The Last Time
The lake was calm as glass on that early September morning as they launched
the canoe in the inlet, and pushed out across the lake to the far shore. A
light mist rose into the cool morning air giving the distant shore an ethereal
and surreal appearance. She sat erect in the bow seat and firmly stroked her
paddle as they slid across the glassy surface. From somewhere an eagle called
and in the distance another eagle responded back. She rested her paddle
across the bow and scanned the shoreline looking for the eagles.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
The canoe wove in and out among the standing snags of drowned timber along
the shoreline as they prospected for eagles. The lake was strangely quiet
after the busyness of summer when the air was filled with swallows catching
bugs to feed their young, squadrons of baby ducks following their mothers,
and the high whistled call of the osprey had often split the stillness.
A fly rod rested at the ready in the bottom of the canoe, but even the trout
were quiet this morning. Up the draws leading away from the lake the aspens
were beginning to show a bit of color; another reminder that summer was
quickly fading in the Montana high country.
Like the water slipping beneath the bow of their canoe the morning slipped
away. They found a couple of eagles nestled back in the pines along the shore,
watched a cow moose feeding on water weeds, and laughed as she submerged her
huge head to get a mouth full and then stood munching them as water ran in
rivulets off her big ears. She turned her head in their direction and they
wondered if she thought they were as funny as they thought she was. A small
group of white pelicans ascended in lazy circles; riding those invisible
currents of rising area higher and higher until they were merely a group
of white dots against the azure blue sky.
The first breeze ruffled the surface of the lake and they turned the bow
toward the inlet. The sparkles on the water reminded her of diamonds. He
dropped the electric motor over the stern and they slid down the lake under
electric power. She sat in the bow with the wind blowing through her hair,
soaking in the sun and the passing scenery.
Later she sat on a big log with the sun on her face as he packed
up the gear. How she loved this place. Two crutches rested on
the log beside her a reminder that cancer had taken away her leg but
not her spirit.
With the gear stowed and the canoe loaded atop the Suburban he turned and
looked down the lake. It was a ritual that he did each year when he pulled
the canoe for the last time. He would stand and soak in the sights, sounds,
and smells of the lake for the last time until the next season. In the
depths of the long Montana winter those things would sustain him until
another spring came around, and if there never was another spring for him,
he thought, it would be enough to have had this year.
The winter came and went, but the canoe never came out of storage the next
summer. The sterile walls of hospital rooms took the place of azure blue
skies, and tiled floors replaced the calm surface of the lake. They heard
no eagles calling, there were no swallows swooping overhead, no flotillas
of baby ducks, no pelicans white against the sky, or a cow moose to make
them laugh. When the first cold nights of autumn began to turn the aspens
golden yellow in the draws leading away from the lake that she loved,
she joined the swallows and flew away.
The lake was calm as glass on that early September morning, but
the bow seat was empty as he launched the canoe in the inlet, and
pushed out across the lake to the far shore. A light mist rose
into the cool morning air giving the distant shore an ethereal
and surreal appearance. A tiny gust of wind ruffled the surface
of the glassy calm lake sprinkling the surface with diamonds,
Bonnie's diamonds. From somewhere in the distant forest an eagle
called and he rested his paddle across the gunnels and scanned
the shore looking for the source. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
From A Journal Archives