I didn’t want to go without everybody, because I knew how wonderful it would be, out there on the water, and I also knew I would be filled with the worst kind of guilty longing if we weren’t all there together. When you are a part of a pack, like ours I mean, you operate in a pack mentality—one for all, all for one. So if we went, we would go together. I tried to explain this to my Dad, and he knew what I meant (he, of course, being of the pack mentality himself, and for the longest), so when the first place could only rent out two kayaks he went and found another spot that could rent out four—two doubles and two singles. That’s six, for all of us.
We have to go now, he tells us (we are in the Montana’s Artist Cooperative, admiring pottery and antler bangles, as one does) and so, we set our things down and go in a flurry of single-minded intent. KAYAKING. The rental place is housed in a yurt. I am so excited to go—this is the thing I’ve been wanting to do, the whole trip—I drag my kayak out first on the carts they provide and immediately run over the sign. Which the renter pointed out so we didn’t hit it. No matter. We are going.
Lake McDonald is familiar to me, but only a little, and I find myself trying to remember it like one strains to remember a dream. It was fifteen years ago that we were here, more than half of my life, and still—the impression is still there in my memory, so that the many-colored stones glimmering beyond the surface of the water and the mountains looming in the distance are like a kind of homecoming. Shoving off, the cold water baptizing our feet as we wade in, I am overwhelmed by a sense of peace, laced with an undercurrent of rippling joy.
I don’t know why but I love the water, sometimes—most of the time I want the trees, and a trail, and a mountain view or two to satiate the hungry part of my soul. And other times it’s the Adam's ale—a yearning for the rumble of a deep river, the babble of a brook, the gentle lapping of a lake. In the water is renewal, a cleansing spirit, the source of life that the tall, memory-laden trees of the forest can’t quite inspire. Mountains are time, water is the motion—all of the dips and curves and valleys of the dramatic landscape before us were carved by the water.
We paddle out onto the lake, wide and still before us, drawing ever nearer to the crown of peaks that circled us in the distance. It is overcast today, and just as well—we have the flat expanse to ourselves, and the mountains too, moody and shrouded in blue. We are a trail of ducklings, winging our way across the lake after my parents, sharing a double. Closer to the shore the water shimmers in ombre-dipped shades of green, the bottom glinting clear and visible through the depths until the water finally tickled the very bottom roots of the trees jutting out from the land. The light is patchy, out here where we are, on the bottom—a flash of submerged log or brown bottom appears sometimes, in a shallow spot, but mostly the depths are hidden, a secret unto the lake.
Now we scatter—my Mom paddles to the shore, to see if there’s a moose, while my Dad stretches out and takes a nap. My sister is off a little ways, farther out—Sam and Garrett are spinning in wide circles, arguing in spurts about who should paddle. It is peaceful, a rhythm to it, our pack out here. I know my place, when we’re together, I am anchored and set free to sail by the quiet assurance of my family. A gift, we are to each other. The world, a gift to us.