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The sun warms my frozen skin, and the granite flecked with pine needles and ants is rough under my beach towel. Gratefully I accept an apple and a piece of baguette with cheese from my father, and reluctantly pass the bag of trail mix resplendent with m & m’s on to my mom. “Hey what’s this shiny thing in the water?” says Henry, my younger brother. “I don’t know” replies dad. “Why don’t you dive in and see if you can get it?” And so he dives in from the shore, diving deeper to grasp what ever the thing is. “Hey dad it looks like its half a ring… you don’t think it’s…?” “No” mum interjects “It couldn’t possibly be, hundreds of people must come here every year” Then she looks at it and then… “Well dive down and see if you can find the other half!”
Having already gone for my yearly dip in the icy waters, I don’t volunteer to help search from underwater. Instead, I help search from above, pointing out every shiny thing I see. Eventually Henry surfaces, with another piece of gold metal. It’s my father’s wedding ring, which — lost somewhere in this lake almost 6 years ago — has survived years of violent snowmelt, and avoided detection by countless other strangers. It has been waiting here just for us all that time.
It’s funny in a way how this story (which is completely true) is the perfect metaphor for why this little island in the middle of Echo Lake is my favorite place in the entire world. Every year, for as long as I can remember, we’ve spent at least one day on this island, canoeing up early in the morning, and passing the hours picnicking, alternately cooling off in the frigid lake and warming up in the hot alpine sun. It’s always been a family place, and while we’ve brought many friends to the cabin, we’ve never been to the island with anyone who wasn’t a blood relative. Along with our cabin — a little 1930’s shack off highway 50, that only recently acquired running water — that island has been the one constant place in my life. Through countless moves, we’ve always made time to return there, in the same canoe (although recently we have changed up the seating arrangement a little) and with the same simple foods. A baguette, and spreadable cheese of a sort, my dad’s custom trail mix, and an apple or two.
This island in this lake is perfectly isolated: the only views are more water, and the perennially snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. There are no distractions, the frantic pace of the outside world is replaced by the sound of wind through a pine forest on the banks of the lake, and the ever present Canada Geese. When I’m here I feel completely safe, untouchable. It’s the one place in the world that I can really think. I’m never alone when I’m here, but the only people who are ever here are the three others I know that I can always count on. It was here that I first learned to fish (and realized that I didn’t like fishing). And every time I come here, whether in June, July, August or October, I always go for a swim. There are two ways that you can get in the water here; you can wade in across slippery rocks, constantly having to convince yourself to keep going, despite the cold. Or you can dive in headfirst from the big rocks, and swim out and watch as the bottom drops away from you. I almost always choose the second option. It’s more of a shock, but the experience is vastly more rewarding. I think that the reason this is my favorite place on earth isn’t because it’s so beautiful, or because it’s been such a constant in my life. Rather, it’s because what happens here reflects the events of the wider world so perfectly, a sense of constancy despite annual change, a chance to face adversity head on or attempt to avoid it.
At the end of the day, you can hike up to the summit of Echo Peak, and look down on the island and gain a sense of perspective. When you can place your entire life in an island, looking down on it allows you a sense of how little your problems really are.
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