Memory. Hill and wind unfold at once. Sagebrush. Lodge pole pine. Pronghorn antelope. They run as ghosts at dawn, blurred like distant rain, the echo of clouds that shift over the horizon as though they have deflated, are deflating, ghost-clouds reaching some thicket, some lakeshore, the backs of deer, a rain-world intangible here by the water; brushstrokes.
I’ve missed the water. My new desert home is nothing like this. I’ve not seen a river since I left Oregon; I’ve not seen a lake since I drove past the Great Salt Lake on the move over—car full of boxes, the water only slightly visible from the highway and just beginning to shiver with sunset.
Here in Montana I feel as though I am walking on a mirrored sky. Even the non-reflecting grasses hold clouds in their vastness. The lake is distinctly oceanless. It is tied to nothing, unlike the rivers at home, which flow to the sea, the Pacific, whose fogged closeness I used to smell in southwestern winds. Now I smell the alpine, some northward basin wind that speaks of steppes and mountains converging.
I used to walk with my dog down our neighborhood streets. It was only a short walk to the water. “Come on, Ginger,” I would tell her, and we would run for a moment, “let’s go see the river,” and she would pant, and we would slow down, and after a time we would see the green, slow-moving Willamette, which in my mind was always simply the river. I felt some pride in calling it that, rather than by its full name. It meant I knew it well. It was simply the river, River, as central to my lifeworld as the moon or the sun or the wind.
This lake is a guest in my world. I do not know it, nor will I, since I’m only here for a few days. I am like the trumpeter swans, the great blue herons, the ibises. I am like the antelope, silent, and moving, and reverent; destined for dry places, made of memories—made of water.