Devil’s Lake and Parfrey’s Glen, Wisconsin, where cynicism turns to goo. The park beckons all in with brilliant golden gates, carpets and walls and ceilings of maple leaves all at their peak, another layer fluttering to the ground in the October sun, all aglow. Up into the glen, where the icy waters guard the sanctity of the rock walls, force me to hop from rock to rock as I pick my way back through the gorge. The detritus of the ages, all on display; the trees far above whisper with a breeze that does not reach down into this damp, cool gash in the earth. Deeper into the caverns of memory, calling up some old spirit tucked away amid the knotted roots of a mind. A fall at the end and it’s all over, or perhaps it is merely the beginning.
Into the park proper, its bluffs orange and red and brilliant in repose. Stand atop a ridge: I’ve been here before. A different time, but the view is the same, and the company ever so familiar. The rim revisited, this time with easy stone steps up and down, through scattered pines and back to an oak grove dotted by grottoes and glimmers of the lake beyond. Its waters are deep, its history well-kept. The story of all truths.
It would be easy to be maudlin, to lament paradise lost here at the Devil’s Lake. The narrative of tragedy is there for the taking, the vivid romantic mind tricked by plays of light among the leaves. Things seemed pure here once, and those who seek it can bring that back for a fleeting instant, take that energy as foundation for faith in something else. But after that glimpse, it lingers; all is in its shadow. It looms through a setting sun in this season of setting suns, a long descent into night that keeps the orange tree tops aglow, the embers of their blaze still catching the erratics and cranberry bogs on the road back north. I drift away. I no longer fear that journey, but it is not my time to take it.
No, I’m still here. This driftless land reminds me of all I cannot see, even if it is all in my head. In the end, though, I am left with what I have, all in stark relief. The leaves all fall but the cycle goes on, and all dreams come to an end, back to reality, where we belong. To call it a tragedy would admit defeat. I cannot freeze time. The glacier is doomed to retreat, and in its stead lies great beauty, great opportunity; something I can share now, pass along to anyone else who might be eager to see it. Those moments of drift, that embrace of reality, twinned in a burst of life. Delight and reflection, past and future, all affirmed. What next?