The Marvelous Buffer of Time…

I notice, has worked to absorb and redistribute the last two years of pandemic shock waves.

​Ebb and flow

In the fall of 2021, we dropped our girls off at their first day of school after a harried summer, but I swear I had just picked them up from their last day of school, which was a hair’s breadth away from their first day back at school after nearly a year of virtual school. The student’s excited voices and first-day-of-school smiles muffled by masks.

Low tide of loss

It feels like so much time has passed since my Dad passed, but it is the same two years layered on top of the girls’ interrupted school routine. Three summers, two winters, already, without him. The grief no longer crashes down on me. I pick up memories of Dad as I walk through a day like we used to pick up the sand dollars he loved on the Oregon and Washington coasts. Sand dollars are slime-fuzzy purple when alive, white as bone when they are not. They are easier to find than petoskey stones, but no less wonderful.

Wave swells

The cats aged, and the kids, and the chicken. I thought she was going to lay her last egg, so to speak, but she must have heard me say that out loud ’cause she perked (pecked?) back up and is still going strong. The garden has another two years of wild iterations. At the end of August, tall and stemmy, reaching out to bumble bees, smelling of anise hyssop. Now in 2022, two new apple trees cushoined in snow.

Soothing lake waves

The pandemic left our calendar hatch wide open, inviting friends from Ohio back into our lives. We met at Shavehead Lake. The startling name fails to keep ethereal swans away, or the people at the campground who brought our meals to the cabin each day and stocked our fire pits with gasoline-soaked wood chips. Kids tangled arms and blankets. We jumped into Shavehead Lake in late summer (warm), fall (still warm), and early spring (shockingly cold). 

Then camping in Wilderness Park in June. Drive north until you get to the bridge, but just before crossing it, turn left like a troll and end up at Stone Bay. I took naps on the beach, grasses rustling, with beach spiders of every shape and size scuttling across endless games of tic-tac-toe in the sand.

And later that year, many trips to Lake Lansing, more to Lake Michigan, Grand Traverse Bay…as the pandemic waves came and receded, Michigan’s water bodies soothed the blows, provided days where I didn’t think about a virus or a mask because

I was on the water,

buffered by waves and time,

and by this last marvelous thing.

There were moments, days, I got angry with people who, during a pandemic in which hundreds of thousands have died, did not wear a mask in the simplest of public situations: a rest stop along Hwy 127, going north for solo camping on Drummond Island. I cursed at them under my mask. Glared holes into their maskless faces. Blamed them for the never ending worry of sending my kids to school without a vaccine, for stressing health care workers to the breaking point, for not considering the larger picture, the human landscape.

I fumed all the way to Detour where a ferry would take me across St. Marys River to an island, an island away from people. I got out of the car, stretched, tried to shake off my anger. Checked the ferry fare on a large board at the dock, decided not to buy food from a small food truck parked nearby, and was flooded with memories of all those ferries I took to Lopez Island, Washington, so many ferry lines like this and so many mis-remembered ferry schedules. I said goodbye to a boyfriend from Seattle that I had just broken up with on his way to miss the only ferry off of the island that day…A long night. A long time before this pandemic.

Detour Ferry

“Have you been on a ferry before?” he startled me from his Dodge pickup. Carharts, no mask, the kind of person I was recently furious with but also genuinely devastated by. My grief for people dying each day of Covid I absolutely laid at the feet of people who drove a pickup and wore boots like those.

“Um, yes, but not this one.” 

“$20 round trip, and you can pay on the ferry.”

“Thanks. Do you live on the island or…?” Being nice on the outside, gritting teeth under my mask.

“Yes ma’am. I commute from Drummond almost every day for work.”

“That’s a nice commute though. I’ve never been on the island, but I’m thinking of camping there tonight and tomorrow. Do you recommend any good camping sites?”

“If it were me, I’d just drive into the woods and find a spot, but Yacht Haven marina has showers and a nice lawn you can pitch your tent on by the water.”

A little wary, I decided to stick to my original plan, the township campground on the northwest shore.

“Okay, I’ll check it out. Thanks.”

The ferry chugged in from its short jaunt across the river. It unloaded cars and trucks and even a semitruck carrying enormous tree trunks. The last ferry I’d been on was with my Dad–the last time I was with him before we knew about his pancreatic cancer. Then came the familiar routine: car doors shut, engines ignite, the line slowly pulls forward, this car left, this truck right, me straight behind a pickup towing a fishing boat. Engines off. Ferry pulls away, and we are on the water. I got out to peer over the tall rim of the boat and waited to pay my fare. The ferry worker never came. Annoyed, I went to find him.

“He’s got you covered.” Points to Mr. Carhart’s pickup.

Immediately my body went slack under this wave of unexpected kindness. All of my silent judgment washed away like jagged flotsam. The warm surprise of gratitude quickly rushed in behind.

I spent two nights on Drummond Island, a long, langorious weeekend of walks, exploring new geology (more on that later), solitude, loons calling in the morning, the most glorious sunset I’ve seen in a long time, wishing for a paddle board.

I had just enough cash to pay for my camping spot, $30, thanks to my ferry godfather.

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