The Charms of Lake Max in Fall
To those who know Culver in the summer, fall has a feeling all its own. It’s a bit lonely in a good way, a bit charming, a bit mysterious… it has more moods, but not necessarily bad ones… it lures you into something deeper, a greater intimacy with it. When the ski boats go away, the ducks come out to play.
There is one duck your author became a bit enamored with in a fall stay once years ago. It's colloquially called a grease duck by some of the old timers.. black and somewhat doddering, it fills the lake in fall until it freezes, fattening itself to deserve its name. I believe it's really called a Common Goldeneye, which wing it back and forth from Western Alaska allegedly. They seem to be restlessly in motion as one observes them from the shore.
There is a writer who seems to know Northern Indiana nature much better than me, Carl Strang, and he wrote this about them:
In fall the light shifts, it becomes more strained, it brings out the subtler tones in things… golden hour persists to the point of being indulgent. The sun sets directly off the porch of the Vonnegut House and seems to bounce around the inside of the old part of the house with magic. While it was their pattern to return to Indianapolis for the school year, you can imagine the Vonnegut's wanting to linger in Indian Summer and you can understand why Ralph Vonnegut moved back to Culver to establish full time residence in this very house long after it had passed away from his family.
Fall isn't about the buzz.. it's about contemplation and cozy meetings at football games, short kayaks on sunny days, catching up on contemplations abandoned. The lake becomes more of a source of strength as one gathers it to face the winter. People settle down after that buzz of summer, return to smaller things after 3 or more months of the world and everyone descending on them for visits long and short, kids from all over the world and relatives from all over the Midwest. The Academy seems to attain a different tone… one somehow more professional, less frivolous, more adult and determined. The boys seem to put aside boyish things, march with a more earnest sense of self… it's not now for mom in the stands… they seem to straighten their backs, but for a sense of self bracing against life to come. Like for the residents of old at Ancilla, the tone of the academy when viewed from the outside this year can almost be monastic. The city and comforts eschewed.
The corn comes down, the horses come inside, summer businesses shutter up and others become quieter and perhaps even a bit more able to be appreciative. By Halloween, only those staying seem to still be around. The winter crowd, teachers, townies and grease ducks, a brave few retirees and those who have chosen this as home. You can feel that they don't feel a need to explain why they are still there to each other. It just makes sense.
As the stalks whither the spine strengthens, ready to experience the contemplation of winter in Indiana, and this in a way is the essence of fall in Culver, but to see it only as a time of transition would be to miss the flavors it possess all its own.