Calm Waters

The bleached cocktail cherry sun nestles in a jagged cleft of the Canadian Shield. Shadowy conifers matt the cheeks of the silent forest. Shadowy birches spike like the bristle of overgrown beard on the Muskoka hills.

Suspended over the plate-glass skin of Gull Lake is a long empty dock that juts  from the tumble of moss-filmed rocks on the shore. A cloak of condensation dusts the long strips of smooth cedar with damp glitter. Spider webs jeweled with dew shiver with each bump of the scarred wooden rowboat trussed at the bow to a rusted wharf ring. The busy silence crowds my ears. It’s five thirty in the morning in July.

A marshmallow crème haze coats the far banks of the lake, breaking up beyond the shallows over the mouths of feeding fish. To the west, round bales of fog tumble down the steep gravel wash and unravel into pale light over the bleached fingers of fallen trees. The hesitant ricochet of bird calls starts from the far end of the lake, where the deeps are warmed to navy serge by the rising fires of daybreak. As the rest of the world shakes off the clog of sleep, a chorus of croaking from random throats rumbles from wet holes between tilted cedars. Fleets of water spiders skitter under the drifting shadow of a gray phoebe.  No loons cry out yet, though.

Fragrant mist swirls over my ankles. My footfalls on the warming planks send shivers across the skin of the placid lake. The summer air hangs still on my bare shoulders. I turn my head towards the rustle at my back. A pair of adult skunks pause, nose-down in my footprints on the gravel path from the cottage.  The shadows shift and the breeze riffles their pelts.  A toilet flushes. The stinkers amble back into the brush behind the boathouse, past cairns of stones roughed up by ancient glaciers.

By now the sun is fully incandescent. The mists and all the dark edges have burned back to air. Up by the crest at the end of the lake where the day began, a red-tailed hawk coasts the thermals then plunges into the bush. The restless marsh bristles with fresh cattails and the catcalls of red-winged blackbirds. A brace of crows in the gully argue over the soggy carcass of a crab. There’s the smell of rotting leaves starting to bake and of the earth releasing its cool under the bright canopy of dancing branches. Something mottled and sinuous glides from a stump towards an untidy stack of firewood off to the right. A rabbit leaps away to the trees. Silence…but not for long.

I smell the fumes of perked coffee from the camp stoves. The springy breeze shakes music from the trees. The lake comes alive with endless rags of glittering waves. A trolling motor coughs to life. Screen doors slam. The sharp, high morning chatter of kids digging bed-warm toes into night-cold beach sand cuts the silence. I form a tepid smile then turn back to face another day.