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Life Lesson From a Winter Lake

Seasons, growth, loss, change.

Our view of coast hills in an autumn mist.

The very short Carl Sandburg poem Fog opens with the line:

The fog comes On little cat feet.

It’s an apt description of the autumn fog at our place. It sneaks silently from the west and drapes the coastal hills in a grey, lumpy woollen shawl. Sometimes a soundless rainbow graces the scene. They are quiet reminders that winter is coming.

Winter doesn’t come silently. It arrives with a roar of wind in the eaves and thunderous rain on the thin tin roof. Unlike the fog and rainbow, winter wants me to know it’s here.

Winter sends water rushing along the gutters, down the drainpipes and into the tanks. Winter washes the windows, rinses each leaf on each tree, and fills every pothole on the gravel road leading to our place. Then, when it’s done all these things thoroughly, it starts to create a three-acre lake in the backyard.

The lake begins with scattered, shallow, misshapen puddles that send out wet fingers to connect them to each other. Ducks fly in to patter and pry, turning the puddles into patches of slick black mud. More rain comes from the warm north in fat drops, or from the icy south in sharp, elongated drips chilled by the wind.

Then, one mid-winter morning, I wake up to view a sheen of water, almost a meter deep in places, resting where it has rested annually for thousands of years in the wetlands of the south coast of Western Australia.

Water birds fly in to mate and nest. Within weeks ducklings dart, cygnets glide, and young swamp hens, coots and grebes skim across the water and fossick in the water weeds.

Foxes and wild cats come. Sea eagles hover and drop. Peregrine falcons swoop almost swifter than the eye can see to grab food for their young. Crows and kookaburras await their chance to grab a dawdling duckling.

Sometimes the reflections in the water are so perfect I suspect there really is an upside-down world with trees I could climb down rather than up, and reeds that point to the earth’s core instead of at the sky. Other times the water is whipped by a bitter wind, turning the lake into a seething sea.

When the sun goes down the moon comes out to play muffled blue tunes on the ruffled mirror below it.

Frogs call incessantly, a background anthem to life, seasons, growth, loss, change.

Rain comes less frequently, then stops. The water retreats. Baby birds grow up and fly away or slink into the upright army of bulrushes on perpetual duty around the property. Grass creeps across the surface of the land again. Spiders weave webs between the greening blades. The willows grow new leaves.

A lake comes to our place every winter.

And then it goes.

With love, Marlane

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