I know the road without having to look at it. I’ve travelled over it more times than I can remember. It twists and turns and flows along the straightaways under a cathedral of pines. It struggles up the hills in the heat of the sun and coasts down the backside into the shade. It takes me from the water and leads me to it.
I’ve run this road. I’ve felt the change of its elevation in my legs and the inconsistencies of its surface through my feet. I’ve cursed it for taking my breath and praised it for allowing me to catch it. I’ve run effortlessly down its center and struggled along its soft shoulder. I’ve run it alone in silence and deep in conversation alongside my sister. Together at times but more often on our own we’ve run that road to gain distance from something, to find a way through dark times and get to the other side. Sometimes we’ve run just to keep moving. Sometimes we’ve run just because we’ve needed to. It’s one of the things we share as siblings. The road isn’t about pavement and miles, it’s about life and living.
Turning off the road on to the dirt lane that is the driveway, the boulders and trees that line its short length filter the noise and calls of the world behind them. It’s different on this side. The transition from one to the other is unexplainable yet palpable. It’s not unlike the feeling of returning home after an extended absence; familiar and comfortable but momentarily awkward until greetings are exchanged and the proverbial dust gathered since the last visit is brushed away.
The camp stands to one side as the trees give way to the water. It sits in the back of a small cove that looks south down the length of the lake. It’s called “Camp” but it’s really been the summer residence of my sister and her family for several years. Eventually they will make their permanent home here. Ironically, as I have come to live on the water and in the sun, so has she.
The road has brought the family here today. We’ve come together to share a meal, stories of the past and news of the present. The day has been overshadowed by sorrow for those now departed but brightened in the solace of us all being together. I sit back and look at my family gathered around the picnic table and fire pit. Sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins. And our grandmother who at ninety-four inspires us all with her youth and grace.
From behind my camera I capture some of the moments as I listen to the conversations around me. It suddenly dawns on me that my sister and I are no longer the kids in the family. It should be obvious; her kids are grown and moving on with their lives, my daughter will be headed to college soon and our “little cousin” has a son of her own. I suddenly feel old and time slipping away. I grab a beer, my fly rod and head for the dock. I look back and no one seems to notice. At least nobody says anything. I’m not being rude, they all get it.
I watch the line unroll in front of me as I cast and listen to the voices by the fire. The line loops and curves and straightens out as I bend each cast around mushroom rocks and tree roots reminding me of lines on a road map, the folded-up paper ones we used to buy at the gas station. I think of the roads in my life; Route 26, Route 2, Route 15, I-89, Route 16, Route 7, I-95, Route 3, Route 6, Route 44. Once they were all just ways to get to where I was going, one place to the next. I understand now they were also ways to get back. Memories of the miles, of parts of me lost and others found, the road changed me. But here, with my sister and among family, at least for a few hours I’m the same as I once was.
The line goes tight and the water erupts in the rocks in front of me. It’s the second smallie I’ve pulled out of those rocks today. I lean down to release the fish and stare into its eyes.
“I’ve come a long way for you, my friend.”
It stares back as I lower it into the water and then is gone.
Another piece, another part of the story, more of the road. I finish my beer and stare at those rocks. I’ve sat here during storms and watched as one breaks the waves and shelters the one behind it. I hear my sister laughing back at the fire. After all the roads taken, miles travelled and storms endured, my little sister is still the rock in my life.