We left Lake Emma for the final time as homeowners under a gray sky, swollen with rain. Memories trailed behind us, mingling with falling leaves–a collage of years fused onto amber, pink, and burgundy tree bouquets. Sun pricked through the clouds and illuminated a cluster of yellow leaves, an autumn lantern, lit from within, fragile and temporary.
We arrived at Lake Emma on a similar day almost fifteen years ago, and settled into its rustic ways… Or rather Lake Emma settled into us.
Brilliant fall colors exploded like Vegas showgirls next to their Puritan evergreen cousins. And on that first night, the sun slipped along the horizon as a huge flaming ball, leaving behind pink cloud islands floating in the sky. A soft duskiness draped itself around us and never left, filling us with a quiet peacefulness, the solitude of Michigan’s remote inland lakes.
Through Lake Emma, I learned the seasons of the north woods. Spring brought fiddleheads, crouching low, readying themselves for their summer performance when they sprang into ferns, a musical collaboration with nature. Turkey vultures, like a coven of witches, hunched over roadkill or perched on treetops, observing passersby.
Loons dominated summer nights with their eerie call, and during a paddle up the Ocqueoc River—Lake Emma is its headwaters–clouds of ebony jewelwing damselflies erupted from beneath a cedar. The moment carved itself into my memory as the jewelwings—every bit as beautiful as their name—fluttered around me, creatures from a fairy tale, ethereal and illusive.
Doubletracks snaked into dark woods, and thick weeds, like sea-serpent tentacles, reached out from Lake E’s murky depths. Bears lumbered across dirt roads, and a bobcat, carrying a rodent, once bounded in front of me as I biked along.
Chalk-fronted corporals—a type of dragonfly–gathered on our sandy driveway by the dozens. They seemed to join me when I jogged, rising up next to me, like combat pilots, and fighting off deerflies—the nemesis of Lake Emma. Winter occasionally snowed us in, leaving us forgotten by the outside world, and we’d ski along the roads, as if cars had never existed.
It’s the place where I rediscovered Jane Austen, reading Emma, appropriately enough, as the red pines shimmied with the wind and sunlight danced on the knotty pine walls. Lost between pages, only Ms. Austen as company, the day passed and shadows lengthened, keeping me embraced in Lake E’s perfect silence.
I might have left Lake Emma, but it will never leave me.
Places we love, like the people we’ve loved–to borrow from Proverbs 3:3–are bound around our necks, written on the tablets of our hearts. Their presence, even when we aren’t fully aware of it, influence our lives in countless ways.