There are no monsters in this lake I tell my granddaughter, answering her unasked question. There are bears in the woods around here and there used to be an owl which made an afternoon visit. There are deer, certainly and there could be a coyote or two. If you don’t believe me, ask the crows, everyone knows that they can never keep a secret.
First published in From the Finger Lakes: A Memoir Anthology, Cayuga Lake Books, 2021
My granddaughter is intensely concerned with the growing loss of species, and rightly so, and I share her fears, though I feel largely powerless to do anything.
She has the faith of youth, a belief that she and her peers can, with work, effect a lasting change, climb up the slippery slope which we have cast them down, and save other species from a fate nature never could have intended.
But she cannot fathom the losses that I have seen, things I knew rendered extinct by her generation, and that of her parents, the cassette player, the typewriter, carbon paper, and stationery and a writing desk, to name only a few, but at least the haven’t outdated my Blackberry.
The most important lessons he taught were in those moments when he was absolutely silent, the smile across his face shouting across the background din of everyday life, his eyes wide with a sort of childish awe that I had long since given up as adolescent.
The child sees everything for the first time regardless how many times she has gazed at what we adults are certain is the same scene, a pure iteration, hears each call of the cardinal as a never-before-heard song, not the now boring chorus of a too long repeated lyric, its melody now painful.
His lessons too easily slipped away, as he did a few years later, mourning a poor substitute for memories that eased into the damp ground with him, but the smile of my granddaughter at seemingly everything and nothing, her laughter at the squirrel inverted from the crook arm of the bird feeder defying the shield below to stop his constant thefts, the giggles at the clouds filling the sky with characters I could not hope to see, brought him back, and with him the joys of my childhood long suppressed.
We agree we must learn the rules, to master the game, practice until the moves are second nature. We have three weeks to do all of this, then Place the game box back on the shelf to be discovered and taken down, opened spread out on the table, impatience controlling. Want to ensure that one of us will win, at least at first, though we know that in time she will handily best us as she always does. But just this once we hope to get a leg up on our eight-year-old granddaughter.
She wants to know why the oriole we sometimes see in the park never visits our backyard feeder. I remind her that she isn’t usually here, only visits occasionally, but she says that I would have told her if I saw one. She says I got excited when I saw the one in the park during our walk. She is right, of course, I would have told her but all I see at the feeders are finches of several sorts, doves and wrens, and when he wants particularly to be seen as he often does, one cardinal who is far less interested in the seed than in having a perch in plain sight, and when he knows were watching, upthrusts his fiery crest and spreads his wings. I tell her cardinals are such show offs. She is seven, laughs and says yes they are, just like grandfathers, don’t you think.
I look at the photo, me holding my granddaughter. Between us we are 57 years old, she has just celebrated her first birthday. In the photograph we are both laughing hysterically, in the photo we are both young children.