Reflections on Spirit

Note 7: Spirit Lake. 3/25/99

As the sun approached the northwestern horizon over Lake Superior, I was not the least bit surprised to see what appeared to be an old man standing on the band of silver-orange light that broke across the silent water of the lake from the setting sun. That shaft of undulating light, that bridge, as it were, broken at the edges only here and there by a small ripple of wave on the nearly motionless calm of the lake, seemed solid enough to hold an army of old men making their way south across the Canadian border as distantly ancestral members of their tribe had probably done thousands of times before Europeans imposed artificial limits to what anyone else would have perceived as limitless space. The sky above the mirror of the water was curiously decorated with a nearly circular band of clouds, just slightly more luminous than the water itself, which was bizarrely doubled over by being in the sky and reflected on the lake simultaneously. Repetition comes in many forms. Mirror imaging is one of the more unsettling kinds. The band of clouds had taken the shape of a serpent as it had slowly inched its way into position during the better part of the entire day that was drawing to its close. The head of the serpent was bent back across the expanse of lake and sky and rested nearly at the point where the tail emerged from the union of air and water on the opposite shore and about fifteen degrees to the east of the point where the sun would eventually set.

The old man was beckoning to me, making curious silent gestures that seemed to imply that I was supposed to join him on his watery walk across the freezing waters of the lake. My faith in the ability of any living person to walk on water had been suitably shaken during the fifteen years that I had been associating with the old man. His invisible presence in my life had completely undercut the validity of every claim Christianity had ever make about any aspect of human reality, not the least of which was the idea that anyone ever had or ever could walk on water as he was doing then. The mocking clarity of his laughter made it obvious that he was joking, was in the process of ridiculing the last shred of belief I might be harboring about the veracity of Christian perceptions of the human condition. The serpent in the sky and on the water of the lake was beginning to turn his/her eyes firmly in my direction. I had the distinct impression that I was about to become a meal for the air and water beast the old man had created specifically for my benefit.

Being swallowed whole by an imaginary monster was no worse a fate than being consumed by the false consciousness of a dominant ideology that had effectively annihilated an entire race of human beings from the land I was sitting on above the sacred water of the most powerful spirit force in the Western hemisphere. The old man had drawn me north, out of the southwestern desert where I lived, to Lake Superior to find a stone. I had been there already for three days, sitting above the lake on the edge of its natural bowl which dropped down in a nearly vertical plunge about forty feet to the level of the water at the beach. The beach was mostly stone, of course, small and large pieces of water polished rock that stretched in both directions along the shore for as far as the eye could see to the east and west. It was about twenty feet wide in most places from the bottom of the incline below the place where I was sitting to the water's edge. There were probably millions of stones in the range of my single vision. I was supposed to find one stone on the beach.

That is the reason I was sitting on the top of the bowl looking down at the beach and across the water where the old man was dancing on the silent water and laughing at the uncertainty I had been displaying for three days about the proper way to go about finding something as simple as a single stone. He had conjured up the serpent, I suppose, as a way of making me move down to the water and begin the actual search for the piece of rock he was telling me I needed to find.

Around mid-morning on the following day, the final day of my visit to Lake Superior, I made my way down the slope of the bowl's rim and walked down the beach to the east toward the little town of Grand Marias (as I recall) which was about three miles from our campsite. The person I was with, a good friend who lived in Michigan, had invited me to visit several years before I actually did and was more than helpful in getting me to the south shore of Superior, a place he often visited himself. He had no idea what I was actually doing there because I never told him or anyone else I knew about the old man or any of the projects he invented for me to do. About a hundred yards down the beach I came to a pocket of sand about ten feet across. Near the middle of the circular bowl I could see a small patch of dark red coloring on the surface of the nearly white sand. I couldn't make out what it was precisely because it was at the same level as the sand that enclosed it. The color stood out, of course, and drew me to it for closer inspection.

I knew it was the old man's stone before I touched it. It was buried most of its depth in the sand, so I simply shoved my fingers and thumb into the earth, closed them around the buried stone, and lifted it out of the ground. It was a piece of sandstone about four inches long, maybe two inches wide and thick, an egg-shaped oval, and was colored red on the bottom half and mostly white on the top, which I was looking down at after I turned it over as I lifted it up toward my face. The stone had been up-side-down, as it were, in its half-buried repose on the beach. There was a red serpent coiled around the outer edge of the white surface of the upper half of the stone which looked exactly like the one that had been in the sky most of the previous day. That was how I knew I had found the stone the old man expected me to find and take back with me to the desert.

The old man's stone belongs to the sun. I have it now and will keep it for a time. I have no clear sense of what will become of it later on. Time will tell, I suppose one could say.

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