My brief time on this planet, the perspective granted by my short life, moves the patience required for the birth of this lake beyond my imagination—in this instance, my understanding exceeds my imagination.
Shaped by a mass of ice that bulldozed its way through this rock, perfected by the brush of more subtle erosive forces, this valley is still tempered, still refined by the hand of nature. It is what draws me here, pulls me into the backcountry, pulls me inward towards my origin. By moving backward in time, back to the primitive forces that built our world, by moving inward, I am able to look forward.
A quick glance is all one needs to understand why this crush of tourists congregates in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. A sharply crenellated ridge borders turquoise water. Rocky debris, supporting various levels of vegetation, softens the base of vertical slopes. Glaciers pop, releasing ice to gravity, tumbling it towards the lake. Melt water rushes beyond cliffs supporting glaciers, adding a contrasting elegance to the sharp beauty.
Approaching an obvious instrument of change, a rockslide, a natural dam, I force my thoughts away from the throngs; I focus on peaks. I want time with these mountains, time with its falls, I want time away from civilization. Moving as quickly as the multitude allows, I move by nature’s dam. The pile of rocks offers a trail and eighty feet of elevation. Its trail, its view and the slight climb siphon some of the crowd
Weathered logs clog the lake’s outlet mirroring a congestion of casual photographers. Two thirds of the visitors are lost to the rock pile and the outlet. Walking past the boat dock, penetrating the crowd waiting for their quiet hour in a canoe, I am finally free of the multiplying mass. I am on the trail bordering the lake along its wooded shoreline. The short walk to the cascading inlet will take me across several small streams. The crossings will increase in frequency as vegetation changes to reflect the increase in moisture.
Reacting to the dwindling population, my pace slows, my body relaxes, my senses tune to my surroundings shifting from obvious peaks to more subtle inputs. Always in me, always soft, the voice of the backcountry penetrates my consciousness. I listen. I feel. I look. I can see.
Floating gently on the water, drifting lightly, almost too delicate to perceive, an upturned feather drifts away.
Forty-seven years ago, a young child collected feathers. Indiscriminately stuffed into a glass container, the unsorted, unidentified feathers were mine. In an affectionate act of love, my maternal grandmother, my Memere, mailed feathers across thousands of miles; I proudly added them to my collection, a collection eventually lost to time.
Standing here, in the country of her birth, the country where she met the man who would become my grandfather, I witness an unexplained shift in the light breeze. No longer strong enough to ripple the lake, it guides the feather. Like a mother touching a sleeping child, it is strong enough to convey emotion, yet light enough that it does not disturb. Is Memere sending another feather? Is she once again reaching . . . this time across an unknown void?
It has been said that when a bird leaves this world, a feather falls from the sky to remind others she was part of their life. I need no reminder of Memere, no reminder of her friendship, of her love. But here, reflected perfectly, is a reminder.
Testing logs near the shore, they prove unstable. A rock supports my weight. Bending, I extend a hand and delicately lift it from the water.
A gift—a trinity—a feather, love and friendship. I see the fragility, the strength of all three, held lightly in my hand. A simple feather. Standing alone it is beautiful, even elegant. But combine it with others, preen it, nurture it, groom it and it can do remarkable things.
Combined with others it loses none of its beauty, it is still an individual, still unique. Yet combined it is capable of so much more, capable of lifting above the ordinary, taking one to places not otherwise reached.
**photographs by Don Helmig