Lightning has a strange smell. For me, it’s a combination of burned ozone and chlorine, as if I’ve been transported back to some crowded gym pool in my distant past. There is screaming, raucous and unintelligible, but after a moment I realize it’s just the gulls shrieking in alarm.
“–shelter!” Lynx is yelling. “Move! We need to head for shelter!” She bangs the nose of my kayak with her paddle for emphasis, then turns toward the hill that rises along the northwest side of Summit Lake.
The water is steaming. Thunder heads pelt us with fat, icy raindrops as lightning flashes overhead. I grit my teeth and count while paddling for all I’m worth. One thousand and one, one thousand and– The crash comes before I’ve finished the second beat.
The glassy, sun-soaked lake surrounded by rolling glacier-smoothed hills is a thing of the past. The wind whips the placid water into standing waves that drive us away from the shelter of the hill. The world is wet and grey and angry. We paddle and paddle, but the rocky shore never seems any closer.
Above, thunder cracks and booms. Nature has decided to rub us out for committing the sin of existing in this place of water and peace and silence. Of the smattering of scrubby spruces that dot the flank of the hill, a surprising number are broken at the top and dead or dying. Some are charred, a grim reminder that anything that rises above the surrounding terrain has a good chance of being struck.
I point this out to Lynx, and we paddle harder.
Gradually the thunder moves off to the north, leaving us buffeted by the wind and drenched by the rain. The waves are the color of blue-grey slate and as cold as ice. If we stop paddling, there is no sound but the hiss of rain striking water and the occasional cry of the gulls.
When the sun finally breaks through a rift in the clouds, it seems surreally bright. The waves turn a peculiar murky blue-green, like expensive jade.
“The eyes of Mother Ocean,” Lynx says with a laugh, because there is a little of her in every body of water, and more than a little in this massive inland lake.
Six miles long, two miles wide, and over 250 feet deep, Summit Lake occupies the bottom of a steep valley smoothed by the passage of ancient glaciers. Their tracks remain, marked by rounded boulders the size of cars that dot the shores of the lake. It has been here, silently sifting out glacial silt to line its frigid depths, for hundreds of thousands of years. After we’re gone, it will probably remain for hundreds of thousands of years more.