December is a pensive season at the lake, a time to meditate and wonder about things. Most of the waterfowl have already flown south to spend the cold months in warmer climates, so the mood is solitary. Temperatures hover around freezing or below, and the sharp wind tosses the pine trees like stationary puppets trying to dance. Mounds of snow weigh down tall, dry grasses and cover water-worn rocks. But while it appears winter is in progress, the ice seems indecisive. It grows around the perimeter of the lake during the stillness of night, perhaps as far as several hundred feet from shore, but then disappears when waves show up to play during the day.
There is something magical about all of this. As I sit inside huddled near a crackling fire, my heart also warms to the fact that I dearly love all those things out there in the freezing cold. And while I can’t be swimming or watching for turtles or gathering shells among the minnows, I can remember the lessons I’ve learned from the lake in the winter months – and ask God to prepare me for more.
One of my earliest winter memories takes me back to a time when my father carefully coached me to evaluate the safety of the ice. “Sure, it looks thick, but see way out there? You can still find open areas out in the middle of the lake, can’t you? We don’t want to trust the ice for walking quite yet – unless we can prove it is at least three inches thick.” And with that he took his well-worn axe, the same one he used to chop firewood, and began hacking away at the ice with big, manly chops. While tiny ice chips sprayed in every direction, I stood with my face hidden by mitten-covered hands – except for one tiny peep-hole of a crack. The lesson? Things often are not as they seem. It is always best to know the truth.
A few years ago a family of muskrats chose to make their winter den behind our seawall. During the frigid days of December, we watched them playfully wrestle with each other in the icy water in front of our house. They seemed almost like a litter of tumbling puppies pretending it was the middle of July - all the while oblivious to the cold. The lesson? Even the most daunting circumstances can encourage expressions of joy and freedom. It is a matter of preparedness, motivation, and attitude.
I love the lake as winter begins to descend, because I know there will be many opportunities to relish it from a spectator’s point of view. Sure, there will be days when it will be fun to engage with the lake – to ice hike or ice skate – but there will also be plenty of times to simply watch and wonder. December seems to be a good month to reflect, ponder, and anticipate - in the midst of the cold.
Hello Beth! Yes, winter is a good month to ponder and anticipate. To reflect too. It seems the older I get the more I am looking at and listening to not just what people say but the expression and maybe the real meaning of their thoughts. I love the way nature talks to us though - it's more predictable in some ways. I love the way you describe and it takes the reader right there! Take care, Jacque