Intersections – Vacation
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
I am invisible. There are no photos of this day. I’m at the edge of a lake surrounded by mountains. They say the lake was carved out by glaciers. They say the water comes from snowmelt. No river passes through here. They tell me that if I fall in, I only have 10 minutes to survive. I’ll freeze to death before I can swim to shore. I’m not a fast swimmer even in warm water. Still I climb into a kayak.
Everyone else in my family is already out on the lake. The boy. The baby. The pair that look like twins. The man. They paddle around the bend. There is a waterfall. I can hear it. The sound of water falling is nature trying to hush us. I stay quiet.
It snowed the week before we arrived. Today it is warm enough for more melting, but still cold to me. The water is clear. The lake is a window. I see a full grown tree under the water. It must have fallen into the lake during a storm or avalanche. The tree is sleeping. I used to think that muddy waters were scary, but clarity is equally frightening. I paddle out a little bit. I circle the kayak to make certain that I can navigate alone. I try to calculate the distance of 10 minutes of swimming, and then I row out.
The snowy mountains are behind me. I am not used to so many jagged summits. The mountain I know is smooth like the moon. Granite. Lonely. I don’t feel alone at all. I have left my camera behind. Will you believe me if I tell you that I have been to this place if I have no photos to prove it?
I get further onto the lake. The other boaters have left the water. It is the middle of the afternoon. We are 6,000 feet above sea level. A lake above normal earth. In the sky. The air is thin. I feel it as I row. Time slows. My shoulders ache, and I stop. I look around. We are the only ones on the water. I feel older than time. I row again to get closer to my kids.
The older ones are in their own kayaks. They go out, circle back, edge up to where the waterfall shatters the lake. It is not like the waves of the ocean.
The youngest is afraid. She is in a kayak with her father. She looks smaller than usual. She has only ever known beach, pool, and bath. She loves water, but this is different. Her hand trails into the water. She doesn’t have to row.
If I’d had a camera, my youngest would have smiled for me. She smiles when she sees me. A photo would document her happiness, but not her fear.
“Mommy, look at me,” she says. She is proud and afraid and trusting. There is no way to capture that in a photo. I am glad I don’t have a camera.
“You’re doing great,” I say.
She glances at the water. The bottom is deeper here. We can still see the rocks and occasional fish. If there are any more fallen trees, they are hidden at the bottom. My daughter looks into the lake as if hypnotized. She touches the water again.
“Look up,” I tell her. “Isn’t this beautiful?” I ask.
I point to the waterfall. I show her a house hidden on the mountainside. We see no road. I show her the dock where we started. A man watches us with binoculars in case we fall in. We are cold and wet and far. We are afraid. We are also safe. It is hard to explain that to a child. You can be both afraid and safe. That’s how I feel.
I took no photos this day. I decided that a good vacation day is a day with no photos. What if I had a day so good, I could not document it? Will my memory be different of the moments where I took pictures and the days when I did not?
I found a box of pictures in my mother’s house of my childhood vacations. Me at Disney World with two ponytails and red shorts with white trim. I can remember very little of that trip. I felt nervous on Space Mountain, the futuristic roller coaster. I felt awe on a steep escalator inside an oversized sphere in Epcot. There are pictures of me doing all sorts of things. I can’t remember anything but those red shorts. I loved them.
I love the way a kayak glides through water. I love lakes that remind me of glass. I love vacation so much. That goes without saying. I love days without pictures.
“Intersections,” the book, is a collection of columns from Decaturish.com and beyond. It is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.