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Creek Running North
March 14, 2004
The summer I moved to California, I went with some new friends to an artificial lake in the Coast Ranges. The reservoir was old enough and stable enough to have developed a fringe of wetland plants, which gave it the appearance of belonging to the land on which it had been imposed. We swam.
I was mostly skin and sinew then, not the buoyant man I am today, but still, I was surprised at the passion with which the lake swallowed me. I could not stay afloat, despite filling lungs to the bursting point. The shades of the drowned dry land had grasped my ankles and were pulling. I touched the bottom, ten feet down, and felt the weight of the water on me. I gave up, lay on the floor of the lake, considered what it would be like to stay there, chilly clay at my back. I watched the dwindling brown light of the surface and swimmers' feet two yards above.
And came to myself suddenly, pushed off the floor with what strength I had in my legs, reached the surface just before blacking out, and spent the rest of the afternoon on a rock near the shore, eating potato chips, not so much as dabbling a toe in the water.
It was at approximately that time that the lake dream started.
I say "approximately" as I don't remember the dream's first occurrence. I noticed it first when I realized, on waking, that I'd had the dream at least twice before.
A wide two lane road led through deep woods to a small town, really a wide spot in the road, with a country store and a gas station to the left. To the right, a side road — sometimes with a park entrance kiosk, sometimes not — ran into the forest, a broad expanse of water fleetingly visible through the maples and red oaks and hemlock. I was in upstate New York, in a town that did not exist except for me. It was home, yet it was alien to me.
I would be frustrated that I could not touch the water. Some errand or some responsibility kept me on the wrong side of the road. Sometimes I would be pumping gas, and could not leave until the numbers on the pump ceased their excruciatingly slow ratcheting. I would be certain that the tank was nearly full, and turn to look at the gauge, and see that I'd pumped less than a quarter gallon. Sometimes I needed to make a phone call before visiting the lakeshore, and the payphone, uncharacteristically for the early 1980s, wouldn't work, or else I'd forget my home phone number, and would dial information to find out that I had brought no pen nor paper to copy the number down. Sometimes, less-frustratingly yet irrevocably, the gate to the lake would be locked.
And sometimes I'd enter the park and come to an unintelligible landscape on the lake's far side: gullies widening into canyons, level paths steepening into dusty chutes from which there was certainly no easy return.
Always I woke up, took a moment to reorient myself to Northern California, felt a brief nostalgia for maypop and silver maple, and went out into the brown summer landscape.