The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
- Henry David Thoreau
December. Winding down of coils, tightened
to the hilt in January, now releasing their
final twitch of stored power. As another year
draws to a close, the world slows, churning in
a spiral descent toward renewal.
There are white pelicans on the lake, perched
on old wharf pilings, the crossplanks long since
rotted away. Most are white, their sleek, tan
bills like blunt spears, but now and then the
rare brown stands among them, accepted, unmolested.
In December, pelicans on the lake are like messengers.
They carry words of promise.
Cryptic vows, to be sure, not easily decipherable.
The words spoken to silent pelicans on old pilings
along the lake shore are puzzles that only the wise
can solve. I have not earned sufficient wisdom to
fully comprehend them, but I know that for decades
of my life there were no pelicans here. Their return
marks something important. Something about promises.
Even the lake itself is calming, winding down
like some exhausted banshee. Though the world
does not heed the calendars of man, and December
is but a label placed upon time to organize our
harried existence, the world knows the shades and
shadows of December. It feels the approach of the
winter solstice, the shortest day of the year,
and as the minutes are added to each day to come,
the world and this old lake recall spring, summer
and brilliant rain.
It is ancient and thoughtful. I know this in
December. Set down by the Mississippi River
tens of thousands of years ago, the land here
is but a babe compared to the glacier-scarred
terrains of the north. Yet this old lake is
ancient, and I wish I could hear its words
clearly. It has been said that human beings
have come to live too hastily. Because our
time on this earth is so brief, we rush through
it in a mad dash to make each moment remarkable.
In this way we have forgotten how to slow down
enough to hear ancient lakes, which speak more
slowly than we can hear. Water, earth and stone
speak in geologic sequiter, and to hear them we
must slow, slow our ears, slow our spirits, reject
the brevity of life in favor of the awareness of
Because in December, with the earth nearing
slumber and the old lake growing sullen and
thin, I sense the volumes written in the heart
of the earth that I cannot read. Perhaps I have
skimmed their contents, picked out a word or two
in translation, but the secrets and wisdom still
unread encompasses all time.
Given the time, and the freedom, I think I
could hear what this old lake is saying so
slowly. With sufficient leave, I think I could
at least glean a spark or two of erudition, if
I could devote my life to hearing it. To echo
Kenneth Grahame, "It's my world, and I don't
want any other. What it hasn't got is not worth
having, and what it doesn't know is not worth
But I don't have the time to slow down, to
listen to the lake and the stories it might
tell me. I am pitching myself at deadlines,
racing toward appointments, thrashing madly
like a drowning man within a cyclone of
responsiblities, bills to pay, obligations to
meet and many, many more things not worth
having or knowing.
In December, cold rain feeds the lake and the
ground around it, though we fuss about the mud
on our cars and the stains on our shoes, as if
rain should abide by our calendars and dress
codes. Rain speaks, too, as slowly as lakes,
but we can hear it no better. I remember, when
I think back on the hastily passed years, waking
at night to thunder and rain, lightning and wind.
The old house I lived in with my parents would
soak it up, but keep us dry, shudder around me
and whisper back to the world. I'd lie in bed
and try to understand their conversation, talk
of Christmas and winter, tales of the Great
Wyrm of the Earth and dragons.
There is only a finite amount of water in the
world, and a finite amount of air. The breath
you take may have been inhaled by Abraham,
fed the lungs of Caesar Augustus, exhaled by
Jefferson. The water you drink might have
cooled the lips of DaVinci, passed over the
parched tongue of Gandhi, quenched the thirst
of Rosa Parks. Eagles soared through the same
air, trout moved the same water through their
gills. Yet, in our haste, each draught of water
and gulp of air is quickly gone, undiscovered.
December. Pelicans on pilings on the lake. I
wonder what they think, why they stand there
so silent and still. Perhaps they are listening,
their lives slow enough to hear. ~ Roger
Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail
of a bridge and lean over to watch the river
slipping slowly away beneath you, you will
suddenly know everything there is to be known. - A.A. Milne.