This Book is Dedicated to:
The Lost, the Orphaned, the Abandoned, & the Adopted…
If there was ever such a thing as a “Year of Living Dangerously”, that would be me, in my Freshman year of high school.
It had a cruel and unusual ferment to it, as during the summer, a Senior in the same school had made it pretty clear that my soul was to be harnessed to all sorts of hounds from hell prickling on the horizon for the upcoming semester due to unsavory comments I had laid to the pipe earlier that summer back when I was young and stupid.
A rational man would have fear, but me- I was petrified. He was as big as big gets by size and reputation. That deer in the headlights look, well that was me all summer. Just waiting for the beat down.
So it all began with an August summer trip up north. Although my epitaph had been written a little bit earlier, my emancipation from that total and utter fear was to rest pretty, in a small cabin, unreachable by any soul on earth except by boat, and the global positioning expertise of the navigator of said vessel.
However, my feelings of dread consumed me at every stop sign as we traveled northward.
And of this northerly journey what is to be said? Well putting aside an insane rendition (in an attempt to bridge the gap from darling nephew to sinful adolescent) of “are we there yet”, I watched the Indiana dunes dissolve to wooded highways, which were buttressed by huge windy trees, and then suddenly abandoned to shrubs as the sands of the northern Michigan shores rose to greet us to the upper peninsula once the formidable Mackinaw suspension bridge was crossed, ushering us to the other side of what had now become the southern lands.
The upper peninsula prepped us for the next half of the journey as we crossed into Canada, and then the land became primeval and majestic. Thin roads, big trees, bigger critters.
So how does that work? Me almost 15, they at 50 something, one a college language professor, the other my science teacher, traveling up north, and all I can concentrate on is my own personal hell? Meanwhile the country side transitioned to the cool wet air and lushness associated with big water and lots of moisture. Macgregor Bay was upon us!
On this path to some sort of emphatic pity party for all that was missed in my world, well it was missed. Gerda Stout was true to her last name, a young German survivor of world war II, my 7th grade science teacher, and harsh assessor of missed educational concepts. There was no way I would share my fear with her although she was closer than family.
The next 2 weeks, well I grew up, but it was a transition waiting to happen as an island on Macgregor Bay, a bay that separates Ontario from Quebec, was to become my proving ground. The land of Vikings, explorers, and soon to be dead fools, is where I was to to be rewritten.
The proof was really established early. I was on an island after all, and at soon-to-be 15, three or four acres of boundary land becomes a sort of dry run to prove your antlers, more so, the rocky shores start to smell like salt for a deer lick, and the water beyond… well that’s just a dream if you have 4 legs, but a forgone conclusion if you are a a budding teenager.
So I swam. Like a fool I swam to neighboring islands, through unknown currents, troughs of icy cold water, but I swam because I was scared, I swam to run, and swam faster to hide from fear. I swam to prove myself, I slipped past the scales and forays of monstrous pike and muskellunge, I swam through danger because I was afraid.
I didn’t swim enough to erase all that, but for the time being, I conquered something. I still don’t know what, but at least everything beyond the particular barriers before me was an anticipation of nature’s rough, and not of fear.
This Canadian water was colder than cold. It stunned you at the knees, embarrassed at the hips, and was utterly your master at the chest. However, my saving grace as always, was a warm and ridiculously strong heart savaging away at whatever remorseless energy was laid to discourage a southern journey to it. And should that falter, well it couldn’t, it just couldn’t.
No fear of a beating fist can match or overcome the calm that becomes a body glove for you as you absorb that first moment of definition.
My first dive, as breathless as it was, was to overwhelm fear. The cold black windy lady was going to have to wait today. The fish were hers but I was not.
And it was cold but my lungs were warm, and I could see underwater because your eyes don’t really care how cold it is down there anyway.