I unrolled my sleeping bag under a giant white pine . . .
I unrolled my sleeping bag under a giant white pine, a lone sentinal on the granite promontory where I had pulled up my canoe a few hours earlier. As I sat with a steaming cup of tea, warming my hands around the metal, looking out across Lake Richie, I could see several more old giants scattered around the lake, their branches creating distinctive silhouettes against the early evening sky. I could tell they were white pines, yet each seemed so different from the others — one with its crown blown off, another filled with limbs all the way down to the forest canopy, a third looking sparse, an old lightning bolt scarring its entire length. Tonight I would sleep under one of these great trees.
As evening changed to night I took the canoe out onto the lake one more time. The day’s paddle had been difficult, with strong, cold winds blowing down from the Canadian Shield. I had been pushed around a lot, feeling as if every stroke I made barely pulled me ahead of the wind’s easy efforts to set me back. But now the wind had vanished. Along with the sun, it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
I leaned back against the stern and lazily poked around the shore. The full moon had set hours earlier, and now the sky was brilliant with stars. Starlight so bright I cast a faint shadow moving across the water. Cold and clear, the essence of a North Woods autumn night. I tried to lift paddle-fulls of reflected liquid starlight, then pour them back in. Or swirl starlight together, a rippling of white reflection in the dark lake.
Back under the pine, I bundled up in wool and stuffed myself into the bag. Sleep, I thought, would come easily after another full day of exploring. I lay looking up into the dark forms of branches, dreamily wondering whether, if I could get to the lowest branch some twenty feet up, I could then connect the branches with steps all the way to the top. Somewhere in my climbing fantasy, I started to drift off. I seemed to enter a dreamland where I heard . . . geese. Lots of geese flying through my lazy dream, sleep just about winning the battle over wakefulness. But not so fast! I opened my eyes and thought, “I do hear geese.”
Over my head, over the white pine, up against the sky, flocks of geese were flying south. Today’s cold wind, which had created my own personal struggle, was the heralding call to send these geese on their annual journey south. They flew over, and then there was silence. I listened hard. The silence was enormous. Reaching my ears out, straining to listen, I had to still the loudest sound, my own quiet breaths. I heard more, like a distant train whistle. I couldn’t tell if my mind was making up the sound, but no, it got louder. This time, looking up through the branches, I saw individual stars being blacked out as the geese passed beneath them. I couldn’t see the birds themselves; I could only hear goose music and see vanishing stars. I spent the entire night listening to geese. Thousands of geese, slipping south through the night sky.
an excerpt from One Thousand Moons, Eddie’s book of images and essays. © Eddie Soloway