Coldwater Lake – September 25, 2013
You can’t see Jordain Creek as your round the last bend on the Dog River. You have to look for it. You have to know it’s there, hidden in head-high grasses. The mouth only opens when you pull close, when your on top of it, and even then it’s nothing more than a thin ribbon of black water curling away. It seems like nothing. It seems like it will just disappear.
Until you disappear with it.
You have to have faith. You have to believe in the old stories. Then you see it, slipping deeper than you think. It doesn’t disappear. It coils back into the forest, snaking from side to side, bending in on itself like a folded ribbon, but always just wide enough for a north canoe.
Deeper and deeper it goes, the black tongue beckoning you forward, a steady stream knifing through the head-high grasses.
I follow it, crashing over fallen logs and up two beaver dams, committing to the stories, to this insane line of water, this twisted path through the forest, losing and gaining faith at every bend until the creek burst open, widening into a lake that glows golden in the late sun of autumn.
I drift across, feeling like I’ve stumbled down a hidden passage into some lost world. The stream still beckons, calling from across the lake and I go, twisting away, moving though thin, hollow reeds that choke off the water until the bow of the boat pushes through them.
I feel claustrophobic. I barely breathe. I listen to the reeds drag against the side of the boat. I press forward, hoping, faith waning, searching for some escape until they break aside and the bow launches into the deep, open water of a second lake.
I breathe again, the air open and full of life. The sun drops lower, glows golden against the yellow leaves of fall. The whole world stands still as I move across the lake. I feel the water on my skin, warm from summer, and know that if the stories are true, there is still more.
The water turns clear as I reach the far end, clear and cold. I find another creek rushing out of the woods through a narrow gap of land. Its mouth is clogged with rocks and fallen trees. I get out to drag the boat through and feel my toes going numb.
“I’m close,” I think.
Another hundred yards and a third lake opens, its water like melted snow, glassy and cold. A thin mist hangs over the surface. Dead trees rise out of it, their bark gone, their skin bleached white like bones. I touch it with my hand and feel the sting of ice.
It’s the lake from old stories, I’ve found it, the one that never warms, even in the heart of summer. I glide over the glassy water, staring down at the bones of fallen trees, feeling like an intruder in a supernatural world.
I tell myself it’s just springs, but I’m not convinced, not this far from civilization. I watch the sun disappear over a low ridge, pulling the air’s warmth with it, and stare up at the ring of thick forest looming all around me like a wall. I shiver in the cold air.
I’ll find a way out in the morning, I tell myself, but I’m not convinced of that either.