Earth has an edge and I’m standing on its fault line. Snow sweeps out in front of me, wind-sculpted and hiding the brown bones of autumn battles. I’m alone on the beach, on the edge of the earth, tempted to walk on water, but knowing better than to give into the urge. Some curiosities the cat never returns from and I want to return if only to tell the tale.
Before my solo journey, I interrupted a party of parka-clad tourists. Like Sir Ernest Shackleton, I’m the hero on pause, answering questions before I can continue. The tourists, notably excited by rare winter wonders, have a single burning question: “Do you live here?”
“Yes.” Not here as in on the frozen beach of Lake Superior, but here as on the Keweenaw.
They understand, whistle through their breath, and shake their heads. Here is impressive to visit, worth the drive from downstate or out of state. Then the next question: “But why…?”
How do I tell them I’m captive to the Snow Queen, Lady Lake, that I’m a snared wanderer and a minstrel of sand and snow? Do they even understand the battlefield they stomp over in high tech snow boots unaware that Superior undulates unforgivingly below them?
That’s not a snow drift but her hip bone and she’s going to knock you to her watery depths if you don’t take care. Look, her ribs fly exposed overhead, she’s circling, circling. Do you belong to her? Don’t wait to find out. Flee! The battles renew, surge when you least expect.
But I give the less complex answer: “Rocks. I like rocks.”
“Oh.” They sound disappointed and inwardly I chuckle. No, these won’t draw her attention. She like admirers. One lingers, though.
“What kind of rocks?”
I look at this man before me and his eyes show a snap of curiosity. I can tell he feels Lady Lake’s presence but doesn’t know what it is. Asking about rocks is like asking for a sip of whiskey when you really don’t understand what the pub is all about.
Looking down, I see my cruel mistress has erupted stones for me as if she knew I’d take this chance to glimpse her. Okay, so I’ll give the nice man a taste of firewater. “Oh, agates,” I say.
“Ah, agates.” He turns and walks away.
So I say something more intriguing, wondering if Lady Lake has me doing her bidding now. “Prehnite is my favorite though, especially copper inclusions.”
“Copper inclusions?” This man has too much curiosity to be on this beach safely.
“Um, yes. Prehnite is milky white, sometimes yellow like old peas, but sometimes it has copper and radiates hot pink and kale green bursts of inner crystallization.”
“Oh! Are you a geologist?”
I want to tell him the truth — I belong to Lake Superior, I’m her siren’s call. But I say, “No but I raised one.” My smile is meant to look innocent, motherly.
“Let’s go!” His friends are already safely up top the hill over this battlefield. I can hear movement trickling beneath. I say no more and turn to walk away. Wisely, he retreats to his friends but stumbles across another eruption.
“Hey! Hey–I found something. A rock! It’s green!”
Overhead I see Lady Lake floating as clearly as the Lady of Shallot in her watery grave. I turn back and the man approaches, holding out a rock in his now ungloved hand. It’s the size of a tomato, steely gray, pocked with vesicles, filled with glittering pistachio green crystals. Oh, Lady Lake, you are toying with him. “Ah, that’s basalt filled in with a secondary mineralization of epidote. Anything the color of pistachios is epidote.”
“Cool!” He has no idea what epidote is or how common. But it is spectacular, especially when the crystals aren’t beach-pummeled smooth. He grins and pockets his find. “I see why you like living here.”
She’s snared another. He’ll always want to come back to this beach. At work, likely an office job, maybe even as a CEO, he’ll be in the middle of a meeting, taking notes or giving direction, and he’ll think of that rock and how many others might be waiting on that beach. When the wind teases his hair, he’ll look the direction of Lake Superior and not know why.
Father Baraga, black robe to the Ottawa and Ojibwe, ministered to the tribes of the Upper Peninsula, becoming a grammarian of their languages. For thirty years he crossed these peninsulas, often on snowshoes, and dared to take on the Lady Lake. No one knows why he dedicated his service on her shores, and no stories speak of his interest in rocks. But he did tend to the immigrant copper miners, too.
It’s true that he never left the Lake once he arrived. From 1830 until his death in 1868 he lived here. One dark and stormy night he set out in his little canoe after hearing about an epidemic outbreak in the village of Grand Portage. Whether he intended to cross Lake Superior, only the Lady knows. She blew up into fierce seas, tossing about the priest and his guide in the birch-bark canoe. Whatever happened that day between Lady Lake and Father Baraga, he never forgot the feeling of salvation when she dumped him safely on a sandy shore at the mouth of Cross River. The cross, the father erected and it stands in stone.
She likes stone.
It may seem a minor miracle for a canoe to survive her battle-fraught waves but consider the Edmonds Fitzgerald. Fully loaded with iron ore, she kept that booty for herself.
Now alone and having walked as far as I can down the beach, I look back and take stock like human recorder. She uses many of us, I’m certain. Today, she called me to the Lake to see what she had wrought. I’ve enjoyed her home-visits, her playful flurries of snow, her blinding, whirling blizzards. I’ve missed her on the days when she recedes, but can always glimpse her denseness hanging gray over the distant shore.
Today, she is atmospheric. Layer upon layer of gray lifts into the blue sky edged with white feather tips — her rib cage hovers over me. Lady Lake gently blows, wind reverberates through the birch above on the hill. Somehow, I felt her call. It was a blue sky day, so why not?
Like Father Baraga must have felt at some point in his journey, I drove out of Calumet and caught my first winter glimpse of Lake Superior. Where blue horizon meets blue water, I only saw white, and white and gray. Terror frizzed across my nerves and I heard the words of the black-robe echo across time, What the hell was I thinking?
It was too late to turn back. Literally, there was no place to turn around. I nearly missed the cut-off to Calumet Waterworks beach. I turned sharply and my car slid. Missing the snowbank, I slowed down, heart pounding like the ghost of stamp mills. I reasoned that I was only going to look. After all, with 132 inches of snow in less than three months, I was not getting near the beach. The parking lot was plowed so I pulled in. Just to see.
Lady Lake had Superior locked in a violent freeze.
Birch trees on the hill remained buried to their lowest saddle. Picnic tables emerged like slates in the snow. Park slides and swings froze in time and snowbanks. The snow, compact, formed a bridge to the stairs that now drifted snow like shutes to the beach below. And yet the clever wench had blown a small trail, exposing enough steps for daring feet. And by now you know I can’t resist seeing what the rocks might be like below.
That is how I came to stand on the edge of the world, staring down the remains of a battlefield. Trees like soldiers dropped from their banks in October and November. Violently the waves spewed their denuded trunks against the cuts into the hillside. Like brown broken bones, they protrude through the snow and litter the beach. Another line of driftwood. A smaller and less forcibly tangled line of littered driftwood forms a secondary barrier. Between the two Lady Lake has sculpted ice and snow like finger painting in Elmer’s Glue.
I stand on the edge. It’s so quiet I hear the constant trickle of the Lake as if the water has been pruned back like roses and it can only ooze between grains of buried sand. In a display of force, piles of sand and beach rocks erupt like mini volcanoes through the crust of snow. Lady Lake has sculpted these along the edge into frozen pedestals. Memory recalls this is where the waves lapped to shore. No lapping now.
More fearsome yet is the battle yet raging between water. Like brothers at war, ice versus liquid rips the lake bed. What might look like dunes or drifts of snow made by a runaway bulldozer I know to be waves, sand, and rock transcending space. The lake ice scatters with foot-thick sheets upended and perpendicular to the shoreline. Lady Lake circles overhead, a war rages in slow motion below — behold the power of Lake Superior in winter.
Welcome to the edge. Dare you pick up a rock and never forget her call?
January 25, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that goes to the edge. Consider what the edge might be and how it informs the story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 30, 2018, to be included in the compilation (published January 31). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Grounding (From Miracle of Ducks) by Charli MIlls
Too late for planting tomatoes, Danni seeded more radishes. Ike complained they bit back, but if he left for Iraq what did it matter? She’d eat spicy radishes alone.
She kneeled along the row, tamping each seed. The earth felt solid beneath her hands. With no more seeds to cover, Danni dug into the ground that remained unplanted. Sifting loamy earth through her fingers she found a marble. She rolled the green glass in her palm.
If it was Ike’s decision and she was to stay home, why did she feel pitched over the edge into an unknown future?