Perhaps I ought to have known when I looked up from the puddles in the ice and saw the late afternoon sun peeking through the heavy weight of clouds that something unusual was about to happen …. those iridescent silver threads spun with gold sent forth across the puckered puddled pond… But I was in no mind to predict it. The past four weeks has sucked the strength out of me, my capacity to see beyond the very act of putting one foot in front of the other, my resilience finally beaten down. Two days before I had commented to a friend … you know that saying …what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger … this time I think it’s finally beaten me.
Falling on my face, bruising my ego and my knees, the abscessed root of a tooth after dental work causing a week of migraines, and then this past week yet another migraine, nausea and so ill I could do nothing for four days, all due to fasting for a medical procedure…
I had begun to wonder if my daughter in spirit had been required elsewhere in the celestial heavens and I had been left to manage as best as I humanly could. Which clearly, was not very well…
So here I was at Walden… head bent watching one foot as I placed it slowly in front of the other.
I was hardy game to walk upon the ice. It was 50 degrees and dotted with visitors near and far. I did not feel I had the power of Jesus walking on water like I imagined they had. Even further toward the middle I could make out the tiny figures of the ice fishermen, a sure sign that Walden was a safe haven. Yet I desperately wanted a photo. But when I stared at myself in the puddles which nestled in her icy cover I seemed such a fragile figure. Could I risk it?
I stepped carefully onto the ice. with each step I made my way out to the puddles and slowly bent to take a photo. I did not stay long or go far. Just enough to feel a swell of terror and an inch of bravery return.
Back on the the squelchy sand I continued, lips zipped together, at a brisk pace around the pond. It felt so good to be moving; walking strong and powerful. Striding out on solid ground. I remembered the third anniversary of Jesi’s death on September 11 when I hid her prayer card in the grasses so she could watch over the pond. My heart warmed with my secret. Perhaps she was not gone from me even if this morning I had felt so low I let go of her entirely.
By the time I had walked half way around the pond I was considering turning back. I could see the south shore and track above the sand were icy. I had stopped to talk to a young couple who had confirmed this and also decided to turn back. Then my cell phone rang. The call sent me into a stress spiral. Immediately I finished the call I felt the muscles in my head tighten and grip at my temple. It was uncontrollable and the way migraines begin. I needed to breathe. BREATHE. I told myself.
I turned around and watched with intent two younger women begin to climb the stairs to continue along the icy side of the path. I made a decision. I actually – consciously – thought – I’ll – follow – them. But my brain remained obsessed with anger and irritation at the phone call. I couldn’t shake it, no matter how much I tried to distract myself, focus on my breathing, breath into the tight muscles of my forehead … Nothing was working.
At first the path was easy… I began to wish for ice, for something to focus on, to concentrate on, to take my mind off the irritation I was feeling.
I didn’t have to wish for long …
The path soon deteriorated into a sheet of grey ice.
At first I was able to grab hold of the wire fence to pull myself along, or find a foothold of mossy ground or stone, however that soon became impossible. I managed to catch up to the younger women. They were chatting and laughing as they shuffled along the ice in their wellington boots.
“Boy, this is fun,” I called out.
We chatted about our choice of footwear. I was wearing hiking boots, which I had recently decided had less grip than my sneakers. I joked how I had left my yak traks were in the trunk of the car. One of the women (I later learnt they were sisters) told me she found micro spikes better than yak traks. Before long we were immersed in conversation. Everything from where do you live, to what do you do, how many and how old are your children until I was talking about Kari’s recent experience at Peterborough NH working as an admin assistant at the McDowell Artists Colony. One of the sisters knew of the colony because she had lived in Peterborough for many years before moving further north.
When you speak about McDowell, you notice an immediate shift in the energy of people familiar with it. For Andrea, her already deep dark eyes seemed to open wider to reveal what had already attracted me and totally engrossed me in her. I had been entranced by her soft spoken voice, the way she seemed to carefully choose each word before she uttered it. She was grounded and at peace, everything I wanted to be but was far from, especially at the moment I had attached myself to her and her sister Hillary. Hillary, on the other hand who continued on perhaps twenty feet ahead of us, every few minutes would let out a raucous laugh. She seemed so content and amused with the task of negotiating the difficulties of the icy path, even if it wasn’t humor that caused her outbursts, they landed on me with a light gaiety which lifted my mood.
We continued, Andrea and I deep in discussion, me lost in her deep dark eyes, and Hillary almost dancing with delight, slipping and sliding all the way along the south side of the pond path until we reached the boat ramp.
It was almost 4.30pm when we arrived back and the parking area was about to close for the evening. We hiked along the road toward it before saying our farewells. When we did, we hugged and Andrea slipped her business card into the palm of my hand. “Give this to your daughter if she is ever back in Peterborough,” she said. “Oh, I will,” I replied glancing down it.
It wasn’t until hours later when I was recalling my experience to Kari that I realized what had happened. I suddenly stopped talking and stared off into space. Those eyes, those deep dark eyes… Were they Jesi’s eyes?
Once, three years ago, just after Jesi had passed away, her eyes had smiled at me out of the face of an unknown woman. A shaman had warned me this might happen. I thought about it a minute. Andrea’s eyes were not Jesi’s, but there was something there…
Perhaps Jesi had not taken off into some unknown realm of the celestial heavens after all. Perhaps this chance meeting was really meant to be…