It’s an image that we’ve all seen thousands of times. We’ve seen those images in pictures and on websites, and we’ve lived days inside those images. I saw one of these images yesterday, accompanying a new lakefront listing to the MLS; a picture of a pier on a most ideal summer day, the lake pouring out beyond it, boats that had been moving east or west caught in their momentary place. The pier drenched in sunlight, warming the white boards and heating the floating tubes that were holding tight to an outer post. The water was blue, soft, waves were in mid fall and others just beginning to rise. The far shoreline was green, as it ought to be, deep and dark and alive. The outline of a sailboat or two could barely be made out against that far shore. A beach towel strung across the back of a pier chair. A few puffy clouds lingering, hanging low, white and large but not confrontational in any way. The scene is one that I’ve lived on so many days, which is why I was unnerved when I saw that image and had to strain to remember what exactly that sort of summer day felt like.
I know what it looks like- it looks like it looks in that photo, or in any summer photo snapped along these shores. What I’m missing today, on this, another cold start to another mediocre, barely tolerable day, is what that image feels like. Anyone can see a picture like that and agree that it is pleasing, but life at the lake is less about how it looks and more about how it feels. From this cold desk I saw that picture yesterday and while I struggled for a second to even recognize the players in that image- the blue lake, the green trees, the white sails, and the striped towel that possessed at least as many colors as your run of the mill rainbow- I could come to terms with the image and superimpose it over the image that I see when I look to the water today- that of gray ice surrounded by stripped bare trees, an expanse broken only occasionally by a fisherman who dares tempt the decaying ice with his weight- but it took a while longer to remember exactly what that sort of day feels like.
On those sorts of days, they begin differently than other days of the year. On days like today, for instance, there is readying and then there is contemplation. Is this day going to be warm-ish? Will it be tolerable in a light-ish jacket or should I wear a heavier-ish one? Will I be okay in shoes, or is there mud about and around that might make boots a better choice? Will the sun be out and will the wind be still, making possibly the right conditions for no jacket at all, but instead maybe a sweater. Will I work all day or just most of the day, and will there be a distraction created by something?
These are the things I think about on a day like this groundhog day. On a day like that day up there, I don’t have to think about any of these things. I have to find shorts, clean ones, and a shirt. That shirt should be clean too. And I have to find sandals, which is no big deal because they’ll be near the door right where I left them when I kicked them off last night. Will they still be a little wet from when I slipped them on after I swam in from the boat after I tied it to the buoy late last night? No matter, wet sandals on a spring day would be pure hell, but wet sandals on a summer day will dry soon enough. I’ll put on these basic coverings and I’ll head to the office to work. Will there be a distraction on this summer day? Have you seen that photo up there?
Some work will occur, probably lots on some days and less on others, and then when there’s a lull in the action I’ll race down to a pier, or skip onto a boat and I’ll shove away from that pier and I’ll begin the lazy procession over and around that big blue sea. I won’t need to motor for long- just for long enough to get clear of the shore and clear of other boats and into the middle where I’ll kill the engine and rest on the bow cushions. The sun will warm me, the sweat will cause my sunglasses to slip down the bridge of my nose time and time again, and I’ll feel the roll of the waves and hear the hum of passing boats and I’ll see the white lines of a racing sail and I’ll be at rest, surrounded by the sights of summer and firmly in its warm grip.
All these days from the last day like that one until the next day like that one are simply filler. They are necessary to get from A through B and C and all the others until I can get back to A, which is where I want to be so badly. I know it’s soon, but this fake spring is making summer less like my favorite old friend and more like someone that I barely recognize.