Memory, Myth, and the Weeping Lady of the Lake
More than half a century has passed since I went fishing on that summer’s day. Yet, I still remember her. Though I honestly do not know why. I think we can all agree that fifty years is both a lot of time to remember a fleeting occurrence that passed in seconds and enough time that the very persistence of the memory means something.
How young I was, not yet thirteen. I loved the outdoors, camping and fishing made me happy. There was never an opportunity to be in the woods that I didn’t take. If the whole world could have been forest and waterways I would have been more than content.
When I grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia, we still had extensive areas of woods. I spent a great deal of my time running around exploring the lay of the land in the most hidden areas I could find. One such place was Burke Lake Park.
Burke Lake had a trail that encircled the entire park. It went through a boat launch, and across a bridge for a road that skirted the edge of the park, but most of the trail meandered past trees and lakeshore far from crowds. Most of the trail usually remained very quiet, save for animals and breezes in the leaves. For the most part, the trail remained empty of hikers in the more forested areas.
On that day, my backpack loaded with a book, a sandwich, some cookies, and a canteen, with a fishing pole over my shoulder, I took off to one of the quieter sections of the park. What drew me to those deeper areas was less of a drive to avoid people as much as a desire to always go a little farther than I had before.
I don’t recall how much time I had been hiking. I had left the boat launch far behind me, and the campground noises had disappeared long since. That section of the trail wound among trees and down along the water’s edge in a sinuous, narrow pathway. Then I pushed through a particularly thick wall of underbrush and into a small crescent-shaped clearing.
I stepped into a small glade. Heavy vines and brush grew against surrounding trees. About ten feet of open shoreline took up a side from one green wall to the other. There was a tree stump immediately next to the water. She was sitting on it. And…