Walking Full Circle

A trek around the lake reveals some timeless truths

"We're at the lake, Grandma!" Devon's excitement marks the beginning of a five-hour trip spanning three miles around Lake Nokomis, and fifty-plus years of family history. A circle of life beginning at a bridge.

Grandmothering is really different.

I wait by the water's edge, poised and ready to catch Devon if he leans too far over the cement retaining wall. One by one, the rocks splash into the mouth of the creek as it flows quietly into the lake. "See those breakers, Devon?" I ask.

"Grandma, you try."

His four-year-old voice commands obedience as he holds out the precious rock. I throw it in as he watches me. Splash! Devon looks intently at the water. He throws another rock, looking closely, as it splashes. He turns to me. "Let's stay here," he says.

"Devon, should we find a fishing spot?" I ask. Graciously he takes my hand; we walk along the shore until we find a small sandy spot where he can throw the bundle of sticks he gathered along the way. One by one they land on water. "Sticks float, " he comments.

"Why do the sticks float," and not the rocks?" I ask.

"It's what they're made of," he answers.

I stand there, looking at him. How does he know that?

We move on to weeds, and I feel my friendship with this little boy deepening. A friendship built of joy, held together with rocks and sticks and wonder. We walk along the water's edge, he on the edge of his toddlerhood, me on the edge of a transition from active mothering into the empty nest. I find this freedom exciting, but I long for the comfort of lasting family bonds. I find them while we fish for weeds. Devon holds his long stick, a tree branch from the recent storms. Into the water he dips, and up comes a slimy weed. "Here!" he shouts with glee. "I caught this weed!" His happy voice reminds me of the relativity of everything. I remember the dandelions of my early girlhood, and of course, the art of peeling sticks. Some things never change.

Weed fishing takes awhile, so bring your patience. Slowly he works, one stickful at a time until all the weeds within his reach are caught and dropped into a pile upon the sand. He offers me the stick. "Grandma, you catch that one." He points to the clump beyond his reach. I fish them in. He approves. I note the authority of his mannerisms, seeing in my mind the continuous barrage of do's and don'ts to which he must yield himself each day. I decide to put him in charge for the rest of the day, wherever possible. We look with pleasure upon the weeds we've caught. "Good job, Devon," I offer praise. We move up the bank onto the grass.

"A park!" Off he runs toward the sandy beach, into the water while I chase behind. What is Rachael, his mother, going to say, I wonder. He shows me his "swimming" technique; I stand by, praising and encouraging. I help him float. We walk into the "deep water" up to his chest. He grabs my legs. We head back to shallow water and he plays again. I check for signs of chilling, and lead him out with mention of a hot dog. Devon agrees, and we make our way across the sand to the concession. So far we have walked about a half mile. We are hungry, and it's lunchtime.

We eat and feed the birds from a box of popcorn. Devon enjoys feeding the birds. He asks curiously about whether they like popcorn, and where they like the popcorn to be put. He spreads some on the ground, and makes little clusters of popcorn in a few places. Swallows and bluebirds come, and he delights in them.

"Devon, do you want to take a walk all the way around this lake?" I ask. He looks across the water, and agrees. I am wondering whether this is a good idea or not. Last year we came here often, but I had a stroller for him when he tired. He is four now, and he doesn't use a stroller. Three miles seems like a long walk for a four-year-old, but he walks all day, every day. We can rest as much as he wants, I think, so our trek begins. The first milestone is the bridge. Devon runs part of the way, and walks happily until we get to the first lookout. He is awed by looking down at the water. We talk about not leaning too far through the bars of the railing. Starting again is an effort for him, aided by his sight of the second lookout. When we reach it, I give him the sticks I've gathered. He throws them, all at once, into the water below. He notices our second landmark from this lookout, so we move on toward the fishing spot. This spot has small rocks, but no weeds. It is also a resting place for ducks. We stay there a long while, watching the ducklings and their mother. He picks rocks and throws them in, giving me some, too. I wonder at the tenacity of his rock-throwing effort. Again, again, and again he throws them in. Each one a new excitement, just as thrilling as the one before.

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