Thursday, 9 July 2020

The 'Lilac Lady of the Lake' ... or ... The Way of a Good Story


The summer that we leased a cabin, at a lake in the Okanogan, has the quality of a child's bedtime story, now, in recollection. A good children's bedtime story should be pleasant and comfortable, I think, though there should be an undercurrent of suspense ... as if something totally out-of-the-ordinary is about to happen ... or perhaps, is - in fact - transpiring ... if only you could put your finger on it.

Bedtime stories should kindle flashes of images like crackling sparks and glowing embers from a campfire. Best of all, even though you know that you aren't actually part of the story, a good bedtime story leaves you feeling as though you figure into it ... somehow. And later, when it comes to you on midnight blue slippers, it tip-toes to mind with the same velvety soft familiarity of all good faraway stories ... be they fact ... or fiction ... as is the way of 'The Lilac Lady of the Lake' story.

There were three public beaches on that lake, configured in such a way that - although they were all on the same body of water - they were not visible one-beach-to-the-other. The first beach was the busy beach - a wide, sandy expanse with an awesome dock to jump from and climb onto. The second beach was shorter and narrower with no dock - and thus - less children squealing and splashing and kicking up sand as they raced each other into the water. The third beach was barely a beach, at all. It was only about five or six feet wide and about forty feet long ... though it looked out upon a vista that was more remote and pristine ... which, for me, made it all-the-more-special. It was reached by way of a wobbly path that twisted acrobatically through a fragrant wall of needled trees that, no doubt, contributed to its lack of appeal to fellow campers ... all but one, that is ... the Lady in Lilac.

The very first time I wended my way down the wobbly third beach path ... and theatrically parted the boughs on the last of the evergreens ... she was there ... sitting on the sand, in lilac shorts and a t-shirt. Her face was turned to the lake and her back to me, She spoke without turning, "Beautiful Day," she remarked ... a salutation, I recall, that sent a faint shiver down my spine ... for her lack of curiosity as to who I was and what I was doing, invading her seclusion, was so anomalous ... it was, somewhat, off-putting. Surely, the flight-or-fight stuff of human nature would compel any 'normal' mortal to, at least, peek ... at who ... or what … was standing behind them ... in the middle of the wilderness. Nevertheless, I hid my consternation, and in my nice-as-I-can-sound voice ... as even then ... she did not turn, I replied, "Yes ... Perfect". After several more seconds, she, at long last, stood  and threw a glance in my direction. She was smiling. As the days and weeks went by, I came to realize ... she always smiled.

She always smiled ... and she always wore lilac ... different outfits, of course, but always in lilac ... though her name was Iris. "I love all the hues of purple but, I am completely wild about lilac," she explained. "It's such a glad colour, I indulge myself in it - intensely - when I'm on holiday ... though I do sprinkle a bit of purple magic through my 'other life' ... how could I not ... knowing the good of it."

She was mad about the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, who had died on the day that she was born - she told me - and occasionally whispered a line or two from her poems. Words that mingled in lake scent and floated across the lapping blue waves ... soaring over the trees on the other shore ... from then on, forever to appear in my mind's eye, at their reprise. "Poetry … we memorize by heart ... is a gift we give ourselves ... to open, again and again ... all the days of our life," she enthused.

All through that summer, we talked about our lives ... about our likes and dislikes ... of how we filled our hours ... about family and friends ... and the places we had travelled.  Iris had far fewer commitments than I, and had had many adventures ... some of them bordering on epic. She was fascinating ... even mystifying ... for many reasons.

But the most extraordinary thing about her ... and this is where Iris becomes 'The Lilac Lady of the Lake' ... was not her daring tales of captivating exploits and pursuits ... nor her penchant for poetry ... nor even, her unbridled enthusiasm for all things purple ... it was when she appeared.

In my mind, of course, I know that it was simply a strange coincidence ... that coincidentally happened over and over again. But all that summer, Iris only appeared to me when I came to the third beach alone. And while it is true, I often went to that beach alone ... I didn't always.  And yet, if someone accompanied me, on my walk to that place ... 'The Lilac Lady of the Lake' was no where to be seen.  At first it was uncanny ... and then it was mildly remarkable ... until, by summer's end ... it was - flat out - astonishing ... and heading for mystical heights ... as in: The Legend of 'The Lilac Lady of the Lake'.

Such chance encounters and happenstance, occur in life with regularity and are easily dismissed. The thing is: when - by chance - events take on an aura of mystery ... with a sense that something uncommonly un-hum-drum is afoot .. when moments unfurl - happily - in laughter and lilac, in lake scent and evergreen ... and in lovely lines of prose and poetry ... when they come back to you, in wonderful words, that never grow old … and become like a book that is never quite finished … lingering passages to be revisited and augmented … as time goes by ... then ... as we all know … THAT is a good story ………...


photo: Beautiful Osprey Lake Wendy Bourke

© 2020 Wendy Bourke 

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