The Wreck of the Edmund FitzJocelyn

I live next to the largest body of fresh water in the world in terms of surface area. Because I have a long bendy straw, and I am very good at leaning out my window, I am never thirsty.

And because I am always careful to suck up my requisite sixty-four ounces per day, the water levels would take quite a hit, were it not for the forty-two creeks in town that continuously feed the lake.

Not incidentally, forty-two creeks and a big lake perk up some sweaty arse in the heat of August. For those few days when the temperature hovers near 90 degrees, we just pack up our beds and pillows and drop them into the frigid waters of the lake, where we recline in perfect comfort.

Yea, Lakey is frigid. Interestingly, when something is so enormous, it is slow to warm and slow to cool, rather like 1970’s tv detective Frank Cannon closing in on his suspect during the episode “Girl in the Electric Coffin.”

He didn’t rile easily, that Cannon, but once he had a scent, there was no stopping his drive for justice. Cannon and the Big Lake both exist in a state of intriguing contradiction: cold when it’s warm and warm when it’s cold.

Of course, Cannon actor William Conrad died in 1994 of congestive heart failure and has been persistently cold since.

Lake Superior, however, swishes on and, as it does, warmed a bit this past August–two months ago now. For several glorious weeks, we were actually able to inch our toes into the relatively-balmy 53 degree water, eventually shoving in the whole foot, and when that went numb, wading to the ankle. At some point, the impulse to plunge would overtake the screaming messages from our nerves, and we’d shimmy in up to the groin or go Full-On Fool and submerge every last follicle.

For eleven beautiful minutes, the heat of the day would drop away, and we’d swim and pull up hunks of eroded concrete from the lake bottom,

and then, suddenly sideswiped, we’d be struck with the paralysis of shit-damn-holy-hell-that’s-cold-water-and-I-don’t-care-if-it’s-88-degrees-outside-because-my-innards-are-now-a-box-of-Bird’s-Eye-frozen-peas. And really, if I have only one rule of parenting, it’s this: when the five-year-old utters anything starting with “shit-damn-holy-hell,” it’s time to towel off and go get cocoa and a scone.

On one particularly-spirited day this past August, with out-of-town visitors in tow, we launched ourselves on a progressive tour of the city’s swimming holes, creeks, and polar plunges. In one afternoon, we hit four different spots, and at the end of it all, fell into an exhaustion entitled The Day of All Summer Days.

That day in August seems far removed now; but it resonates with what I feel this mid-October. When I hop into the lake in August, it’s a way of embracing the peak of a particular season–it’s me in my twenties, quitting my job as a nanny to drive to Graceland in Tennessee and Hot Springs, Arkansas, and White Sands, New Mexico, and Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado, in a big swoop of “cuz I can” roadtripping abandon. The crest of summer, like that period of my youth, is golden and evanescent and fugitive.

And now. I’m forty-one, and I’m the embodiment of October 20th; I’m a breathing mid-autumn day. After we eased through June, July, August, fall set in with jarring swiftness. The overhead light of summer angled sideways and became slanting, mellow, softer. Everything in the world blazed briefly–orange and red and saffron–and then, in the midst of my gasp about its beauty, began the decline into rust, amber, chestnut. Fall and I are fading into an abatement of our peaks, and starkness looms.

Curiously, being just past the pinnacle, a tidge beyond the brightest blaze, a week past the sell-by date, well, it leads me into a feeling of harmony with bigger, deeper life junk. Although leaves have fallen from the trees and crunch underfoot (on my body, the leaves are called “breasts”; unbound, they too crunch underfoot), and although the lake is too cold to touch (on me, no such thing exists), and although ripening has morphed into waning,

I like it.

Fall, and my forties, are a season of ebbing. We are less fertile; we are less flexible; we are less free.

Yet we are full of texture; we perceive the rhythm of the full cycle; we appreciate that lessening can result in abundance.

We suspect, in our declination, that winter may be the richest of all seasons.

After all, there will be cocoa.





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21 responses to “The Wreck of the Edmund FitzJocelyn”

  1. Jazz Avatar

    Well, I guess that’s another way of looking at it. I envy your composure at the fact of winter hovering around the corner.

    This, I must say, made me laugh out loud – you can see how old I am by the fact that I actually wrote that out…

    Of course, Cannon actor William Conrad died in 1994 of congestive heart failure and has been persistently cold since

  2. furiousBall Avatar

    holy crap, gordon f’ng lightfoot.

  3. Mother of Invention Avatar
    Mother of Invention

    Gorgeous picture! I love fall too but I kinda wish we could do that suspeneded animation thing about a week ago at full peak colours and warm sunny days. It is going downhill from here and today I’m shivering as my split pea soup cooketh in the old crock pot! And I swear my husband is eyeing his skis in the corner of the basement! I’m thinking of spinning a cocoon!

    (I was going to say I love that line that jazz just quoted!)

  4. Balou Avatar

    Great photos. Whenever we go to the north shore, we get much worse gas mileage on the way home for all the rocks in the trunk. Those concrete chunks are cool.

    Feeling achy today – I guess I could say I’m feeling a bit October. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Shania Avatar

    Ah! A fellow forty one year old with a five year old child. Mah sistah! Have you been mistaken for his grandmother yet? Trust me, I wasn’t feeling at all mellow and autumny when that happened!

    This was beautifully written and evocative, btw.

  6. Chantal Avatar

    I am with you!

  7. Pam Avatar

    Your fifties are even better.

  8. chelle Avatar

    Ooo I am adore Autumn, although this Fall seems cold. I am getting used to it though!

  9. pistols at dawn Avatar
    pistols at dawn

    Some of us would merely have said, “Goddamn, it’s cold as balls in this water” and headed back inside to watch football, none the richer for our experience.

  10. flutter Avatar

    I like you too, so there.

  11. lime Avatar

    oh i do so think i needed this since i have just recently entered my f-f-f-f-forties…there, i said it, shit-damn-holy-hell. (can i have some cocoa now?)

    may i also say you have so many lines in here that just me hardy har the s-d-h-h feeling away (i’d still like the cocoa though, please)

    if you are still reluctant to share the cocoa will i earn points toward cocoa if i tell you i swam in lack ontario in may? the memory alone makes every internal organ shrivel in hypothermic pain.

  12. Bob Avatar

    oh. my. god. Cannon. I used to watch that show (along with Barnaby Jones, the FBI, Mannix, SWAT and all of the Quinn Martin productions not heretofore mentioned). He used to drive a Ford LTD, I think, and there was always food and a good female friend coming over to eat. ANYWAY.

    The waters of the Pacific off of Carmel beach were always frigid, often requiring a six-pack’s motivation to enter.

    I too love fall.

  13. citizen of the world Avatar
    citizen of the world

    That last photo is gorgeous. But the water sounds too feaking cold for me – given me the bath-tub warm ocean water of the southeeast Atlamtic coast.

  14. Mother Theresa Avatar
    Mother Theresa

    I have a few months of summer left…not too sure I’m ready for the hot cocoa thing just yet. But, what’s a girl, I mean a woman, to do? Love the pictures and admire your way of looking at life. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Em Avatar

    I like your one rule of parenting. And any water in the 50 degree range (or 60, for that matter) would force me to call this rule into play.

  16. Kylie w Warszawie Avatar
    Kylie w Warszawie

    I’ve lived in Europe for most of my adult life, but I grew up in Sydney and Houston, so I still cannot tolerate outdoor pools in Europe.

    You’re a fabulous writer! You really paint a picture!

  17. Casdok Avatar

    Brrr i can feel the cold water.
    And i am enjoying my autumn ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    God, what a beautiful post! This resonates with me on so many levels, and even brought back memories from my own evanescent, fugitive youth of swimming in freezing lakes in MN, VT and NH.

    In many ways, I am happier in my skin than I was then, when I thought I had to prove my worth.

    I simply and absolutely love the way you write, and also the way your mind works. You are my blog idol.

  19. Dory Avatar

    I think all our best moments are based on “Cuz I Can.”


  20. geewits Avatar

    You are aging far more gracefully than I am. I’m still quite shocked when I suddenly realize (at the worst times) than I am not the young cutie I once was. I still feel like that person and then a mirror sneaks up on me and “Whoa Nellie!”

  21. Glamourpuss Avatar

    And scones. Mmmmm, scones….

    Out of interest does speaking in the first person plural happen in your forties, too? I hope so – I like its royal connotations.


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