Wednesday, July 31, 2002

On vacation

Summer's spirit set free

        Against a sky as deep and blue as a baby's wondering eyes, a flock of swallow-tailed birds challenged a wind that made flags snap salutes to the clouds. The little birds would beat against the wind a yard or two, then spread their wings and soar off like leaves in a hurricane, high over the big lake that was thrashing the shore as if the land had stolen the water's treasure.

        I suppose a biologist would say the birds were just catching bugs, but there's so much of God's creation that cannot be measured by the cold slide-rule of science. Those birds were flying for the sheer joy of it. They were the spirit of summer, released from its winter cage.

        My good friend Tim, whose diagnosis has taught him to measure one day at a time, has been teaching me to cherish and enjoy such small moments. We can't live in the moment all the time. But most of us miss them completely, consumed by the past and the future. We're travelers who watch the map and the mirrors, oblivious to the world we pass through.

Float like a bobber

        That's what vacations are for — to float on the moment like a bobber. To let the past sink to the bottom and let the future tug when it's ready — not before. Otherwise, you miss the scenery.

        The joy on a boy's face when his fishing pole bends like a question mark and he reels in a fat, yellow-silver perch from the deep blue darkness of Lake Michigan.

        Cottonwood leaves whispering lovers' secrets to the breeze.

        The crashing waves that rise and roll over the sandbars in Bahama-green curls, and hit you like a truckload of cold.

        The hunched Michigan drivers who hurtle down the highways in a race against rust, trying to cross the finish line before their Chevy Coho or Dodge Dreadnaught rots off its road-salted rocker panels.

        A lazy, sunburned afternoon spent gluing together a plastic model of a 1959 Corvette. Maybe it was the flame-decals, maybe it was the open glue, but dad and son were both 13 for a few hours.

Ghost forest

        I saw a ghost forest — the bleached bones of pines and oaks that had been buried by a sand dune on its restless retreat from the shore. They call them “blowouts,” parabolic holes caused when fragile vegetation is disturbed, and the wind gouges a giant ice-cream scoop out of the dunes.

        Some people bring back bumper-stickers from vacation that say “See Rock City.” Some bring back T-shirts and hats. I bring home metaphors like the ghost forest, to remind me that a city is fragile, too, and ours is in a slow retreat, burying its own beauty under a harsh wind of bitter discontent.

        I also bring back memories as warm as a beach in July: long walks with nothing but sun, sand and a knife-edge blue-on-blue horizon of water and sky. Time set apart, alone with the Author who wrote the story we call life, who knows the beginning and the end and all the chapters in between, down to each small moment when our spirit soars with joy like a swallow-tailed bird.

        E-mail or call 768-8301.


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