The sweetness of scotch broom hangs in the warm, soft air. It is still, and the stillness is filling, as if the quiet peacefulness of this place might hold you up in it. A light breeze picks up and rustles the thick leaves in the tree above me. The echoing wind high in the pines stirs the soul; then the quietness returns. Chirps and whistles of birds in the nearby pines accent the silence, for it is not really silent at all, but void of all the noises we grow accustomed to in cities. When those noises no longer sound we sense their absence as perfect stillness; it is only after a moment of drinking in that silence that our ears make room and we begin to take in the sounds of nature—the buzzing insects and the whispers in the grass, the depth to the birdsong, each song overlapping, from near and far their melodies intermixing.
Overhead a gray violet cloud stretches like lace over the white sky. Steel cumulus clouds lay to the south on the horizon, full with water and suggesting rain. Rain that the parched land needs, her thirsty soils hard and her grasses short and yellow. Everything with shallow roots has dried up, only the large trees with their systems for gathering water deep underground, and the bushes along the lake burst with greenery. Even the water spigots at the campground have been removed and capped. There’s just not enough water.
Lewison lake below me looks like a long snake, more river than lake, miles long, its girth is barley wider than a swimming pool. Its green waters move in the slight wind adding to its appearance as a long, lazy river, alluding to its past before mankind came and dammed its waters at both ends.
Jack and I both look up as the honking of a Canada goose echoes up the hillside from the lake. A family paddles swiftly by, their black necks stretching proudly from brown bodies, the white swatch over their eyes distinctive even at a distance. There are four of them, perfectly in line; their paddling feet make the tiniest of ripples on the glassy surface of the water slightly distorting the reflections of the overhanging vegetation.
A small spider alights on my hand, so light it’s barely noticeable. His mouthparts move slightly, sensing what lies ahead. His dark pointed back, the shape of a teardrop, is patterned lightly with cream speckles. A brief moment later he alights onto my keypad and scurries off.
I sit in the non-silence and soak it in. A deer grazes on the far side of the meadow, swinging its white tail back and forth at the flies, lifting its head occasionally to look around, long yellow grass hanging from the corners of its mouth.
In the tall yellowing wild oats, two dark shapes wiggle in unison, like floating snakes, long and thin, extending up. As they move closer I can see that they are Canada geese, their black necks appearing to float because of the way their backs camouflage perfectly in the grass. Their wiggling stops as they paused and plunk at the seeds of the oats, cutting the fibrous grasses with their sharp beaks.
As the sun lowered beyond the gray curtain that covered the sky, the chill of night set in. We walked from camp along the edge of the lake, skirted with thick stands of blackberry bushes, all bursting with white flowers, promising a good summers yield. My mouth watered a little at the thought of all those voluptuous berries. As soon as there was a break in the thorny bushes, Jack was in the water swimming in long luxurious circles, enjoying himself to the fullest. The yellow flowering scotch broom and the purple buds of wild sweet peas, each standing out boldly in the gray light and green surroundings. In another small break in the brambles, a boat was hauled partially out on shore, no doubt below its owners campsite. Jack approached the boat with curious apprehension, the way he does with most new things. His body held erect, tail straight out behind him, he snorted fully, expelling the air from his nose with force as if to clear the passageway of every other smell and start fresh to take in this new one, figure it out. He moved slowly towards the boat, ears perked, sniffing and snorting until finally his nose touched its metal edge. The unidentified creature didn’t move, Jack smelled again and went back to business running about, nose trailing the ground.
We chopped vegetables for dinner under the darkening sky until the gray clouds burst purple and pink, not the brightness of sunsets with white clouds overhanging, but the rich depth that comes from color in storm clouds.
That night we feasted on brussel sprouts and asparagus in a balsamic reduction served over polenta, spinach and tomato sauce. It grew cold outside but Anita kept us warm. On the last bathroom run of the night I felt the faintest of droplets. Above the dark sky hung with thick clouds, illuminated in their thinner sections by the full moon on the far side. The backlighting was strange and magical, illustrating every detail as if it were still day. Then the rain came. It can quickly, the drops fell and grew and fell more swiftly. We laughed and half skipped back to Anita, anticipating her warm, dry embrace. Inside the rain pattered safely on the metal roof. We crawled into bed and pulled the blankets up high. Jack curled up at my feet. I lay awake, relaxing into the sound of the rain. It calmed then stopped and gave way to the silence of crickets. Then came the high whine of a single mosquito overhead. My eyes opened and I searched for a light. The white ceiling showed nothing, I cast the light around, nothing. I listened, nothing. I turned off the light and lay back down; then I heard the whine. I buried by head under the covers. The dread of every camper—the mosquito in the tent—was unavoidable even with Anita. The rain came down again, this time hard, the big wet drops pelleted the roof with vigor and I thought about the hard dry ground and hoped she was drinking it up.