If I close my eyes and inhale, I can smell the mud, brackish, there even when the sun’s been beaming through the trees for days. If I try, I can look down and see the decades-old path, cracked, surrendering time and again to the upheaval of tree roots. I can see the steep hills, even steeper to the wide eyes and wavering courage of a small child.
But we frequented the place anyway; I became accustomed to the shaded tunnels of maples, oaks, birches, Virginia trees. Trees that no one misses until they move away. I learned the scents — of sodden, spent leaves in some months, of blooming, burgeoning life in others. My feet memorized the feel of the dirt, the rocks, the occasional stretch of pavement, the rise and fall of the hills, the bends, the curves. My eyes, whether knowing it or not, brightened every time I glanced over at the water, dazzling with sunlight, or just quiet, reflecting the clouds. Four miles around.
I grew, trading trepidatious little legs for longer, stronger ones. I ran around the lake countless times, with my dad, with siblings, with teammates, and by myself. On its shores, my high-school cross-country coach taught a group of teenaged girls that we should work hard and charge up hills, but also pause to reflect once in a while.
Along the way, I learned something about permanence, and something about change. Inevitability, too. I moved away, to a land with much less water, much different trees.
Now there’s more pavement on that path. Now machinery has fashioned the hills to be gentler, more accessible. Now there are bridges instead of treacherous ravines. Now there are debates about dredging, conserving, letting go, surrendering to the trees and landscape and wild, like the old path did, like the newer one has begun to do. This lake has come a long way — does it just want to go home? Or do we have an obligation to preserve these treasures — the path, the shaded tunnels, the water that brightens the eyes of all who see it?
The trees, rooted and resplendent with history, the water, intimate with sunlight and clouds alike, do they merely gaze at us in patient amusement?