The narrow gravel path ends abruptly at the pump house. Shielding my eyes against the late afternoon sun, I see with relief that the beach is nearly deserted. A few yards away, a young mother gathers wet towels and inner tubes, her sun-scorched tots loudly protesting their imminent departure. With a polite smile and nod, she collects her cranky brood and heads up the bank toward the row of cottages at the mouth of 20 Mile Creek. Grateful for the solitude, I take a seat at the rickety picnic table and admire the day’s final curtain call. Looking out across the red and gold streaked horizon, it is my grandmother’s voice I hear.
“Watch now, girls…when that sun hits the water it’ll start to boil.”
At dusk the lake is calm and smooth—its only blemish an occasional blip as perch and bass venture to the surface in search of may flies. Stacked limestone cliffs and water oaks rise protectively behind me. Massive granite boulders slick with algae line the shore…their stern gray faces gazing forever outward. Each one proudly bears the deep, well-earned scars of a thousand winter storms—yet still they stand. There is no pretense here. I close my eyes to see more clearly.
Images of a childhood spent in the lake’s embrace flicker by like an old black and white filmstrip. Skipping stones and seaweed wars…my sister shrieking in mock terror as a bloated walleye bobs menacingly nearby…cutting switches to roast wieners on bonfires so hot your eyes ached if you stared too long. I can still smell the Coppertone. With each summer, the soles of our feet grew more accustomed to the rocky lake bottom, and we quickly learned how far out we had to swim before stone eventually gave way to sand. On a clear day if you squinted really hard, Canada would appear on the horizon. We would shout and wave madly, convinced that someone on the other side was returning our greeting with equal enthusiasm.
One of our favorite pastimes was hunting for beach glass. Beautiful in its natural form, edges softened by years of tumbling in sand and surf, each piece was an unexpected treasure. The colors were magnificent—periwinkle, aqua, crimson, amber and emerald. It took a keen eye to spot the tiny gems amidst the coarse gray sand. Early on I learned to scoot on my bottom along the foamy edge, where sun and fresh lake water combined to make the glass twinkle. Anxious to be the first to discover the “perfect” piece, my sister and I sifted bare handed through piles of blackish brown pebble and bleached driftwood, hooting and hollering:
“Hey, I saw that one first!”
“Ooh, this one’s pretty!”
“Lookit this one, Mom!”
It took hours to fill our little plastic buckets, but I felt an urgency to rescue as many of the elusive bits of glass as I could. No two pieces were alike. It was almost as if each small shard waited impatiently for me to claim it…anxious to be retrieved from its uncomfortable, stony bed…relieved to be ultimately found worthy of a special place of honor on my nightstand. How long had they lay forgotten—crushed and broken on the cold lake floor—before finding their way to me? Were they grateful to finally be home?
With measured steps he canvasses the endless shoreline, his sandals providing firm footing despite the rushing tide. Occasionally he pauses to look out across the water’s dark expanse. Again and again he kneels in the wet sand, searching. Tirelessly he pushes aside heavy mounds of rock and clay. And then he sees it, barely visible beneath a length of rotten log, choked in fishing line. A sliver of cobalt blue glass—rare and precious.
“There you are. I’ve been looking for you.”
Convinced of the hidden potential, with gentle hands he rinses away years of grit and grime that have masked its true beauty. Restored now, it sparkles. Rising, he presses it close to his heart, and turns to continue the long journey home, robes heavy with the weight of a million colored pieces of beach glass.
“You are safe now”, he whispers.
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