I crunched along the snow-packed trail, felt the wind come off the lake in blasts, heard the pines creak overhead.
The husband was scheduled to come just before Memorial Day. His return coincided with the unofficial start of the season. Walleye fisherman had been trickling in for weeks, but ahead of the long weekend they began arriving in caravans. They drove up from the Cities with their campers and boat hitches, their pickup beds overflowing with tackle under tarps. They set up in campgrounds and rented cabins around the biggest lakes — most out-of-towners back then were still renters and weekenders. Some were summer regulars, many had read about Loose River in a glossy fishing guide, and they all tried to get a bait-shop clerk to slip up and reveal secret local spots for walleye. All of them were optimistically but predictably dressed in T-shirts and fleece vests, in elaborately pocketed cargo pants. All of them squinting when they slid from their trucks in town to buy gas, stock up on beer and bug spray. Pretending to know each other, because maybe they’d fried muskie together once, last Fourth of July. Pretending to know us.
The minute the canoe touched the water, it moved on its own. Every stroke with the paddle was almost excessive. There wasn’t a ripple on the lake, not a wave. You could see clear to the bottom. You could see bluegill rising, lily pads sinking under the prow. You could see air bubbles winding away in a trail behind the boat.
But the wash of calm also came from seeing the lakes frozen over again at the shorelines, patches of bluish snow on the ground, black fields gone white and empty.
Year by year, the woods just kept unfurling and blooming and drying up, and its constant flux implied meanings half revealed, half withheld — mysteries, yes, but mysteries made rote by change itself, the woods covering and re-covering its tracks.