day Aunt Melissy, Uncle Joe and a I had been invited to an assembly on a Sunday after church to the church elder and his wife. The men and boys were gathering in the meeting hall of the church while the womenfolk were expected to assemble at the church elder’s house. His wife was entertaining us with cake and good strong smelling coffee in her dining room that was big enough to fit at least twenty people at the table and then some around the benches placed at the wall. Even at such a gathering  there was no idle chatter but the women discussed who in the community was in need of support or charity and how the community should cooperate to provide it. The girls were clearly as bored as any girl at any time would have been even though I was sure they were working as hard and obediently as I was. We were all seated alongside the wall on the benches, holding on to our mugs and a piece of cake. I exchanged glances with a girl about my age who was seated across the table at the other wall. The girl seemed strangely familiar but I could not place her face. She was dressed just a bit prettier than the other girls and in fact she was a bit prettier than everybody else.  After we had finished our coffee she got up, left the room and returned with a tray to collect our mugs and the dishes we had been balancing on our knees. When she took mine she made a funny face at me, and the girl next to me giggled. I couldn’t tell whether she had been laughing at me or about me but the pretty girl had already filled her tray and carried it out of the room. When she came back into the room she did not reclaim her seat on the bench but stood next to the state elder’s wife, her hands neatly folded in front of her apron and  waiting to be allowed to address the woman sitting at the table. Finally, her mother decided to look up and notice her. As soon as her eyes found her daughter’s smile you could see the smallest glimpse of pleasure and pride you will ever catch in another person’s face. I looked at Aunt Melissy. Nothing much escaped her sharp birdlike eyes and, sure enough, she was squinting her eyes in the familiar way she displayed only when she was alarmed by some misbehavior while observing elder’s wife intently. The lady was well trained though and the moment of satisfaction with her daughter’s beauty and well-displayed training had passed quickly and had been replaced with the usual sober inquiry she met everyone in her church with, never letting on that she was the first lady of the community. I think that in this moment though I knew that behind all of this admirable display of virtue people were as they are through all times – well meaning at their best, proud and ambitious underneath, full of insecurity and doubt. Maybe even Aunt Melissy knew some of these feelings. I looked at her. Nah, not Aunt Melissy, I corrected myself. Maybe every hundred years or so somebody came along who was actually virtuous and good to a fault. In this room I knew this one person not to be the church elders’ wife  but Aunt Melissy.

She seemed to be right out of a historical reenactment society

 

I was so completely startled by this sudden change in behavior that I wasn’t even shocked to feel a hand grabbing my shoulder and yanking me down from my boulder and back to shore.
The hand was firm and muscular. It dragged me away from the shore a few steps, beyond the tree line and I had to oblige, stumbling backwards. When we reached the shelter of the tree, the hand let go. I turned around. The strong and determined grip had been misleading. Standing in front of me, inspecting me gravely with birdlike, black eyes, was a tiny, old woman. She wore a long rough shirt with an apron over a grey flannel shirt. Snow white hair done up in a tidy bun, her narrow shoulders wrapped in a grey woolen, triangular shawl, she seemed to be right out of a historical reenactment society. “And what did you think you were doing there, laddie,” she inquired with an authoritative voice. Apparently she mistook me for a boy, addressing me as laddie. “Speak up,” she demanded, quite clearly being used to be obeyed immediately and not one prone to put up with any nonsense. I shivered. She stepped closer again, then reached out and pushed my tangled hair out of my face. Taking a sharp look at my face she murmured to herself: “In a bad shape we are, aren’t we.” And inspecting me a few more moments she added: “A girl in a lad’s clothes, if I ever saw such a thing, lost too, I take it.” She put her hand on my forehead. I started shaking violently. “You are burning up,” she observed, again more to herself than to me. If I had had any more strength left in me, I might have inquired right there and then why she had yanked me away from the boulder. If I had been in my own time and place, I would have protested most decidedly about being ordered about by a woman who was a complete stranger to me. But here I was, meek, shivering with fever and cold and lost. The tiny lady took off her shawl and wrapped it around my shoulders. “That’s more like it,” she stated grimly, referring to my state of clothing, I am sure. Then she simply took my hand and pulled me along.

Woe to the unfortunate stranger who should come upon the gate they were keeping

For a brief moment also I did wonder now whether I was still dreaming. Yet the wet sand, the sea gulls of the lake circling overhead, the light on the water, the dark blue reflections of the two adjacent Mountains, Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah, in the misty mirror of the lake on the distant Southern shore, everything had a coherence that was not dreamlike. And yet the situation was surreal, not only because I had fallen asleep on my bed and woken up on a wet, cold beach hundreds of miles away from home. The sun, for example, was incredibly small, too small for our planet, planet earth. In the east the sharp crescent of a waxing moon, greeting the morning with disdain, was accompanied by a second crescent, a twin moon. And the surface underneath me was still breathing. And yet I knew the silhouettes of the twin peaks by heart. My mother used to tell us on warm summer nights, when the sun had already left the sky and only the patient outlines of the rock formations on both sides of the lake were still cutting into the advancing darkness, that the mountains were ancient guardians who were forgotten by their masters and not having been relieved of their duty had decided to keep their post to the edge of doom. Woe to the unfortunate stranger who should come upon the gate they were keeping. Lake Willoughby was an incredibly deep, glacial, water filled ravine, and there was some sparse folk lore about creatures living in the dark, about a connecting underground acquifer between the lake and its twin lake, Crystal Lake, to the West behind Mount Hor. It was a strange place, but being as remote had kept all stories at bay.

I sat still for a while, waiting for the scenery to change or disappear like dream images do, especially if you pay too much attention to the details, but the situation was as real as you can imagine, and not prone to change any more than Ms. Havenshire’s classroom during an especially tedious lecture on a philosophical concept that excited her. I stared around for a while, bravely ignoring the piercing cold, trying to take an inventory of everything. Except for the strange planetary constellations, the lake seemed real. I had never been up here in fall but I imagined it to look as lonely and cold as it did now. It is not exactly a lively place even in summer. And in winter, once the snow started, it would be one of those places that were cut off from the outside world for weeks on end, alas with the local people being prepared for it and not disconcerted by a few inches more or less of snow or even by massive boulders coming thundering down the mountains just like every winter. There was no skiing and therefore no seasonal dwellers in winter. Both, Mount Hor and Mount Pisgah were too steep and fully covered with trees.

I was shivering violently now, my clothes were as damp as if I had actually spent the night unprotected on the beach. When I finally stumbled up to my feet, it took me a moment to find my balance just as it would have on a big gym mat. I tried to disregard the breathing of the surface and made a few gingerly placed steps towards the water. What to do next? What to do if you are suddenly stranded in a place without any preparation or at least warning? Why was I here? In a dream, typically, events keep unfolding and you keep reacting but the lake was quiet with quick shadows dancing over the surface. I stopped at the water’s edge. Little waves arrived at the shore with a sweet sound. Light was dancing silver on the ripples. I was getting colder by the second, shaking most convincingly.

I had to find shelter. There was a colony of summer cottages at the North Beach, they would be boarded up for the winter, but maybe I could find a way in all the same to warm up and think. It seemed a reasonable plan, if you can at all call it reasonable that you have to think about finding shelter in a dream. Again I asked myself what I would do once I got inside. Maybe there would be a phone but even if there was, it probably would be disconnected for winter. Would it even make sense to call home and ask for someone to please come and rescue me? How ever to explain how I got here? And would it be possible to call home even if I found a working phone? I turned around to scan the tidy row of vacation cottages at the North Shore to find one that would suit my improvised plan and I faced an impenetrable row of trees. The cottages were gone.

the earth itself, underneath my body, was a breathing organism, like a gigantic whale you find yourself stranded on

How hard my mind had to work to keep control, to still try to make sense out of a wealth on information that had long stopped to be apprehensible by any rules I had been led to understand applied. But only submission to the world of grown-ups would have you believe that they were – in general – truthful about the world. I didn’t believe this anymore but tried to rely on my own senses instead. It was treacherous ground.

For example that night. As I lay in the dark, eyes closed though wide awake, the surface of my bed felt soft as was to be expected, but it felt soft in the way I had experienced and shied away from before. It seemed to be soft in an organic, breathing way. I tried to distinguish between my own breathing pattern and the breathing of that soft, pliable surface I felt underneath my body.  It was an uncanny feeling – but just ask yourself how many sensations you can really clearly distinguish besides soft and hard, warm and cold, pain and pleasure. Truth is, you constantly rely on additional sensations and context to tell you about the thing you are experiencing through just one of your senses to make sense of something.

What was it that I was feeling? Something that I feared, but I didn’t know why I feared it or whether I had reason to fear it in the first place as I was completely unaware of its nature. All I knew was that last time I checked my bed had not been breathing. As before it felt actually – and it made perfect sense to think those words as irrational as they might seem – that the earth itself, underneath my feet, my body, was a breathing organism, like a gigantic whale you find yourself stranded on. It didn’t make sense and I couldn’t explain to myself where that strange idea actually orginated. Nothing I had read or talked about lately had pointed in that direction. Remember, there was no internet and but little TV. None in our house, by the way.

And yet, I just felt it, right there and then, the surface underneath me belonged to something alive, and I knew I had to open my eyes to find out what was going on, but I was entirely too scared to live up to my own imaginative ability. All I could manage to do, pathetically,  was to continue breathing slowly just as I had done during those long ago nights when I had led some non-existing intruder to believe that I was asleep. And with each moment the sensation of a sighing, breathing surface underneath my body was getting stronger.

cat doors and space time

How did he get in? The same way he got out, I guess. Slowly, really feeling borderline silly, I got down on all fours and crawled to the cat door. My legs felt heavy and cold and as the circulation started to work again were starting to tingle. I ignored them and bent my face down to the cat door as if I was a cat. Of course I knew that I wouldn’t fit through the small opening, just wide enough for Plinius, not even, after some adjustments, wide enough for the neighborhood raccoon who, attracted by Plinius cat food bowl, had twice raided the kitchen. I felt cold night air on my hand pushing up the slot and then on my face. I pushed closer to the opening and peeked out.

I felt like Alice in Wonderland after she had tumbled down the rabbit hole. I could see Plinius’ world bright and clear. Too bright actually. There was daylight out there, in front of my kitchen door, bright sun light reflected off the silver ripples of the lake. Plinius sat, back to me, at the shore, and washed his coat thoroughly with his cat tongue as if to cleanse himself of my human touch. I knew the lake by the characteristic shape of the mountains that surrounded it. The place existed. Only it was not in my backyard where I had, only moments before, watched Plinius through the doorglass as he was diving into the night. The lake glaring in the sunlight was far up in Vermont, Lake Willoughby, a deep glacial body of water wedged between two mountains with biblical names where my mother, Phoebe and I had spent our summer. I had not the first idea why I would see it through the cat door.

Plinius seemed to think nothing of it, and he just continued to lick his lower back, proceeding systematically to the tail. He paid no attention to me and would not have either if he had cleaned himself on the kitchen rug behind me. I turned back for a reality check, back to see the night kitchen in my own house, closing the cat door gently as if to protect the night in my house from that other wordly daylight. Or the daylight out there from the night leaking out of a cat door in my world. Because in my spacetime it was still night, my kitchen was still dark except for the weak glow of the night light.

Out there where Plinius roamed, it was not only bright day but an entirely different geographical place altogether. Not New Humble Jersey. I pressed my face again the cat door again. Plinius had taken advantage of my distraction and had removed himself from the scene. It was dark out there, the smooth, velveteen darkness of our own backyard. In the distance over the black leaved silhouettes of the tree tops I could see a star. My own backyard and starlight traveling over a distance of 430 light years.

Mount Hor

Lake Willoughby grated into plutonic rock by a deep glacier, is a 300 feet deep, water filled scar between two mountains with biblical names, Mount Hor to the West and the Eastern Mount Pisgah. If you stand on the North Shore of the lake, it actually has the appearance of a deep fjord, though there is no outlet to the sea. Instead there is said to be an underground aquifer connecting the basin of Lake Willoughby to that of another eerie body of water beyond Mount Hor, Crystal Lake.
In my dream the water acted like a mirror. The surface seemed to be like a sheet of glass of finest quality, separating the clearly visible underneath from the still world above, and the mirror image of this world like an incomprehensible fourth dimension in between both worlds. Again I saw the forms in the distance, gathering around precariously piled up, submerged boulders. Each winter these boulders avalanche down Mount Pisgah and roll into the lake to form the outline of an inaccessible stone city, creating an intricate mountainous terrain. I wondered how long it would take to fill the deep ravine of the lake with boulders and fleetingly thought of the old story about the small bird wearing away a mountain with his beak to mark the passing of the first second of eternity. In my dream I had this thought.