I’m on a houseboat. Never done this before… Jeff took us up to Smith Mountain Lake this weekend to celebrate our birthdays.
The days leading up to this trip found me with a knot in my stomach. I couldn’t say why, and I also couldn’t shake it. The night before I bounced around the house, not able to concentrate enough to make a packing list, which is not a challenge I usually have. It was like something inside me had tilted and I just couldn’t get my head around it.
Not that I don’t love the water, because I do. I love boating, swimming, and fishing. I love walking along the coast where the sea courts the land. But something about spending the weekend on a houseboat unnerved me.
It eased somewhat when we got to the lake, and I got everything settled onto the boat. Jeff took the helm and we set out exploring Smith Mountain Lake. It was a idyllic fall day – clear blue skies, light wind, warm sun, cool breeze… the kind of day they make into postcards.
Still, after a few hours, weary in mind and body from whatever had been eating at me, I collapsed onto the bed.
Lying there, half asleep, half awake and drifting, I realized that I just wanted everything to stop; the hum and growl of the motor, the rock and sway of the boat, and the sense of having to ‘do something’ that accompanied navigating a 39’ boat around a large lake. Sleep came, but fitfully, and after waking I spent the rest of the day with that knot still lodged in my stomach.
I just wanted to be on land again. It was a sort of claustrophobia of being stuck outside of my comfort zone. I had no idea that the solidness of, and connection to the land was as important to me as it is. I felt in a very literal way ‘ungrounded’.
Funny that I never put that together, seeing as how leaving my farm left me so lost. I need the land. I need that touchstone. I need to see it through it’s seasons, to walk on it, to tend it, to live with it, to belong to it. I need this like I need daylight and fresh air. When I left my farm, something inside me died. I’ve made do since then, and my work at Hope Reins out on the ranch has been a lifeline for me, but that void remains.
The first night, after the fire of sunset cooled from the western sky, the stars filled the sky.
I’ve always held close my connection with the night sky, and the stars. At my farm, after the separation with my ex, when I was living in the small outbuilding, I would go out at night, look up at the stars, and realign with my place in the universe. While my whole world was coming apart, they held me, and God assured me through them, that He had a plan and purpose for me.
I’ve missed seeing the Milky Way every clear night, like I did on my farm, and that night above the mountains and lake the sky was crowded with stars. There were no fuzzy dark places – the Milky Way unfurled in lacy intricate detail, and it felt like every star God made dressed up and joined in.
In the most unlikely way, reaching up to those stars, watching them dance overhead, sighting shooting stars with Jeff, and recognizing constellations, re-grounded me. I found my place again, and something within me settled once more. We drank in the beauty of that night sky, until awe and wonder spilled from us like wine from a full cup.
I slept better after that, even with the clattering of the generator that wrapped our little dwelling equally in cozy warmth and jarring sound.
After recognizing my need for land, we made multiple stops to shore the next day. That helped, and I’m still bemused that at 55, I’m recognizing something so visceral that I’ve never acknowledged before. That night we pulled into a cove along the state park portion of the shoreline. The tree lined hills wrapped around this inlet holding the water still from the wind and waves churning the lake’s surface.
We threw the bow anchor to shore and Jeff climbed down and wrapped it around a tree, before setting the stern anchor to hold us in place a few yards out from the tiny sand beach.
The sunset was softer that night, clouds blowing in from the west, muting the colors, and reflecting gold and yellow on the glass surface of the cove. We sat, Jeff fishing, me taking pictures, until a commotion stirred in the trees.
A doe jumping through the leaves, crashed and bounded along the wooded hillside in front of us. She stopped, sighting our boat, and watched us, half hidden behind the branches. Then almost at the waterline to our right, two young bucks, their velvet horns just tipped, bounded out of the woods and half trotted half hopped down to the sand right in front of our boat. They picked their way over the anchor line on delicate legs. The second one stopped right in front of us, ears spread wide, taking us in without alarm, as his brother jumped right into the cold lake water, making his way around a rocky outcropping.
We watched them drink, splash, and work their way around the cove’s shore, until the dusk and trees hid them from sight. It was another holy encounter.
After supper, the clouds thinned out long enough for us to glimpse the Milky Way again. Bundled against the chill, we soaked it in until the pending rain drove thick clouds over the sky, and raised a silent mist across the now still waters of the lake. The small lights across the lake twinkled, and sound carried oddly, the mist confounding its origin.
We tucked back into the ‘house’ part of the house boat, turned the generator back on, with wry apologies to the peaceful landscape around us, and tucked into bed.
I woke this morning to the last of a heavy rain washing the newly colored leaves. The mountains stayed tucked away behind the clouds, and rain lashed the windows of our weekend dwelling. I found I was settled now on the houseboat, but with a whole different sense of who I am, and wondering how this will impact my days, direction, and daily life as I return home.