One winter day, I stood on an overlook admiring the grandeur of rolling hills off in the distance. Between the hills were two large lakes gleaming like jewels, perfectly smooth and clear. Heavy rain had washed away remnants of the snow pack and then we had several days of a hard freeze: the perfect formula for ice skating. Was the ice safe? I saw no ice shacks that protect ice fisherman from wind and cold. I saw no snowmobiles or four-wheelers out on the ice. At church, I asked people who owned property on the lake. The woman grimaced and shook her head “no.” Her husband said, “bring a rope.” I could not tell if he was kidding.
Despite the warnings, I hiked down to the lake with my son Peter. He slung hockey skates over his shoulder and approached the lake edge cautiously. Our topic of conversation centered on what to do if you fall through the ice. He stepped out on the ice and heard a loud crack that reverberated like a gunshot. Shifting pressure caused hollow booms that sounded like recorded moans of humpback whales. To skate or not to skate: That was the question. He saw skate marks, evidence of another skater. Peter took that leap of faith, laced up his skates, and glided out onto the ice. After a few tentative pushes, he was off, cutting across the ice on silver blades. Later, he described it as “transcendental” — worries set aside, free as a bird.
I decided to strap on my snowshoes and walk on the frozen water. Like Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I stepped into another world. Treasures were locked in ice, shapes like I had never seen before. Bubbles froze in dazzling columns; delicate crystal walls lay inches below the surface, interspersed with white discs that looked like moons. Further down, an ice form tricked my eyes. It resembled a brooch made of pearl with jewels shining like miniature rainbows. I traipsed further out and saw one white perch dead in a vast, icy tomb. Death swept down on it in a wintry blast, one minute swimming in cold waters, and then …
I thought of Henry David Thoreau and his classic Walden. “Our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe.” I knelt down on the ice and studied geometric designs fit for an art museum. Thoreau got it correct. “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
Another lesson lay hidden in the ice. Two days later, all this beauty disappeared in a sleet storm, the lake covered in crusty snow. Gone, like a distant memory, reminiscent of Psalm 103.
As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower in the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone.
Life holds no ordinary moments. Heaven is under our feet, over our heads, and even right under our noses. All we need to do is open our eyes and be ready to see.
Copyright 2019 Kathryn Swegart