I know, it’s too early. I can’t help it. Still February, still shoveling snow, still out skiing, still thinking about pipes freezing. Nevermind. I’m starting to feel that pulse. The sun is inching back. Warm, bright days punctuate the winter gray. Despite everything, despite knowing better, despite falling prey to this trap every winter, I feel the faint pulse of flowing water start to beat. Inside of me, that pulse is ticking quietly away, even as I ski the snowbound trails under the white peaks burdened with snow.
Every winter, when this feeling surges up, I am transported north, back in time to our winters spent on the austere, hushed shore of Lake Athabasca. There, after the dark burial of brutal cold and unrelenting darkness, month after month, the sun began to boom back into the sky. Still cold, still buried, but the light came back in great bounds, expanding our days. By early March the eaves dripped on warm days. The nearby river began to beat back against the armored vise of ice. The sounds of current whispered faintly in the distance.
Then, as soon as the narrowest lane of water opened in the bay, birds came back. Bald eagles, loons, ducks, song birds. After the muffled silence of winter, the air was full of sound, that spring symphony. When the bay opened, birds came in flocks. Geese, ducks, tundra swans. I remember a sun-drenched morning full of what sounded like flapping canvas in a wind, and looked out to see 60 tundra swans lifting off of the bay. God, what a rush!
There, still trapped by the season, with months to go before the ice on the big lake would finally disappear, the beat of running current, the urgency to participate, the ache to feel the pull of paddle, the dance of whitewater, the hushed peace of a mirrored lake at dawn, became almost unendurable.
And now, decades later, farther south, less in touch with my surroundings, I am still prone to that flush of restlessness in the blood, that urgency to be in on the burgeoning flow, to see what comes around the bend. The promise is there, the light is returning, soon the snow will melt off the eaves, run off the hillsides, fill the green valleys, and I will be there in a boat, dancing down the miles.