Last week I posted about liminality, defined as a space between or on/in a sensory threshold. A transitional state. You can read more about it here.
When I traveled to my home state in October 2014, I had not visited Michigan for quite some time, and it was a very intense, emotional trip for me. Although I’d spent a lot of time with my parents out west, I hadn’t been to see them on the land where I grew up.
There is a way that I could think of that visit as a liminal space because it was the threshold that led into my father’s illness and eventual death in May 2015. It was the last time I saw my father before his illnesses, although he might have already been sick at the time–and nobody realized it. Our relationship began to change after this trip.
I found a photo from that visit that I find to be symbolic of liminality: the dock at my parents’ home. The dock is a passageway between land and water. If you walk off the dock into the water, you had better know how to swim or be wearing a life jacket.
I wasn’t prepared for walking off the dock that fall, but luckily I had had swimming lessons as a kid.
By the way, that wire across the top of the photo? I thought about cropping it out, but it seems important somehow.
Growing up in Michigan meant that I was always figuring out how to make decisions. And they all had to do with water. That’s because Michigan has over eleven thousand inland lakes, which means that each of the 83 counties has an average of a dozen lakes within its boundaries.
Kalamazoo County, where I grew up, has at least sixteen lakes. These aren’t cheesy reservoirs, like they have out west where I now live, but natural incubators of minnows, weeds, and snakes.
In the summer, I had the option of whether to be in or on the water. On the water meant sailing our little Sunfish, paddling the rowboat, driving the used and very rigged-up faded red motorboat with the too-heavy motor, or flying behind said motorboat on my water skis (the rare times I could pretend to some athletic skills).
Since I was a girly girl, for the most part, I usually had to have help sailing, paddling, or driving any of our boats. Therefore, on the water ended up meaning setting up my chaise lounge on the dock, covering it with a beach towel, and flipping open a book.
Young teen me on the lake
In the water meant floating around on some kind of well-worn flotation device, too lazy to get out, and becoming waterlogged in the process. This could be accomplished out past the weeds, but we were on the shallow, swampy side of the lake, and not too far out there was a large plateau of shallow water, lily pads, and bullfrogs. And other creatures as yet unknown to humankind. Therefore, I didn’t actually go in the water very often.
If I did decide to enter the water, I had to plan it out. Sometimes I’d walk slowly into the water. Depending on the weather, I’d do this either to get used to the cold or to luxuriate in the balmy water cooling my over-heated skin. This now brings back memories of stepping onto the lake bottom, its wet sand massaging my feet when I dug my toes in.
No, wait. I’d forgotten how we got such a smooth lake floor. It’s coming back to me now. Dad used to put me to work with a hoe summer mornings, and by lunchtime my back would be temporarily bent over and painful if I tried to stand up straight. He did plenty of hoeing himself, too, but much of the time we had to reach down closer to the roots and yank with our hands. I’d come up snorting water out of my nose and tossing back my wet hair so I didn’t have to smooth it with my hands which were slippery with weed-slime.
To enter the water for fun instead of work, instead of wading slowly, I’d cannon ball off the dock into the deep water with my head tucked so that the water didn’t blast into my skull. Then I’d swim to the old raft which floated atop four watertight barrels. From there, I could stay clear of the majority of greasy weeds.
The next decision I would over-think—and this only happened when I actually did get over my squeamishness with the weeds and the animals flitting past my toes underwater–was how best to haul my soaking wet self out of the lake, heavy water sloshing out of the seat of my bathing suit, threatening to take the bottom half of the two-piece off with it, and how fast I could scramble for a towel to get warm and not end up with skin like a plucked chicken.
It’s amazing that there was yet another decision after my ambivalence with our marsh-called-lake. I had to figure out how to make it through the winter when the lake had semi-frozen into a giant Icee. Come the first thaw, we would head out to the lake. No matter that we were still wearing jackets, no matter how many mosquitoes had sucked my blood the summer before, no matter how many water snakes I’d witnessed peeking their heads above the water line like miniature Nessies, I always wanted to go back.
Do you have any water memories from your childhood?