All day, I was working in Burlington, and when I stepped out, I saw the lake just down the hill, a blue glassine surface on the other side of the rail yard. Late getting home as I was, I ran across the parking lot and crossed several rail lines to stand there for a moment and admire the water and a seagull pinwheeling over my head, and all that gorgeous sun on my face.
Lake Champlain, sacred waters of the Abenaki, polluted now, subject of wrangling in the legislature and funding arguments, fingers pointing every which way. Yet the lake, her waters dirtied by us, laps on with her work, no doubt wiser than all of us.
Driving away from Burlington, leaving the choked lines of idling traffic for the lesser travelled highway heading toward Hardwick, I thought of that lake and that seagull and all the tangled power lines I stood beneath and the pavement, stretching on and on…..
When I was about my older daughter’s age, I first read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a book about his horrific experiences in the Nazi death camps. One of the most stunning scenes is of a young woman about to die, who sees through a window just a single branch of a chestnut tree and two blossoms. She tells Frankl the tree is her only companion, but she is quite cheerful and resigned to dying. The tree says to her, “I am here — I am here — I am life, eternal life.”
Often I’ve thought of this young, nameless woman, whose fate in her earthly life was cursed. Today, surrounded by Vermont’s summer plenty, I thought of her again, and her portion of a single branch, the two blossoms, a savage death upon her. In times of my own meager despair, I’ve returned to her, holding the woman’s words like a talisman, a shining beacon, her bravery resplendent in the ugliest possible world.