I sit on the shore of Bay Lake, Minnesota, on a cloudy, breezy day. All morning, the only human sound is a float plane circling once, then landing on the far side. Otherwise, the sounds are all of nature – the wind in the reeds, the small waves lapping, some birds and chipmunks, acorns bouncing off the roof of the cabin.
I’ve never been one to commune with nature, to take solitary walks like Annie Dillard and Bill Bryson, then muse about the cosmos or the human condition. Though pleasant, Bay Lake isn’t all that natural or pristine anyway. It’s pretty much surrounded by homes and a few small resorts. Lots of boats and docks. It’s attractive, but not romantically beautiful like remote lakes in the Boundary Waters or wild rivers in Maine or the Pacific Northwest.
Brautigan wrote a lot near water. Most of the pieces in Trout Fishing in America take place in or near streams and rivers. His haunting book So The Wind Won’t Blow it All Away includes an enduring image – for me – of a family fishing by a small lake. They had managed to haul several pieces of living room furniture down to the shore, including a floor lamp, so they could read and fish in comfort. I have lived in Minnesota for thirty-six of my sixty years. It’s a place and a culture of water.
Sigurd Olson, an iconic figure in Minnesota, helped define our attitudes toward water a century ago. Somehow, he knew that the human appetite for “progress” (or more precisely the western European appetite) needed to be restrained. Sigurd loved the wilderness and thought everyone else should, too. He’s one of many, many writers who took inspiration from nature, especially peaceful lakes and rivers. I guess I am more drawn to the showy, spectacular, dangerous parts of nature – volcanoes, earthquakes, waterfalls, tornadoes, hurricanes. John McPhee’s writing about Icelandic volcanoes and debris flows in the mountains above Los Angeles is brilliant and compelling. A favorite childhood memory is riding the Maid of the Mist near the base of Niagra Falls. The sound frightened and thrilled.
It may storm tonight. I hope there is lots of lightning over Bay Lake.