At first it seems the groan of a tree limb grinding another in zero degree wind. Then spooky owl hoots and bullfrog gmps: Piseco Lake, our Adirondack whale, our cloudy bassoon. Creaks punctuate the song, and everything from almost-not-there sighs to the highest pitched zings and sproings. Sometimes a gunshot crack echoes under our skis and the heart plunges. Then the whine of jets far over Panther Mountain, but there are no jets. No interstate drones down our lake’s belly. Just the crimp and boom of one vast ice drum muffled in snow.
Whatever it sings, I strain to hear with my mother’s dimming ears, under the same pearly skies she knew seven decades ago, same heaves of rifted ice up these narrow beaches cobbled with mottled stones and backed by pines. Same spring sending out its finger of open water ten feet from shore in the coldest of years.
This year colder than most—she slides her walker across the icy slate porch after dinner and lingers to listen. No whalesong tonight. Just a swaddled grunt she cannot quite catch and I might be imagining, just as I imagine my father might shake off the snowdrifts building in his mind and join us here again. I might try to envision his demented arias as the natural adjustments, the groans and sighs of any body entering a new state.
I might. For now, I listen hard for as long as she wishes. Wind rushes through the pair of hemlocks blown down last winter; snow ghosts twirl across the dark oval of ice cleared for skating. If she is thinking of love or madness now she does not say. Bathed half in moonlight, half in fireglow through the windows at our back, she clenches and unclenches her walker grips as the lake goes on singing too low to make out.