Exploring on and off the water was as delightful as we had hoped in the early years in our new home. New people and places filled our days as we learned the history of the Ozark hills in southern Missouri. We marveled over the beauty of real trees and real rivers after leaving the muddy creeks and scrub oak of flatland Oklahoma.

I never told my wife about the encounter with the apparition on the rock that night. I never mentioned my conversation with Bill to her. I never admitted that fear to anyone else. I glanced over at the rock each time I chose to walk up our road on summer evenings, but I didn’t always take that walk.

Excited to be a new boat owner, I spent many summer evenings on the large community dock where we kept our boat. The excitement of living on the water at a large recreational lake delighted us. We sat on our deck overlooking the dock holding our boat as we watched great blue herons land on the dock roof or stroll up and down the walkway between boats. We listened to the incongruous Jurassic gronk of their call as they took flight in feathered grace and beauty.

When I wasn’t covering or uncovering or cleaning the boat, I just sat and enjoyed the evening. The best seat was on the rail of the boat lift at the end of the long dock, giving me a closeup view of late evening skiers as they sped by, towing a giggling kid attempting to master the art of staying upright or very young children in a wildly colored float tube as they jostled, jumping over the waves created by other boats in the cove. The dock creaked and groaned as wave after wave rhythmically flowed underneath, causing it to pitch and roll in unison with the undulating No Wake Buoy tethered 25 feet from the dock.

As the years went by, we grew accustomed to the natural beauty of rolling hills and blue water. We often talked about how we had lost our sense of wonder as we drove the twisty roads undulating through dense woodlands and we encountered fewer and fewer new people. We had met most of those within our little circle, either condo neighbor or shop owner in the small business community on our side of the lake.

As those years advanced, our physical abilities failed to keep up. My sense of balance deteriorated along with my vision. My feet and legs didn’t want to keep pace with my brain when navigating stairs. Fortunately, our condo building has an elevator, so going down to the boat remained enjoyable for another season or two.

However, I did find myself holding on to the railings more as I took the steep ramp down to the dock from the sidewalk. Standing near the edge of the dock in the evenings as I watched boats slip by and birds gambol above the coppery evening water, I gripped the rails tightly.

Standing at the end of the dock with a camera, I captured the beauty of a lake sunset as clouds and water turned to fire or white pelicans swam silently by, looking for small fish before the night turned dark. With bigger, heavier lenses, I became engrossed with capturing the erratic flight of feeding gulls as they dipped and dived for fish, flashing their snowy white underwings against a vivid blue sky. I often stood for long periods on the dock, leaning onto a roof support post, twisting and turning, tracking a flighting bird, concentrating on focusing the camera precisely on the bird’s eye as it dove into the water.

Still, we did walk up the hill occasionally, listening to evening birdsong, enjoying the elevated view of the cove with rows of dock lights reflecting on the dark water. We did not always walk together. My wife went to be alone with her thoughts and the bird’s constant song as she walked the road.

Birds were not her only company on some evenings. It was not uncommon to encounter deer or fox or squirrel on that walk. The woodland creatures delighted us as they often stopped in mid-step, staring at the human encroaching upon their space, their time, staring for a brief moment at another lifeform invading their routine tranquility before retreating in fear.

My wife delighted in these encounters as two creatures looked at each other, sizing up the danger, planning escape routes, the moment seared into each brain and heart, one trembling with fear of the unknown danger, the other trembling with the magic of being so close to such beauty.

This evening, I watched as my wife took her solitary walk up the road from our building, watched as she scouted the trees on the bluff for movement, scanned the rocky rubble stretching on each side of the road looking for the fox recently spotted lazing near the line of small trees. Smiling, she appeared both puzzled and pleased to see me sitting on my favorite rock beside the road.

The smile carried memories of decades together, decades of knowing the tactile pleasures of sight and feel and aroma; decades of knowing the intellectual landscape; decades of co-mingling spirits. She turned from the asphalt of the road to the rough gravel underfoot and took two steps toward me, but I am no longer there.