June 25th, 2007

no face

World's End

Well, that was one of the best weekends of my young life.

justbeast and I went to Canada, just over the border, a wild and sparsely inhabited place called Pelee Island, up at what feels like the roof of the world. As with all such journeys, this is a mundane recitation of events, and rather does not capture the isolation and beauty and quiet depth of it all. Allow me to say up top that it was magic, and mad, before I list for you things of less import.

We started off motoring for lack of an Iphigenia, as the water was glassy and the wind not forthcoming, to East Harbor, about three hours from Cleveland--which is a secret, protected, swampy place we've anchored at before, which is full of water lilies and seaweed and swans and geese with their new clutches of babies in tow, fuzzy little things whose necks haven't stretched out yet. The weeds come winding up out of the water like tentacles, and I admit that I'm too creeped out by things brushing me in the water to swim there. The curse of a child of the Jaws era. I cooked up basil pasta  and fresh-caught bass on our little gas stove and we feasted with shiraz and fresh cherries and the sunset, talking about how to write good erotica and Patricia McKillip (unrelated) and the nature of fate.

In the morning we set off for Canada proper, under sail. Now, my father raced sailboats through most of my childhood, and I was on the sailing team in college, so I have more than a passing familiarity with boats and sheets and sails, but as with many things post-Japan, my knowledge is belied by lack of confidence and second-guessing, so I sat quietly and steered when asked to rather than leaping about as I am accustomed. In any event, the sailing wasn't much work as the wind was with us all the way there and on that first crossing, we didn't tack once.

It was incredibly empty on the way over, once past the tourist islands of Kelley and Bass(es). By afternoon, and through the rest of the voyage, it felt as though we had crossed some line past which there are monsters with fish-hooks lining their moldy, whiskered eldritch lips, (what? whiskers can be eldritch) and no one else would dare the lake-wights. It was a silvery day, with high white clouds and grey water, and blank horizons. Lake Erie is so...well, eerie, and strange, and unearthly. I've never known a lake like it. It feels like the ocean, but the smell in the air is sweet, without the sharp tang of salt that I recognized immediately on going home to California.

Pelee Island itself is surprisingly large, and equally surprisingly empty. It is full of vast farm-fields, which yielded massive crops in cycles: first tobacco in the 1890s, then soybeans through WWII, then experimental breeds of corn, and now I'm not entirely sure what the big crop is, but we passed a vast rhubarb field while walking through the tiny township. The first night we tied up to the dock briefly (which was strewn with huge tree trunks sharpened at both ends for the purpose of driving massive fishing nets into the lake floor) and popped into the marina (the shopkeeper said "eh"!) and then into the only bar on the island, which offered us a really fabulous red beer and a shocking demographic: somehow, the entire place was staffed only with hot Canadian women under 30, with adorable glasses and long hair. How they managed that in such a place is beyond me, but brochures informed us that Peleans are "rugged individualists" who ran their own phone and power company until the 70s and whose sole source of shopping is a small co-op. Is this a secret Amazon stronghold of beer-swilling Boadiccas? I think so...

We didn't really want to stay in town, or at the dock, however, and so found a quiet, abandoned place to anchor and devour chicken-mushroom kabobs near the marshes which take up most of one side of the island, just off shore of a little lake filled with white seabirds. One of the most stunning sunsets in my memory filled up the sky with pale gold and pink and turquoise, pearly clouds, and a white shell of moon. Heaven-colors, we called them, pure and perfect and terrible in their perfection. We watched and watched, wrapped up in blankets on top of the boat, as it was quite cold. We kept saying it looked like the end of the world, the edge of the world, something beyond cartography. It is almost impossible to believe Erie is only a lake, one that was declared dead a few decades ago at that, that it is one of five, that a few miles away is industrial wasteland, that you are not, when floating in blue and white and gold, well beyond the human world. I love the lake in winter, and I thought I could never love it the same way in the mindless blue of summer. But summer here is not summer in California, it is often cold, and windy, and white. The moon cast a silver trail on the black water at night, and justbeast told me that this is called "the moon road" in Russian, which is going into a book so fast. I cannot begin to record everything we talked about that night--winged words, I suppose, private languages of internal reference and marvelling at where the last years have brought us. Persephone takes us into the otherworld, sunrise brings us back. Katabasis, always, anabasis, when one is lucky.

I made an experimental breakfast of nectarine, bass, and basil omelettes which was declared a success, and after wrangling with customs, which we neglected to visit on the way in, we took a long walk all the way through Pelee to find just exactly where the town was, and how it lived. Turns out there are about 275 year round residents which swells to 1000 in the summer, one restaurant, one bakery (with samosas! Signs of civilization!) and one bar. Many bed and breakfasts abound, as well as cottages. I deeply want to spend a winter there, with the frozen lake and food saved through the summer, cut off from the mainland. But then, I am that kind of girl. Having to prepare for winter appeals to me. The whole place recalled Lake of the Coheeries a bit to me, and we idly discussed opening a bookshop/cafe there, or raising bees, and canning food for the snow.

We also had a ridiculously idyllic Anne of Green Gables/Tom Sawyer/insert desired 19th-early 20th c. bildungsroman here moment--walking down an unpaved sundappled lane with orange lilies on either side, and justbeast pulling down mulberries from tall branches for us to munch as we held hands and strolled past the lake. Good lord but we live in a book sometimes. We saved the graveyard for the next trip and began the long trip back, sailing a good part of the way around the island, stopping to swim and not bothering to get dressed again, as there was no one in sight and no land on the horizon--and I finally managed to help, the whole crewing thing coming back to me fairly quickly--I even sat in racing position (when the boat is leaning due to wind, racing position is on the side of the deck, legs over the edge, on the high side) like I used to when I was a little girl (with slightly more clothes) and my weight could not possibly help anything, laughing in the sun and watching the waves splash my feet. I love boats so much--I always thought I'd have one....way later, when I was old and had some weird thing called money. I can't believe I can sail all over this lake now, and rivers, and, and, and...

Eventually I tried to read a book when time forced us to start up the motor again and got a little queasy--I forget, always, that the only thing that will give me motion sickness is coupling bouncing boat/car with reading. We pulled back in after sundown, just ahead of a storm. Perfect.

It was something like visiting another planet for the weekend, a planet where nothing and everything matters, and the herons have hatched, and the sky goes on forever. Nothing I have said begins to describe it--I am still somewhat blissed out and very brown. I have also been, upon return home,  invested with a quest by justbeast: this summer, I am to visit every island on the lake, except the ones which are owned by others and off limits, and bury a stone I have painted myself there, and then I shall be a Lady of the Lake right and proper, and Erie and I will understand each other.

What can be more beautiful than the sight of our tiny, perfectly just city, the size of a single ship, rejoicing in justice on the watery rim of the world?

What a life I have.
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