Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Ripples on Silver Lake

by David Meuel

The sun had just slipped behind the rough granite peaks that loomed over Silver Lake in the northern High Sierra. The lake’s surface was darkening, and the evening air was cooling. My grandmother, sitting on a bench near me, buttoned her thick jacket and put on gloves. I walked along the shore looking for another small, flat pebble. I found one that would do, picked it up, threw it sidearm onto the water, and watched it skip—one, two, three, four, fivesixseveneight times. My eyes widened. I slapped my hands together in triumph.

“That was a good one,” Grandma said. “Eight—is that your record?”

“No,” I said, my eyes scanning the shore again for another suitable pebble, “I’ve done nine skips two times.”

“That’s very good.”

“But I want to do ten. I’m ten now. And I want to do ten skips.”

“You’re very determined. I’m sure you’ll do it.”

I threw another pebble in. It skipped only four times. I was annoyed.

“You’ve been throwing for a while,” Grandma said. “Why don’t you rest your arm a bit?”

My arm was tired. I hadn’t realized it until then. “Okay.”

I sat down with her, and she helped me put my jacket on. We gazed out at the lake. It was beginning to look mysterious, like a vast sea of black ink.

“Do you ever notice,” she said, “that each time one of your rocks skips the skip creates a ripple on the water?”

“It does, doesn’t it?”

“And do you notice that—even after the rock stops skipping and sinks into the lake—the ripples are still there, that they keep widening and widening, and that—finally—they disappear too?”

I thought for a moment. “I guess so.”

“That’s what I was thinking about when you were skipping rocks.” Her voice quavered a bit. “It may seem funny, but it reminded me of life.”


“Yes, and death too.”


“Well, the rocks are our lives. Let’s say each skip is a decade. With some lives, it’s eight or nine. With others it’s just four. And with some others like your Uncle Gus—well, their lives don’t even get that far.” She stopped for a moment. “Then there are the ripples. They’re the impressions we make on the people in our lives—the influence we have on them, the memories we leave behind. Sometimes, some of us share stories we remember about people who’ve passed on with others. That widens the ripple even more. But then, after more time passes, the influence and the memories, like the ripples, are just gone.”

“Vanished into thin air,” I said, remembering the words I’d recently heard a magician say on TV.

“Yes, vanished into thin air,” she said, wiping away a tear that had formed on one cheek. “I wish you had the chance to know your Grandpa better.”

“I knew him for one skip.”

“Yes, you did, and that’s something.” She smiled now. “I knew him for five skips.”

“That’s a lot more.”

“Yes, it is. But, I guess I’m greedy. I would have loved just one more skip.”

“But the ripples are still here.”

Her eyes brightened. “Yes, they still are.”

Soon after that vacation I became bored with skipping rocks, and, when we visited Silver Lake in the future, I focused more on kayaks and then on girls vacationing with their families. I didn’t even think about that evening at the lake again until Dad called one night fourteen years later to tell me that Grandma had died.

“Nine skips,” I said without thinking.

“Nine what?” Dad said.

“Oh, nothing.”

As I put the phone down, the story came back with the clarity and force of a lightning bolt. And four days later, because it seemed especially fitting, I told the story to people at the reception we had after Grandma’s funeral. It was one of many stories that family members and friends told that day—and one of many that some others, especially the younger people there, were hearing for the first time. As I listened, I wondered how wide the ripples from Grandma’s nine skips would eventually become, and I wondered how long they would last before they too would vanish.

No comments:

Post a Comment