As the vernal equinox arrives this evening and Monday represents the first full day of spring, I remind readers about “Spring Walk Along the Lake,” one of my poems that appeared in Tidal Air (Pecan Grove Press, 2002). Visiting the Indiana Dunes along the southern shore of Lake Michigan during the spring season has been an annual event since I met my wife and we spent our first day together there on a bright spring afternoon.
For decades, the spring trips to the dunes and our walks across the beach have served as opportunities to experience a sense of renewal, as well as ways to measure time or gauge changes that have occurred from year to year. This ritual has continued to have special significance for Pam and me, and it has even become a family tradition for us as our son, Alex, has grown over the years, accompanying us on our walks each spring. Indeed, this poem recounts his initial steps along Lake Michigan at the age of three.
SPRING WALK ALONG THE LAKE
. . . . . I
We listen to the sweet lilt of a warbler whistling
. . . . . in the thin fringe of dune forest that stretches
beside us. When its yellow feathers flutter
. . . . . among shadows, those startling splashes of color
light the low-growing oak and hickory like a lone
. . . . . night lantern flickering in a brisk wind. Despite
these still and chilly waters, my wife and I
. . . . . have returned again, as if in a ritual, to witness
the beginning of spring. And now our young son
. . . . . Alex wanders ahead. Stepping uncertainly
across the beach, as though to guide us, he tiptoes
. . . . . through the seasonal debris that has collected
for months in this cleft of shorefront,
. . . . . that still litters the whole expanse of sand.
. . . . . II
Instinctively, he picks up sticks and bits of shells,
. . . . . gathering together the grit left by another bitter
winter. However, this is only his first walk
. . . . . along the lake, and he doesn’t know the history
of these visits; he doesn’t understand yet
. . . . . the tacit covenant with nature that someday
also will govern his actions. A ring-billed gull
. . . . . skims the water’s surface. Following a repeated
pattern, it lifts toward the clouds and then tilts
. . . . . over the shore once more, unfurled wings riding
an otherwise indiscernible updraft. As if baffled
. . . . . by our presence, voicing its shrill call, it ties
loose loops twice around us before rising
. . . . . even higher in a widening reel beyond the treetops.
. . . . . III
I stare, spellbound. Alex watches
. . . . . for a moment, then turns away, unimpressed
by the bird’s apparent weightlessness,
. . . . . as though his three-year-old innocence
assures that nothing is impossible,
. . . . . no defiance of natural law is inconceivable.
Suddenly, I’m stunned by my son’s
. . . . . lack of surprise at anything nature offers,
and I realize how much wiser than I
. . . . . he may be, as I remember how quickly
this backdrop of trees will be transformed,
. . . . . how their leaves will be gilded in a flush of light
when at last a late June sun burns above
. . . . . the lake, warming these slack and shallow waters.
In addition, I would like to remind readers that a signed copy of Tidal Air can now be obtained at a special discount of ten dollars during the current Spring Reading Sale, as detailed in the sidebar of this page.