Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

December 20th, 2004


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 wisdom.

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 knowing."

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.

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