Sounds of Silence

And no... I am not referring to the Simon & Garfunkel hit album from 1966. This is something completely -- or at least mostly -- unrelated.

Writers block is something of which I am familiar, but have never had the pleasure (notice my tongue embedded firmly in my cheek) of experiencing; at least until a minor surgery last November. For some strange reason, all words, thoughts and ideas, from that point forward, were slurped from my brain like dust bunnies removed from the corners of the cabin by a powerful vacuum cleaner. A giant void persisted, at least until just the other day. At that point in time, I decided to have a seat in one of our favorite "lake chairs" and enjoy the afternoon sun and -- hopefully, quietude -- contemplate the results of our recent trip back to my favorite lake: Kabetogama.

R. Karl fishing

I have already penned another article regarding my ties with the lake; for myriad reasons, it remains at the top of my list when it comes to memories. And after all, it had been five years since our last trip there. The reasons for that gap are essentially irrelevant; suffice it to say that I needed to return in order to ascertain whether or not absence had truly made my heart grow fonder of that retreat. Short answer: it did. Thus, the need for some reflection.

Kabetogama point

Something that almost anyone can concede, at least in regards to a vacation in the north woods (be it Wisconsin, Minnesota or anywhere else), is that -- at least at times -- the silence can actually be deafening.  And that is one of the most powerful excuses for me to head there for a vacation.

Sure, there are the nightly quiverings of the loon's woeful song, the occasional daytime interruption of an outboard motor as a fisherman heads out for the day, and the whistling and whipping of the wind through the pines during an occasional storm. But there are also the calming sounds of the lake water lapping against the rocky shoreline, the distinct cry of an osprey circling high overhead, and the crackle of a wood fire on the shoreline that illuminates a moonless night. Other than that, the prevailing silence that generally persists is unmistakable and ever-present, especially out on a distant island or rock point, which is where I have spent endless and memorable hours over a time period of some forty-odd years; some have been with my parents, some by myself and many have been with my wife. All are priceless and irreplaceable.

So as I sat serene -- back at home -- in the afternoon sun, my mind drifted to one particular morning on our most recent trip, and an ancient outcrop of granite on which we had enjoyed numerous, previous breakfasts over past years... the most recent on our return trip during the first week of this September. If I could have special-ordered a day as spectacular, it could not have been more perfect. The early September sun was brilliantly bright in a clear and azure-blue Autumn sky; wind was negligible and the lake was as calm as I could ever have imagined it; not a boat was in sight as we pulled up to the landing spot on the rocks as we had done countless times before.

I could see it as if I were back there -- without even closing my eyes -- and I was waiting to hear the "scree - scree" of the eagle that had been circling that day.  I smelled the moss, the fallen and drying pine needles and the small, portable grill as it heated.  The trees were gently tipped with the early colors that warned of the coming winter.

Unfortunately, the squealing of car tires from a recently-dismissed high school student suddenly interrupted my daydream. Returning from the rudeness to the sounds of gently-lapping water on the shore, I was once again interrupted, this time by wailing sirens from a fire engine and paramedic ambulance, racing to an auto accident.

I drifted once again and remembered the smell of pork sausages and the sizzling crackle of onions and peppers on the grill... as a pair of lawn mowers roared to life just down the street. Screams from at-home pre-schoolers interrupted my visions of a bobber floating gently alongside my waiting boat. The flight of the season's last squadron of pelicans was diminished by the thwack-thwack-thwack of a nearby roofer's nail gun.

Motorcycles claiming dominance of the local street, jet planes in a landing pattern, car doors slamming, rpm-excited car engines revving to the extreme, leaf blowers demanding the attention of newly-mowed grass, cell-phone conversations of those hapless pedestrians who needed to be heard, poorly-shifted-cars clamoring for maintenance, jackhammers rat-a-tat-tatting on unforgiving pavement, and on and on, ad-nauseum the atrocities came... and continued.

The sounds of silence of which I had come to cherish and treasure were shoved, with little reverence, into the depths of my mind, where they would have to reside until next year, or at least until a quieter moment.
While I suppose that particular and memorable silence is the real reason that many of us take a vacation in the first place, the other and more forgettable noise upon our return is truly the impetus for planning next year's retreat and the reason that I hope to see you On the Lake!