14 September 2009


"Summer is over and gone, over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying." The cricket's song.
~Charlotte's Web, EB White

In elementary school, one of my teachers read Charlotte's Web to us, page by page, doing all the voices and acting out the scenes. I had read the book on my own, but really enjoyed her reading it to us. The passage above is from one of my favorite parts of the book, although it always makes me sad to read those lines.

I was thinking about the crickets and their song over the weekend, when I was out on the lake in my parent's boat. My favorite spot on that boat is the lounge chair/couch at the stern, right above the engines. Quite literally on top of the engines. Which are loud. As you can imagine, this does little to help my already poor hearing, but I enjoy watching the wake behind the boat, and the jet-skiers who play in the waves the boat makes. This particular boat ride was probably the last of the season, always a bittersweet thing.

It was a chilly ride, even though it was a sunny and reasonably warm day. Soon, it will be too cold (and impossible, but I'll get to that in a minute) to cruise around the lake. The leaves around the lake are starting to change, just small hints of red and orange on sporadic trees. There isn't much undeveloped land on the lake, and we drove past some of the showpiece houses on the northern end. Everyone is getting ready for the closure of the season - the state drains about 20% of the water out of the reservoir in October - and it is always sad to see people pulling out their boats, securing the docks and boat lifts so that they survive the harsh wind and ice of the winter.

The lake is a man-made reservoir, and like many in Ohio, has a muddy bottom. So the water isn't the crystal clear blue of the Gulf of Mexico, or even the bluish green of the big lake, Erie. More brown-ish, although in the right light in the summer, it appears to be a deep, navy blue. Once the wind picks up, and you get a passel of boats on the lake, it gets rather stirred up, and can look as muddy as the Ganges sometimes.

Uncle State of Ohio lowers the level of the water in the fall because the ice in the winter would destroy the dam at the lake's northern edge, between the expansion of the water when it freezes and the enormous pressure brought to bear on the dam from a lake full of ice. Understanding the reason behind the lower level of water doesn't make it any nicer to see; if you ask me, the lake looks forlorn when landside docks don't reach the water, and the muddy bottom is exposed to the cold light of day.

I grew up around boats and water, am comfortable on the water even though one of my greatest fears is dying by drowning. Fatalistic? Yeah, maybe. Hey, I've never claimed that I'm reliably sane. But there isn't much that is more soothing to me than floating along on a body of water, be it on a powerboat or sailing, or even on a pool float.

Watching the wake a powerboat makes has always fascinated me. In the Gulf down in Florida, if you're in the right spot and going the right speed, dolphins will come and play in the wake, leaping out of the water to plunge back into the slipstream the wake makes, seemingly so close that you could reach over the stern and pet them. You never know when or where they will pop up, so it is always a thrill when they do. I half expect to see them here up nawth, too, even though I know full well that there's nothing even close to the size of a dolphin in any of the fresh water lakes where I play in the summer time.

I remember an animated film from my childhood about unicorns that did a neat trick of changing the waves and the spray from the ocean rolling in on a beach into galloping unicorns. (The Last Unicorn, for those who care.) The Swedes use an expression that translates literally as "white horses" when describing rough seas, and I have enough imagination and am enough of a six year old in my head -still- to be able to see those vita hästar in the powerboat's wake.

The light changes as the summer dies; the diamonds dancing on the water are something you don't see in the wintertime, even on the sunniest of days. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for that; the changes in the proximity of the earth to the sun from summer to winter; the change of the amount of daylight, something scientific, but I don't know (or care) what that reason is; to me, it signifies the death of the summer, and I can hear the words "summer is over" in the crickets' songs. (Active imagination or actively insane, one or the other!)

Fall is my favorite time of the year here, so bittersweet indeed is the change of the seasons to me. As much as I love the crisp, cool days the fall brings, the occasional whiff of (illegally) burning leaves, cold apple cider, pumpkin cookies, the gingerbread I begin craving as soon as the temperature drops, and the beautiful color show that nature puts on for us in September and October, there is something inherently sad in summer leaving us. I understand the Greeks and the Romans for coming up with mythology that explained the winter as a season of Demeter mourning Persephone. The shorter days ARE sad. Beautiful, colorful, crisp and near-perfect, but sad nonetheless.