Twenty-six years of weekend reunions at Ken Reeves' lake house floating in Coffman Cove on Bull Shoals Lake are starting to show in the thinning gray hair, multiplying wrinkles and failing eyes of four classmates who graduated from high school with smooth faces, sharp eyes and ample hair in 1965.
Where, oh where, did all the years evaporate so fast?
This May, I again joined Reeves, Don Walker and Dr. Bill Dill for our three-day gathering that has steadily changed in its nature to reflect the difference between our late 40s when we pledged to convene each spring following the untimely death of our mutual friend, Dr. William B. Hudson, and today as we edge toward the life expectancy for adult males.
Seemingly overnight, while remaining lifelong friends and appearing to ourselves pretty much as we recall during the years as youthful Harrison Goblins, we realize we've become septuagenarians who enjoy reminiscing and making each other laugh at ourselves as much as we do feeling a three-pound bass on the end of our lines. No one is fooling himself.
The competitive nature that initially drove us to set out across the waves at daybreak, regardless of weather, has become more like cheerleading for the others to do well. And as for that daybreak thing, we're lucky after several cups of coffee and conversation to pile in the boats and set off for nearby points and coves.
After all, we need to be back in the comfy chairs and ready for one of Ken's world-class breakfasts (country ham, Bull Shoals eggs Benedict, fresh warm biscuits with slathered butter and homemade preserves) before 10. You could say our priorities have changed.
That's not to say we don't still boat our share of fish. Dr. Bill has earned the undisputed title of top fisherman for one reason (not his proven skill with root canals). He always catches the most, if not biggest, fish. And that's fine with us. I'm content just to watch his technical skills and reap the rewards of his angling, especially when he volunteers to fillet the bass that wound up in our freezer.
As the years have passed, these reunions have taken on a, well, I guess you'd call it a calm and sweeter nature. I'd compare the mood to the plaintive song of a whippoorwill at dusk bouncing across the lake from a distant shoreline.
It usually takes at least a day to catch up with the latest events in life and another to recall those friends and classmates now gone we loved and appreciated in our youth.
None of us has any illusions that we aren't now considered old men by most standards. We read the obit pages and thankfully remind ourselves how many haven't made it to our age. We've been fortunate to still convene on this peaceful lake each year.
When we began these weekend reunions, such discussions never crossed our minds even though we realized how fragile life is.
As for me, this spring I found myself in an especially philosophical and reflective mood as I sat a while on the deck alone, watching a breeze send rows of two-inch-tall ripples through Coffman Cove.
If you'll indulge me, I'll alter direction a moment to try to explain how I equated those little waves with the mysteries of consciousness that comprise what we know as our individual lives.
If you'd rather not digest my digression into a spell of speculative woo-wooing that has nothing to do with organized religion or boating bass, I'll understand if you move on to truly interesting parts of our paper.
To me, this deep and wide body of water we've agreed to call Bull Shoals seems akin to a divine universal consciousness we share and never leave. I watched each of those rows of little waves following each other and imagined them much like individuals arising in this world: There goes an identifiable Mike wave, followed by a Ken wave, a Don wave, a Bill wave, and on it goes (feel free to add your name here).
While never leaving their source, they briefly had identities formed by the breath of the divine force only to have them end on a shoreline or eventually fade back into the depths from which they emerged.
It only makes sense to me that the pervasive consciousness we share exists before we arrive as an individually identifiable part of the whole, much as the lake, sea or an ocean endures as it continuously absorbs us back into its body while creating individually identifiable waves.
Mesmerized by this stream of ripples, my mind wandered to the so-called EGG Experiments at Princeton designed to show the existence of a universal global consciousness by using random number generators. Those devices detected human reactions worldwide to monumental world events such as world wars, airline disasters and 9/11. Check it out should you believe my wave is joshing yours. Then find a copy online of Masaru Emoto's compelling book of experiments and truly astounding molecular-level photographs, "The Hidden Messages in Water."
Should all that intrigue you, as it has me, acquire copies of two fascinating books about the work of Cleve Backster: "The Secret Life of Plants" and "The Secret Life of Your Cells," and explore what Backster said he found with experiments involving the pervasive nature of consciousness and human emotion on virtually everything around us..
Being part of these weekends together over the decades has provided the opportunity for us to put our lives on pause and seek such moments on the water to examine the who, what and why we come to exist in this strange world for a fragile period that feels so real while we are in it.
In this year's reverie on the deck, I also recalled some of history's most brilliant minds saying they believe time as we know it is itself likely a construct that enables us to make sense of events in this dense world, which in the creator's time are actually occurring all at once.
A close friend in Columbus, Ohio, told me years ago that whenever I was feeling stressed or worried I should sit beside the water for 30 minutes and take deep cleansing breaths to help put life in better perspective. Though an observer rather than a scientist, she was right.
And just perhaps my sharing these random, loosely connected thoughts from lakeside will lead some readers to mutter, "See, Ma, I told you ol' Mikey's as fruity as a peach pie!" And that's perfectly all right, since I do enjoy a juicy peach pie.
I certainly don't have an explanation for what this mysterious experience we share is all about. But neither does any other human animal, from all I've read.
Yet I thankfully still possess the ability to watch, reason and speculate while sitting quietly in this watery wonderland in Coffman Cove.
Besides, valued readers, what difference will my food for thought today make in a short time when my wave and yours invariably dissolve back into the depths of a pervasive consciousness so powerful it has led missing dogs to find their way back home over hundreds of unfamiliar miles?
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.