September 7, 2020

Fishing Boats and Back Roads

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I thought my four-AM wake-up call would come brash and jarring, but it’s soft and quiet instead.

The dark shadows hid my fingers as they made their way across Eric’s back, joining us to a slow world stirred only for early risers who want to get the most of the morning, trick the fish that, too, are still asleep, hungry and angry.

The slightest drops fall on top of the trailer and tell me there’s supernatural help in getting me up–God only knows how I can peel my lids open at this hour, knows only the soft plink of rain on roof will show He’s there with me in the ungodly hour.

Deep, thick voices getting used to being used mumble around me, and I let myself stay in bed on the fold-out futon a few minutes more. Then I stumble through dressing in the dark, slide back the divider and murmur my good morning.

Soon after I emerge, Eric, his parents, and I are off, winding through the maze of gravel and campers to the dock, my father-in-law’s boat buoyed to a twisting wood length of slats on the walkway. He fumbles with buttons until the motor spurts and rumbles to life, gliding with little light down the canal, following the line of boats that leads to open water. There are so many out today, their green and white lights lit up around the vast stretch of Lake Michigan. The water looks like a liquid city.

The blackness turns dark gray, navy, charcoal then coral blue, then bound by crystal light that hovers pastel over the water. On the western horizon, the town’s silhouette cuts into the sky, jagged teeth of church steeple, hotel, old forgotten buildings, and tips of trees. Two water towers help us keep alignment; to the east, sky and lake merge into blue clouds and there doesn’t seem to be a split between sky and sea.

We lay out the downriggers, connect and put out poles, attach planer boards and dip them under the currents. Beneath us, swarms of fish swim by, marked and monitored by screens on the dashboard, but we catch only two–one is a small thing puckering its gills for water-air that we let go. But it’s a great day to be on the boat, out in open water, keeping time to the rising of sun over the sky.

When we roll back into shore it’s a little past the lunch hour; we mow down leftover pizza before piling into Eric’s mom’s Subaru to drive seven minutes to the local high school. Pulling up, we are greeted by towering kites in every color and shape. This is the annual kite festival, parking lot packed and a sea of creatures waving in the wind: black dragons with red wings wriggle in the air, rainbow fish the size of a hot air balloon shakes on its strings, and banners and flags flap furiously when gusts come in. Big bubbles float through the walkway, the soap catching the sun in prisms of color as they move effortlessly above the crowds. In a roped-off grass field, a trio of arrowed kites perform a routine to music, rising and dipping and twirling between each other in tune. This is a time of forgetting, of becoming new.

Eric and I have heaved through these months like explorers hacking a path to new land. Trials by fire and fragility, every step a test to die to self and still my tongue. This is all a gift, exhausting as it is. And this time away has been surprisingly good for the soul. But we are tired, and ready to regroup and go home.

We take the country roads south, keeping as parallel to the lake as possible, until we come to a detour, spin east, and weave our way through back roads to find the shoreline again. It’s almost hidden and we see the sign as we pass, but a park by the water beckons and Eric asks if I want to stop and play catch. We make a U-turn and find a small patch of grass in a clearing of trees, and toss the ball back and forth. It feels good to feel the snap of my wrist on release, listen to the pop of ball in leather. After sticking my phone in the ground for a photo together, we take the slight decline down to the lake, climb over fallen trees and sit on a sturdy log where waves lap at the rocks. The calm clears the clutter that’s gathered in me for weeks, each sentence with Eric a respite from the rampant chaos that has fought to rule for four months. But not today. Today, the wind is slow and our legs are brushing against each other and the world’s swaying like I’m still on my sea legs.

We continue to take back country roads home, admiring the long stretch of sunlight over fields and farmhouses. Windows down, my hand in his, we are at home with our souls, after what seems like an impossible stretch of stretching and growth, merging into one while God’s third cord of rope fashioned itself to ours. It’s felt tight, constricting, but I am learning to lean into the tension. As the familiar bends of land wave us off the main road and we make our way through the closely-lined streets of town, I turn to him and smile, the first rhythms of married life making their way back into our hearts.

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