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Dad at Dale Hollow

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

I’m sitting at the base of a dead cedar tree, its roots splayed over the sandstone shale like arms above water— seeking safety, rescue, but falling short. My hands are full of clam shells, small ones, the kind you find in a neighbor’s garden, except here they’re still yawning, hinged at various angles. 

My brother-in-law Daniel stands by the water and slings shale—Dad jokes we’re standing on the world’s largest skipping stone assembly. Daniel says the pieces feel perfect until he throws them and some fall apart. They skip so fast the space between them becomes a blur, a subtle skid, six, seven concentric circles but many more hits. I can’t count them. Neither can he. All of our guesses end with “ish.” 

Dad hands me a small catfish bone and a conical shell. We turn around and discover a catfish spine, a catfish skull, the barb near the mouth that dad says hurts like hell. Dad says he’s seen coyote devour a whole squirrel, bones and all, so maybe the coyotes will scavenge these, will walk through the woods until they arrive at the lakebed, where skeletons settle in the silt. 

I crunch and crack the shale as I search for lilac clams. The tiny ones are the most vivid. Some of the big ones are still clamped - we try to pry them open and bugs crawl out of their tight lips; if they drip water we toss them to their home, a lake with waters so limpid you can glimpse its depth.

Up the coast, my sister Danielle hands me a slice of limestone, a slab of rock with a geode, a crystalline concavity. Dad explains silica to me as we sit together on a slanted rock. He smiles a lot here, with science and the shore.

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