Craving the quiet companionship of water and trees on a hot morning in late June, we stuff our bags with spare batteries, memory cards and lenses, water bottles and bug juice, pack up the old Volkswagen and make sail for the Lanark Highlands as fast as we can journey up the road. The longing to be at Dalhousie Lake is almost painful.
Lake is another of those words which has been around for centuries, and its origins predate the Battle of Hastings (1066 CE). Has anyone read 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember, including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates? That puckish retelling of English history by W. C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman was published in installments in Punch during the thirties and later as a book. It was an absolute hoot from start to finish, and the tattered copy in my library still makes me laugh. I always enjoy dipping into it on a winter evening with a mug of tea in hand.
Punch ceased publication ten years ago and now exists only as a website and online cartoon archive. In its time, the magazine published the work of some of the foremost comic writers of its time, and it created the template upon which all or most modern cartooning is based. Writers like Thackeray, P.G. Wodehouse and P.J. O'Rourke were regular contributors, and the artists and cartoonists were legendary figures like Tenniel, Leech, Keene, du Maurier, Shepard, Fougasse, and Pont. The magazine wasn't all cartoons and witty repartee - it was legendary for its blistering social and cultural commentary, tackling issues such as poverty, sweatshops and child labor long before it was acceptable to do so in Victorian society.
This week's word comes to us from the Middle English lak, a conflation of Old French lac, and the source for both is the Latin lacus meaning basin. Kindred forms in other languages include the Greek lákkos, Old Irish loch and Old English/Saxon lacu meaning variously: stream, sea, channel and water. There is also an Old English word leccan , meaning to moisten something, wet it down or cause a leak. There are a number of likely possible Proto-European roots (or ancestors), and one of these fine days, I shall unearth the right wily and elusive root - the most likely is laku, meaning pond.
The lake shore at the end of our resolute journeying is the substance of everything hoped for and so much beyond: a gossamer haze enfolding the hills like smoky blue tulle, the slow downward gurgle of the river under the bridge and out into the sleepy lake, the smooth green reflections of cedar and spruce on the water, their perfect tangy fragrance. The veil of haze lifts for a moment, silhouetting a single loon floating beyond the reach of my lens - it flashes its wings like silver and calls across the ripples of its own making in a magnificent haunting voice. Ripples and song will be with us all the way home this day and go dancing through our dreams when we rest our heads this evening.