Monday, November 5

Somewhere My Love the Ice Cometh

Once every week, my daily run follows the bike path from the lake behind my house to the lake on the other side of the isthmus. It's a very nice run of approximately 5 miles which I break into two with a few minutes of yoga out on a skinny spit of land extruding into Lake Mendota, a curled finger of a spit undoubtedly built for some purpose of marine navigation but suiting my terrestrial ends just fine. Living on the isthmus between the city's two bigger lakes, almost every one of my running routes is at least partially along lakeshore, but this is the only run that ends with me, solo, nearly surrounded by water.

On the way out here to my restoration point, I run down the leaf-strewn sidewalks of my residential neighborhood, where the great painted ladies of the Victorian age strut their intensely modern colors among the smaller, humbler clapboard houses that grew up in their shade in successive decades. Autumn has claimed its toll slowly this year, and many of the tallest trees are still boasting their summer head of foliage. Like old men with thinning hair, though, they are doomed to loss and exposure; tonight's wind is careening mercilessly down the dark, post-Halloweerie streets. The painted ladies giggle behind their fans and bat their eyelashes.

I run along the canal that connects the two lakes, where the new bike path sees few travellers at this hour, where the canoes and rowboats have all been hauled out of the water and berthed for the season. Dipping smoothly under the eight lanes of East Washington, the bike path on one side of the canal accommodates the purposeful, travellers with a sense of time and direction, while the clean, flat surface of the cement on the other side affords the homeless or simply directionless a shelter and a stopping place of sorts, at least a roof overhead. Sitting on a picnic table in the cold morning, a young man rocks back and forth, back and forth, gripping his knees tight to his chest. I've seen him on other runs, on other routes, doing the same rocking to the same unheard beat from perches on other picnic tables.

I run through Tenney Park, where I know ice skaters, would-be Olympians of pint sized dimension but gigantic determination will dominate in a couple more months, their blades flashing, clacking. "Lara's Theme" rises unbidden in my brain as I lope on by the inlet from the lake, the only tune that ever succeeeded in seducing me around more than one lap of any ice rink. It is not such a good tune for running; I soon discard it, send it skittering over the inlet's surface like a stone over water. To my surprised imagination it seems to clatter, though, as if water, upon the song's contact, turned immediately to ice on this November morning. I glance over my shoulder feeling like some Ice Queen's tapped me with her long nailed forefinger. "You hoo," she whispers. "I'm right behind you." I pick up my pace another notch.

And then there's the big lake in front of me. The beach is empty, the bathhouse boarded. The lifeguard's chair has been pulled to one side and its sign: "No Salvavida Presente" leans unnecessarily against its legs. Two weeks ago, I still saw the occasional pair of arms plying the calm and measured strokes of a strong and regular swimmer through the lake waters. No longer. Today the water is rough, tough, their darkness articulated by the sneering curl of white froth at their crashing crests. I am the only one out here today, and out on the spit it feels even colder and lonelier than on shore.

We are bracing now for winter. The blue sand barrels and the snow fences are standing, silent but connotative. Nature herself is less subtle. The waves today are roaring, like lions cornered and knowing capture is imminent, inescapable, the ferocity of freedom about to be broken. Winter is not a casual event here, not like it is in Colorado. Here, it rides in on the back of the ruthless North Wind. Here, one learns early about hunkering down. About the thickening of the blood. About why the squirrels have been so frantically, obsessively busy while you sat lazily in the sunshine on your front porch laughing at their antics with your neighbors. I have seen these lake waves frozen in their breaking crescendoes along these selfsame shorelines, violent as any tectonic shiftings of the American West.

But today out on the spit, the sky is deep dark blue, the wind clean and cold and knifelike, and my Sun Salutation evokes a poem one of my children learned in kindergarten and then brought home to share with me, by Byrd Baylor:

The way to start a day is this--
Go outside and face the east and greet the sun
with some sort of blessing or chant or song that
you made yourself and keep for early morning.
The way to make the song is this--
Don't try to think what words to use until you're
standing there alone.
When you feel the sun, you'll feel the song, too.
Just sing it.

But don't think you're the only one who ever
worked that magic.
Your caveman brothers knew what to do.
Your cavewoman sisters knew, too.
They sang to help the sun come up, and
lifted their hands to its power.
A morning needs to be sung to.

I will sing my song, the Earth fantastic. I will sing it shivering and trembling, but I will sing it loud and proud, too, to be heard over the crashing of these waves