Both the Spaniard and I have been away for the past few weeks. He has been traveling by dog team on the Arctic Ocean, while I have gone in the opposite direction, to experience Paris in the spring time. When we left home it was winter, still cold and windy, and now we are home again and suddenly it is spring. The snow is gone, the days are sunny and long, and the temperatures are suddenly above zero. The transition happens quickly ever year, so quickly that its always a shock. Things are the same for so long, until suddenly, they are not. (And as a result, the changes are a gift – the sight of the birds returning becomes incredibly moving, for example.) Both the Spaniard and I have changed too. Seeing Paris in the spring time has shown me a culture that embraces beauty, and not just beauty, but beauty with substance, that best of all combinations. That people can live and work surrounded by all of this all of the time is a revelation to me. For the Spaniard, the way he has been changed by his trip has yet to be revealed to me, but I do not doubt that his experience on the land is percolating inside him in mysterious and powerful ways. And no doubt our relationship to each other has also changed in subtle ways, after the rare experience of being apart for so long.
The lake ice that surrounds our floating home and is our roadway is also changing – while its depth is the same, the structure of the ice is changing quickly, almost in front of our eyes. It’s no longer the black ice of winter, but now the white ice of spring, so that it still looks as if it has snow on it. We can no longer drive on the ice. It’s melting along the edges, and soon we will have some open water to cross as we walk back and forth from our house to shore. Along with the changing ice, the artifacts of the winter past reveal themselves. Anything on the ice warms it and melts it faster, so all those fast food containers and piles of dog poo have created small depressions or pools in the ice. It’s the same process that is happening all over the Arctic in a bigger way – artifacts of ancient civilizations, buried under the snow and ice for centuries, are now coming to the surface for the first time. Any walk now finds me coming home with my pockets filled with trash, a reluctant archeologist. (Although yesterday I also found a full bottle of beer, which isn’t as much as a treasure to me as it would be to some.)
The snow has sublimated, changed directly from a solid into a gas phase, bypassing the more prosaic and tedious exercise of transitioning from solid to water, and then to gas. I can only look on this with admiration, as I too would like to sublimate myself, changing from my fully human self, complete with the usual human baggage of messy emotions, periods of being asleep and periods filled with anxieties for this world (ISIS, the drought in California, climate change) to reach my potential, of being a creature filled with peace and joy, and being a channel of this for those around me.
I am lucky to live in a country where the likelihood of living under the ISIS control is low. And yet I can imagine the fear and terror of those who are exposed to a violent regime that values ideology over people. I do worry that the drought in California will have a real effect on me; I live in a climate with no hope of food security, and we rely heavily on imported food from California. And I live in a region that is one of the most affected to date by climate change. Already this year the lake is lower than anyone here has seen it for decades, and there are a pile of rocks right outside my door that are usually underwater. We lived through the suffocating smoke of forest fires all of last summer, and by all predictions this summer won’t be much different. My window on the world is a microcosm of what is happening in the big world beyond my horizon.
Each day I walk the dogs and find my way over the changing ice. The structure of the changing crystals is visible in both the ice color and its surface characteristics. It doesn’t take long, looking at something everyday, to develop some expertise in reading it. And soon I will be weaving a crooked path across the surface of the lake, as I seek out the strongest ice, the ice that will bear my weight while all around is melting, changing, and shifting.
Whether we will sink or swim remains to be discovered.