Postcard from Big Bear Lake

Photo: © Catherine Irene. All Rights Reserved.

Every evening we watch the sun slowly slide down behind the San Bernardino mountains which then cools the air cool by about 20 degrees. Once daylight goes, it’s our queue to eat dinner and watch a movie—a routine we’ve established from day one. After the movie, my sister heads off to bed. I stay up late, going back outside to gaze at the stars that I had hoped would be easier to see than they actually are because of LA light pollution. Still, I see more than I can normally see from home. On our first night here, I spoke out loud to the spirits in the sky and wouldn’t you know—I saw a shooting star!

Our log cabin is situated among smooth giant boulders that jut out into the lake so that we are mostly surrounded by water. The enormous rocks are our fortress, making us feel protected from the vacationers enjoying their time on the lake in ways very different from ours. About fifty feet from our little beach is a tiny island piled high with sibling boulders that other lake visitors explore once they get there by kayak. We could wade through the waist-deep water to get there ourselves, but we maintain our distance and watch those who land there, climb and perch themselves at the top until they head back to the water. I asked my sister if she wanted to venture out, maybe try kayaking or a hike one of our days here, but she doesn’t have the energy. Or the interest. Getting here at all is adventure enough.

I had feared that once we arrived, being only two hours from her home, she would want to turn around and not be here at all. It is too painful for her to be vacationing without Jeff, as if being anywhere without him feels wrong even though he would have fully supported our sister trip. Days after he died, we talked about how we might help our sister carry on. We need something to look forward to, one of us said. Which is what led us here.

Learning that the big grizzly bears of this region no longer exist, shot to extinction in the early 1900s by gold miners and trappers, led me to wonder about absence. When something is no longer here, why does emptiness feel so weighted?

We inhabit this place without bears, without Jeff, mainly in silence. We inhabit memories of the natural and unnatural demise of things. The dead stillness of air so dry makes it easy to understand how rapidly fires ravage the nearby forests. By the end of the week we jammed tissues up our nostrils to stop the bleeding! Late at night, the eerie cries of animals tell me that I am much more of a city girl than I would like to admit. I imagine beasts tearing through the screen doors to rip us apart in our sleep. And then the sun rises and sets my fears down. As we drink our morning coffee, my sister’s unmovable, mountainous thought rests between us. This is nice, but you’re not him.

Catherine Irene is an active observer of the world around her. She lives and writes in Boston, Massachusetts.

Appears In

Issue 13.1

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