A collection of interesting and beautiful images from the clear ice of Lake Baikal captured in a photo-essay by Alan Taylor (and many other photographers) for The Atlantic entitled “Bailkal Zen” inspired this heartfelt tribute to my Father.
“Lake Baikal, in the Russian region of Siberia, is a massive body of water—the world’s deepest and most voluminous freshwater lake. Its location and the surrounding geography can lead to fascinating phenomena in the winter, as ferocious winds and cycles of melting and refreezing build and sculpt works of structural beauty—stones supported on wind-worn pedestals, undulating surface ice, encrusted beaches, crazy icicles, frozen methane bubbles, and more”. – Alan Taylor
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Siberian-born, lost son of Lake Baikal, your worldly names were Michael, Mike and sometimes-Misha. I like to think that when you crossed the Atlantic Ocean with your family as a child in the 1930’s, something silent, eternal, crystal-like came along with you, for keeps. This thing covered you like delicate frost on a windowpane – enhancing without protecting you. I was a young 23 when you died at 72 with us right there in disbelief. I would have to learn to be brave after that, just like you.
In your absence, I set you up on pedestals of remembrance:
Each time I swept a floor, tidied the kitchen, cleaned windows like a pro, put away my coat, drove at night tracking the white fog lines to avoid the glare of oncoming headlights; each time I showed grit, sewed, fixed, designed, untangled anything with my hands or with my mind, I set you up on a pedestal of remembrance: my Dad taught me that. The brambles of the heart would be another matter.
Still, did you know that there are small faultless pedestals like these, made of pure ice found on that Siberian Lake where you were born? I wonder if you ever saw them, and carried their memory with you? Imagine a fat rock atop a thin foot made of pure ice impossibly floating above a tiny canyon of Siberian powdered snow. There are dozens of them like stalagmites, under your first blue sky, frozen to the lake surface – mini-Easter Island monoliths of ice and rock, waiting.
I don’t know whether you saw a windswept stone being slowly isolated by the winds; whether that boy you were walked around chards of compressed ice; whether you filled with wonder at shellacked pebbles and tree branches by the shoreline?
Did you see the spiral-shaped cracks beneath your feet as you walked the frozen lake? Did you try to taste an icicle and learn otherwise? How about “Dragon Rock” at Ogoy Island, did you make time to gaze at snowflakes filling tiniest valleys there?
I wonder if that ambitious boy you were ever allowed himself to be so dazzled by sunlight in a clear slab of ice, that he got up early just to view the spectacle of another sun rise through that prismatic window?
I’ll likely not be shown whether you saw any of the small pedestals, because you left too soon and, I never got the chance to ask. But, just for today, let’s agree to imagine, Papa, that somewhere in your life, maybe on the salmon runs, in the early morning, when the rivers were silver, you felt the same wonder I feel now.
It’s April 2021 here in the BC mountains, your grandson – Sacha-Michael – is playing and I can hear the children poking at the shallows, the ice on the heart-shaped lake where we live is showing signs of thaw.
About the Author
Carina Costom grew up in Montreal, has a degree from McGill University, and was this year’s Managing Editor of the Black Bear Review. She has been published here and in the Nelson Star. Her chapbook lurks in second-hand bookstores as she works on her first collection of short stories.