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Interlude: The Lake of Shining Waters

When life’s demands become too much, the last thing one feels like doing is spending a whole week camping with family. However, when Nilab Siddiqi stumbles across a mystifying blue lake, her perspective begins to change.


“… the Lake of Shining Waters was blue — blue — blue; not the changeful blue of spring, nor the pale azure of summer, but a clear, steadfast, serene blue, as if the water were past all modes and tenses of emotion and had settled down to a tranquillity unbroken by fickle dreams.” - L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island (1915)


The picture I endeavour to paint you in my forthcoming words will be that of a lifetime’s worth of camping trips. I use the term “camping” with hesitation, as my large family ceased to camp in tents in the early noughties. Instead, we’ve opted for ramshackle little cabins cramped into the back of a large campground and never really given them up since. So… I don’t know if you would call that camping, but it is the closest I’ve ever come to it and I love it.


Let me take you back to early 2021. I am twenty years old and I am absolutely exhausted. I don’t mean exhausted in the kind of way you get after going to the gym after a long day of work. I mean exhausted in the kind of way where your soul just can’t take much more. Mid-pandemic, postfirst-lockdown, three years into a psych degree I hate, and I am exhausted. Completely and utterly burnt out and not at all looking forward to a week spent in the middle of nowhere with half of my bloodline.


After six (surprisingly) pleasant hours trapped in a car with my loud family, we pull into the cabin park we would be stuck in for a full week. My first thought is, “What a fucking shit hole,” as I clock the shabby-ness of all the cabins, and I then begin to brace myself for a week of misery. Of course, I was absolutely mistaken, and that “shit hole” did wonders for my spirit.


Camping has always been a bit up and down for me. I love it, and I’ve always loved it, but of course there were times when I just was not enjoying any of it and I fully thought this would be one of those times. That was until I wondered off on my own, while my family unpacked the absolute hoard of crap we’d jammed into the car, and came across a beautifully blue, sparkling lake with a darling little pebbled beach bordering it. I was mystified by the beautiful sight. Even the picture I endeavour to paint you in my forthcoming words will be that of a lifetime’s worth of camping trips. I use the term “camping” with hesitation, as my large family ceased to camp in tents in the early noughties. Instead, we’ve opted for ramshackle little cabins cramped into the back of a large campground and never really given them up since. So… I don’t know if you would call that camping, but it is the closest I’ve ever come to it and I love it.


Let me take you back to early 2021. I am twenty years old and I am absolutely exhausted. I don’t mean exhausted in the kind of way you get after going to the gym after a long day of work. I mean exhausted in the kind of way where your soul just can’t take much more. Mid-pandemic, postfirst-lockdown, three years into a psych degree I hate, and I am exhausted. Completely and utterly burnt out and not at all looking forward to a week spent in the middle of nowhere with half of my bloodline.


After six (surprisingly) pleasant hours trapped in a car with my loud family, we pull into the cabin park we would be stuck in for a full week. My first thought is, “What a fucking shit hole,” as I clock the shabby-ness of all the cabins, and I then begin to brace myself for a week of misery. Of course, I was absolutely mistaken, and that “shit hole” did wonders for my spirit.


Camping has always been a bit up and down for me. I love it, and I’ve always loved it, but of course there were times when I just was not enjoying any of it and I fully thought this would be one of those times. That was until I wondered off on my own, while my family unpacked the absolute hoard of crap we’d jammed into the car, and came across a beautifully blue, sparkling lake with a darling little pebbled beach bordering it. I was mystified by the beautiful sight. Eventually, I found a little wooden bench perched on what was basically a dirt patch below a great, big tree. Honestly, I think I fell in love and from that moment my ass was glued to that bench, every single day of the trip - rain or shine - I was there staring out onto that big, great lake.


The water reflected that perfect shade of sky blue and the only thing to separate the water from the actual sky was the distant view of sloping mountains and the two little mysterious islands which sat amidst the lake. The more I would sit on that bench, staring out onto that lake, the more emotional I would become. I can’t really explain to you why I was getting emotional. I simply was.


I don’t know the science behind it, but it was basically like all the crap the poets talk about when they’re waxing poetic about nature, except now I was the poet mooning on and on about the shimmer of the lake or the chirp of the birds and how it spoke to my soul (no, I do not want to elaborate). I would sit there and hold back my tears and just stare. In hindsight, the view probably wouldn’t impress anyone other than me, but to me it was everything. The birds singing their constant song in the background, the chatter of the families in the tents pitched just behind me, the laughter of those walking along the trail in front of me, the lap of the lake water against the rocks, the occasional whistle of the wind.


I would spend a majority of the day atop that bench. But when the sun set and it was too dark to read, I would retreat to the fire my family was scattered around, adding to the steadily growing pile of sunflower seed shells by their feet or eat a full home cooked meal at the picnic table we had appropriated. Then, I would sneak away while my family was still chatting, head to the cabin and climb up onto the top bunk, pull out my iPad and watch Pride and Prejudice, and feel the happiest I had felt for a long time. Then I would wake up, eat my bagels, slide on my knock-off Birkenstocks on (yes, with socks) and trudge off to my bench under my big tree and stare out onto my lake and just breathe.


To be honest, it doesn’t matter that we didn’t go to the same location every single trip because the feeling was the same almost every time. Every time I take the first step out of the car when we arrive at the location, it’s like my brain has just quietened for the first time in a very long time. Gone are the worries about my university life or my job or my friends or my anxiety. It’s gone. It’s all gone. I get to spend the week finally becoming myself again. The older I get, the more stress I carry and the more I find myself needing these little trips away from life to just reconnect with nature and reconnect with myself. They become a brief, but well appreciated, interlude amid the chaos of my life.


Going back home is always hard. Slowly, but surely, the dusty roads lined by nature turn into the busy roads of highways lined with shitty houses and loud factories and all the noise of city life threatens to choke me, but still I carry the magic of that camping trip with me. The cast of golden light from setting suns on patches of grass still makes me emotional, as does the sight of fog between trees or patches of nature left to grow wild, but nothing makes me more emotional than the sight of a lake.


And when those small things are not enough to cast off the shadow of everyday life as an adult in a big city, I close my eyes, play some music and all of a sudden I’m four, I’m seven, I’m thirteen, I’m eighteen, I’m twenty years old. I’m sat around a fire, laughing at the antics of my goof of a father, I’m in a canoe with my cousin, bashing against rocks, I’m sat atop a special, yet unremarkable bench, reading a book and listening to the chirps of birds and the chatter of fellow campers melt together. Life is good.

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