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The International Writers Magazine: Tahoe (From Our Archives)

Failure at the lake
Eric D Lehman

When I was sixteen, my brother Andy and I hiked up the summer Sierra in the backcountry near Lake Tahoe. Our parents had left us with two water bottles and worried instructions to stick to the trail. "Don’t get lost!" My mother shouted to us as the car pulled away. I nodded, not quite paying attention, because I had never been in high mountains before and was eager for the new experience. The green and white peaks spread out above us like the fabled homes of the gods.
We struggled up the switchback path, unused to strenuous activity in this July heat. We seemed closer to the sun, unprotected in these alpine meadows. White boulders scattered over the steep slopes, blistering to the touch. Andy and I emptied the bottles quickly into our raspy throats, unused to moderation and conservation. Soon, there were scant swallows sloshing at the bottom of the containers. Stunted mountain trees laughed at our youthful lack of preparation.

The hot, precipitous trail continued upward for a few dozen switchbacks, but finally disappeared through a cleft in the mountains. We stumbled over the pass and were stunned to find a lake of pure and pristine beauty. Hidden from below, the secret place looked like a water-filled volcanic crater, or else a tarn created by the convergence of three peaks. Surrounded the lake, thick stands of pine trees swayed in a slight breeze, cooling hot, dark soil. The oasis was deserted, except for one older girl who had hiked up with her school books and lay studying in the shade. My brother and I trudged around the lakeside. Our drinking supply was almost gone. The heat of the day had demoralized us. We sat on the edge of the wide mere, took off our shoes, and bathed our tired feet.

The rippling liquid looked heavenly, darker than the sky, pure as life itself. We eyed it with anticipation and began to question. "Should we jump in?"
"Are we allowed?"
"Should we get our clothes wet?"
"Is it too cold?"
"Will some great monster rise up and devour us?"

We waffled. We excused. And then, we shuffled back through the cloudless summer gap and down into the valley. Why? Why didn’t we jump in that lake? It was clear and clean and wet. No one would have stopped us. We could have been cool and comfortable all the way home. But no.

A few years later I would have jumped. By then, I had learned. At some point in our lives we all must learn this lesson: to dive into the lake, to be free, to follow our hearts’ desires. So, when we are old and sitting by the peaceful lake in patient stillness, we can once again abstain from jumping in. We can linger in the perfect happiness of our lake memories, with nothing left undone.

© Eric D. Lehman September 2007

Dream Surgery
Eric D Lehman
Subhash began regaling Andy with plans for the trip that he and I would take when we’re thirty. "We’re leaving the wives in Sydney or Melbourne and renting an old Army Jeep, and just going, heading into the outback, Midnight Oil blasting on the stereo, seeing Ayer’s Rock, the desert, maybe going all the way to the wilds of the west coast."

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