The most powerful images I have for things usually come from the natural world, particularly from water. I know this is not unique to me. We seem to be drawn to water, maybe it is a large part of us, maybe because we require it, maybe because it calms us or threatens us, maybe because it can be so much and so powerful and yet also simply be there when we gaze at it. Water gives and takes away.
So when I think of writing, the image that comes to mind is of a pond, usually one set amongst mountains but not Tahoe or even one of those blue-watered lakes I’ve seen pictures of in the Alps. No, I picture a pond, the kind where trees have fallen and never been dredged out, where the algae can grow thick in summer, where beavers might build or deer drink. A real-to-life pond.
On the surface, a pond is often calm, with ripples but never waves to roll over its surface. It’s a place where we can stare and study, lose our focus and regain it. We might see our reflection or notice the pale arms of a sycamore tree looming behind us. The surface seems pulled together, the perfect image of fragile strength.
But beneath that facade there is muck, great, slimy, dirty muck – the kind of stuff I always hated to touch when I swam in the pond at my parents’ house as a teenager. There, we were told stories of dogs drowned and saw the evidence of giant bass pulled out by a cousin fisherman. As we moved through the water, we hit patches of warmth where the sun had pulsed into the first few inches of water to warm it, and we swam into cold tunnels of water that bubbled up from the springs below. There is nothing simple and placid about the depth of a pond.
Yet, sometimes, these waters run low – in the heat of August when the fish herd into shadows to escape the sun. The springs or streams drain to a trickle, and the branches of crusted trees sneak through the surface. On these days, the pond seems to have mingled with the air to coat your skin and hinder your breath. It’s these times when we almost mourn the loss of our pond.
And sometimes, in the deadest of cold winters, the pond freezes so thick that children can play broom hockey on it’s surface. All the secrets of the pond locked up beneath ten inches of opaque water. On these days, we take glee in the new shape of our place; we try to peer at what we know to be below, but we cannot see it.
These days, today, I am in a place of both drought and ice. I am struggling to find the ideas to write, and the metaphor of a dry pond seems most appropriate; I have seen all that is there to see, and it bores me. But at moments, I am sliding along through life, a broom to make tidy the hours of my day, and I catch a bit of glee and try to see what might come when the ice thaws, when the water bursts forth over the damn so overwhelmed by the spring rains that it cannot contain itself.
I suppose I am in a place of waiting, but I must maintain the discipline of watching, too. Today, I sit by the pond and stare at its surface, knowing it will one day – soon, I hope – show me what is new below.