I watched a seagull fly over the gray-green water, feathers still brown with youth. Out of the corner of my eye, an older woman in a white swimsuit appeared on the rocks below me. She dipped one foot in the icy lake. Waves crashed up against the rocks where her other foot grounded her, spraying her legs. She didn’t see me watching her, but watching her I was. I watched her face silently grimace at the cold. I watched her as she held her foot in place for a full minute, acclimating herself before gracefully pushing her body off the rocks and into the water. I watched her gray hair floating up around her face as it disappeared underneath the surface. I watched her as she resurfaced, her mouth open wide from the shock in her lungs.
I had just done that yesterday. There’s something about the cold water of Lake Superior that is magic. That punches you in the gut, sucks all the breath from your lungs in one instant, and makes you feel entirely alive. It hurts to be that cold. It hurts to have every inch of you seen and embraced and electrified by ice. But the pleasure that rolls through your body once you’ve endured that pain is warm, soothing, beautiful.
That’s the thing about living in such a wild place like this. The harsh climate is painful. It’s isolating, difficult, untenable. And that’s what makes Northern people so fascinating and beautiful. We appreciate the difficulty. We dive into the cold and encourage it to surround us. We see how impossible it is to survive here and yet we survive. We see how harsh it is and yet we find the beauty in the gray. The life in the icy waters.
I need places like this. I will never be one of those happy girls. There will never be a day I walk on this bitter earth without feeling the weight of my sadness. Every day I remember when I didn’t own my body, when I didn’t own my spirit. I remember how I have been irreparably altered and how there is nothing I can do to change the past, to change the pain I endured. And yet, each day I walk on this bitter earth, I see the unchangeable beauty. Not in spite of the pain, but because of the pain. I see the subtle glints of gold reflecting on the breaking waves from the diffused sunlight through the clouds. I see the brown-feathered seagull exploring her first year of life. I see the gray-haired woman smiling as she comes out from the freezing water.
I am alive. It hurts, and I am alive.
(This was the result of some intentional space I held for writing yesterday. I heard a song that really moved me and brought me to tears. So I went to a place I found beautiful while I listened to this song on repeat over and over. As I listened, I allowed my feelings to come up, I observed what was happening around me, and I wrote about it. No rules, no point. Just how the scene and the song and my emotions tumbled over one another. Lyrics in the photos are from the song. "This Bitter Earth/On the Nature Of Daylight" - Dinah Washington/Max Richter)