four caged butterflies

We’ve always experienced the main body of Sebago as ‘coming in’ usually in mid-February; or ‘blowing out’; or, in some seasons, never freezing at all. On yesterday’s “Pilgrimage” we were able to eye-witness the war of forces which makes these things happen. When we arrived about 1030AM, the weather was a windless light grey overcast, and we couldn’t initially get our bearings in the multi-shaded grey potpourri to the East. We stepped gingerly, skeptically, on the invisible ice which exposed a graveyard of underwater objects, and found it to be a reassuring 3.5″ thickness. We proceeded out a hundred yards and found a subtle ice junction to 2″ ice, and with light wind, saw light grey open water another 100 yards out. Turning left, we followed that ice junction to the North, on foot and then on skates, and established the day’s safe playground:

For the rest of the morning, as the south wind built, we had a blast, skimbatting on smooth ice made more interesting by occasional cracks and a few rare scabs. As the wind built, the open water appeared darker, and from the edge of the safe ice, we watched with amazement, as it munched on the 2″ ice band, until by the end of the day, that band, which we had marked with rocks, had half disappeared, and the far ice on the other side of the open water had also diminished. After lunch, with skimbat muscles having recovered some of their “muscle memory”, we went at it again in the diminishing wind. These were perfect training conditions: each tack and jibe to be perfected so that there was little arm force needed. By 230 the wind grew light, and we decommissioned and, ensconced on Lee Spiller’s tailgate, celebrated a great day with a taste of sweet, thick, maple whiskey. Just the thing!

Then the long ride home….and I mused, why do we do this?…..schlepping the gear…..driving the cars….risking the bones….Why do we set forth from home–so warm and secure–for an uncertain date with nature? Why, with the lingering obsession of a lover, do we examine so closely her appearance and her activity? The answer was so crystal clear, so very certain. Mary Oliver, as usual, says it so well:


Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river? Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air – An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies, Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertains to everything? And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

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