None of us slept much for the next three days, but especially not my cousins and me. In addition to our own grief, and the shock of our grandfather’s sudden death, I think we all realized the extent of the earthquake that had just hit our family. Privileged to have had these remarkable and long-lived grandparents, we had not only grown up in an extended-family environment that was becoming more and more rare, but it had continued long beyond our own childhoods to encompass yet another generation. The centrality of the house and its inhabitants was something we had almost taken for granted, and even though Aunt Inez, Aunt Minerva, Uncle Frank and even Aunt Patty were now gone, the central pillars had, miraculously, held.
After two nights of long calling hours at the funeral home, then the funeral and the burial in South Otselic, we went back to the lake. I’d hated the funeral – which took place in the maudlin, plastic environment of the funeral home, not the church where my grandparents had spent their lives – and little had been said to truly commemorate my grandfather’s life. I felt no sense of completion.
It was cold, though the lake hadn’t yet frozen. Flocks of Canada geese were still landing on the water at dusk, floating and honking all night, and then leaving flock by flock, like platoons of jets from aircraft carriers each morning, to spend the day in the nearby cornfields. I hadn’t brought a parka, and in the downstairs closet I found my father’s old red-and-back plaid LL Bean wool jacket. I put it on and went down to the shoreline, and walked all the way around to the furthest point, below my grandparents’ former house. Beginning there, I walked slowly back around the shore toward the furthest point on our own land, tracing the nightly circuit my grandfather used to walk with his fishing pole, meeting me partway where I was often fishing too, and then going together the rest of the way together around the shore. As I walked I wept, and thought, and after I had gone all the way around, I came back to the midpoint, where a long dock had once been – a place for solitary fishing and star-gazing; for swimming; for picnics; for tying up the boats – it was a place filled with hundreds of memories. I stood there and gazed out at the lake – cold, grey - the trees reflecting in the stillness just shy of the freezing point. I looked down at my feet, and there I saw a perfectly white stone.
It was strange to find it there – we didn’t have as many veins of white quartz as, say, New England, but occasionally you’d find some white rocks that had, perhaps, tumbled along under the glaciers that carved these valleys and created this lake. I picked up the stone, and turned it over and over in my hands until it became almost warm. And then, spontaneously, I threw it high into the air, and toward the center of the lake. No arm in white samite reached up to catch it, Excaliber-like, but the stone hit the water and disappeared, and something suddenly released in me. I felt an inexplicable acceptance suffuse my spirit, like spreading warmth.
Just then, the first geese wheeled high overhead, and began their descent, spiraling downward, calling to their comrades who appeared – miraculously it seemed - from all directions, the wedges breaking into lines that joined the spiral, nearly as large as the lake itself. The noise became deafening. The geese – hundreds and hundreds of them – came closer to the water and to me, feet outstretched, wings out to the sides to slow their flight. I watched, mesmerized. The flocks circled and began to land in a wide ring of brown and grey, and then I looked up and saw, in the very center, a flashing of white: a rare flock of snow geese, their wings catching the last rays of the sun, descended and slowly landed, right where the stone had disappeared.