The years run into each other, stream to source. Lake Superior, awash with childhood fractals, holds us close, despite freezing over. It is the coldest of the great lakes. Every chill I’ve ever felt brings me back to its clear shores where I hunt 60 varieties of orchids. Symbiotes should be respected for durability and ingenuity. A seed that demands fungi to push growth edges.
When I arrive at the lake, I forget if I’m pursuing flower or the ghost of Nana. The lake has been known to not give up its dead. I don’t dare test the theory. Although, I’m tempted.
We’re approaching the lake, much like Objibways who arrived in 500 B.C. They claim Nanabijou, the spirit of the deep-sea water, protects the lake. We are coming from The Apostle Island sea caves, ancestral flint and stone. The road leading us there is full of icicle splinters. Someone is bound to touch one.
The lake is so crisp we hear it crack, then wheeze –we lean in as if it speaks. And it does, each one of us hears something different
We are overlooking the lake. Nana is as before. She is, as my mind recalls, quite stunning despite her crazy. Something pale blue on the eyelid, a claret lip, and a shoe I don’t recognize. Nana is a spring loon long-suffering the winter cycle. Her peculiar dress and gemstone collection translates to schizophrenic. But that’s not all. They indicate trauma and a lack of germination.
Every 200 years the lake refills with new water. We will not see it in our lifetime. Or maybe we’re in the middle of the transition. I feel like only Nana would know.
Nana reinvents herself. If ever there was a daughter of Nanabijou, it would be her.
Nana’s hair is cocoa tarnished burgundy. She reflects smoky tones, a hickory smudge. She is the color of autumn leaves in the process of dying. Yet despite her death, she’s a young woman who, not so long ago, gave birth to my father and her final placenta.
Nana who is both familiar and unfamiliar, much like the lake where I was born. Nana –a flowering rush, a Lady Slipper (Cypripedium reginae), a nesting loon.
Childhood memories rest on the bridge of my father’s Finnish nose, they tell of deep snow and cabins, soot, chimney, and fiery tinctures. Nana memories are not so tangible, they get lost in the lake just past 8 feet where visibility is still possible. When I pull up agates, I know what they speak of.
If only my old soul could speak through veins recently manifested, I’d say more. For it is in the lake’s fissures pieces of my father and his mother surface. It is the anchor. I am tethered to the frozen tundra even when my body is thousands of miles away. We are children of the lake.
I want to ask if they know about Étienne Brûlé and his band of men, their fur trading ventures, and the animal carcasses they left to rot. The sparrow stationed above, caring for the bones.
We have gathered on the hill, examining the horizon for lost boats. In the presence of Nana, it’s always just before sunset and foggy. The seagulls pine over ice cream cone crumbs. They would steal an eye if Nana were any stiller. She is an orchid’s slipping tendril.
A breeze lifts Nana’s coiffure. And she is animated as if with first breath.
Nana begins to steal single serve creamers, this is poverty mentality and diabetic craving. I should stop her, but I don’t. It’s Nana’s spider lashes that latch onto my heart and warn me of giving her away. It’s her spider eyelashes that build a bridge between us with web.
She drinks some of the creamers like shots of booze. One by one, they mutate from milk into mother, mother to milk. With a finger to her lips, she blows, like a wish. I want to dip my finger into each creamer, cover my hand with sacred milk, maiden of cows, sister of Viking semen, child of arctic star and Duluthian landscapes.
Nana ohhhs and awwws at the ice cream swirl. I witness the child she once was burgeon. It is out there bobbing on the lake, desperate for shore or cliff shadows, that I see her cling to a nearby branch. She is not drowning, but she will be.
I swallow ice cream and memories whole, I don’t even know what they taste like. I imagine they are snowballs dissolving inside my body, rich with clean. I become lake, one that has built other bodies with intention of resilience and winter readiness.
We’re eating milky sugar crystals, like creamy first food mouths searching, gazing upon the lake’s body, fishing out minerals.
Father peers out a large glass window, as if asking the lake something. Nana, in her girlish glory, lifts a penciled-in magenta eyebrow, her cheeks swell like a waxing moon. She seems to know what he’s thinking. In that face, I see my own for the very first time. The few remaining DNA strands of Nana sinking into my eye sockets. And it is in the same millisecond I see my father as a young boy. The desire to give back to the lake, to mother. Forever a touchstone and the thawing of hearts, homes, and bones.
On the other side of the Aerial Bridge, Nana spends her days in a nursing home flirting with male nurses, longing for a younger version of herself. Her best friend is a ragged teddy bear named Bing. She says, He knows who steals my tubes of toothpaste. And kisses his missing nose.
She has never kissed us like that. I search my mind for a hug between her and my father. But before memory surfaces, when the ice cream finishes, we leave. We leave her behind. And a ghost hug is left there, suspended.