I had the time of my life – day 3

Day 3, Grass Lake

Quiet morning in camp.

A raven squawks, an intermittent bird twitters, a distant blue jay caws, an occasional breeze rushes the pines, an early insect buzzes my ear. Beyond that, beneath that, before and behind that, silence.

It is already noon on this slow morning of repose. We have only within the last hour finished with our breakfast after lingering long over coffee and conversation. A stroll along the marshy edges enveloping our point, along the river and the inlet, revealed the morning quiet to be the providence of not only the human but the creaturely mood as well. Along an animal trail through the forest, just up from the river’s edge, I followed for some time with my camera finding few photos but many signs — heaps of moose droppings– and much dry wood for the fire.

The marsh is a painter’s palette of earth tones, orangey rusts tipping the brushes of budding twigs en masse, taupe strands of last summer’s grasses lying down in a canvas mat even as this spring’s bright green blades reach for the sun, and of course the ever present evergreen forest offering both shadow and backdrop, not to mention shelter. The farthest ridges show hints of yellow and reds in the new buds of birch and maple, both mimicking and hinting at the autumn array that will paint those hillsides in October.

Otter trails line the waterway here, though I could detect no other signs of their presence, so perhaps they have left (or not yet returned to?) these waters.  Time will tell, I suppose.  Many beaver lodges enroute yesterday appeared to be either deserted or washed out and the few that I noted along this stretch of the river appeared to be flooded as well. I imagine these banks were filled to the brink a week ago.

I am content to be here, no matter, listening, observing, touching, smelling, breathing. Still at last. Even closing my eyes, not seeing a thing, brings pleasure and peace, as the breeze blows loose strands across my cheek, the fragrance of dried grass fills my breath, and the song of birds lilting from across the water caresses my ears.

Later.

Studying the map, I note that we are 8 hours (our travel time) from the last party we saw on Big Bob Lake and at least 6 hours from the next lake, upon which we will camp tomorrow.  There were just three campsites along the entire stretch of the Nippissing through which we paddled yesterday, the last one just ½ hour’s paddle back from here, but none of those 3 sites were terribly appealing, being directly on the portage trails around rapids as they were.  Perhaps one might crash there for the night while passing through, but I can’t imagine setting up camp there.  I am thinking that it is unlikely that anyone will show up here with a reservation for this campsite tonight. I truly hope not since we made the decision last night, after two long 8 hour days of paddling and portaging, to take a rest and recovery day before embarking on yet a third one, although we do not have a permit for this site. We simply could not push through. Emotionally and physically we needed a break.  If someone should show up, we really have nowhere to go (there is one more campsite farther along the Nippising before the portage into Loontail Creek which we could move to if necessary, probably 45 minutes paddle from here) but we shall deal with it if that should occur.

I so much love this site I would make the trip in to it again in a heartbeat, even through that alder thicket in the full leaf!  Somehow I expect that even in the height of the summer paddling season, this site would feel remote and wild, in some respect precisely because of that thicket. However, it is evident that others have been here before us already this season. As with many other sites we passed through, there is a makeshift, bushcraft shelter erected by campers, likely finding themselves storm-bound during the torrential rains and snow that fell here only one week ago. Today, though, I am stripped down to one layer, and have had to go for my cap to protect my eyes and face from the sun.

Tomorrow looks to be another long day. We have been taking about 1 ½ times what the map indicates our travel time should be. Tomorrow’s route indicates a travel time of 4 hours and 40 minutes, but there are 3 portages in there, one quite long, and that is where we lose most of our time. It will surely be another physical day for us, but we hope to be up and on the water by 7 so that we may at least be able to make camp before dinner!  We’ll dig through the food barrel this evening for a breakfast that we can grab and go without needing to cook or clean up and make our morning coffee tonight, keep it warm overnight in the thermos.

… but now the fragrance of dry grasses, picked up by the breeze, invites me to pay attention to here and now. THIS slender blade of bright green, THIS orange bundle of blossoms, THIS sparkle of light on that wind kissed ripple, THIS hint of shadow on the page promising the sun’s reemergence, THIS star-shaped moss, THIS pink and green granite perch that extends a view from both sides, THIS everchanging, moment by moment, layered sky, THIS thread of silk hinting at the hidden hundreds I caught a glimpse of last evening in the low angled rays of twilight, THIS eager peeper beginning his serenade at three in the afternoon, THIS ‘Sweet Canada’ whistle that had become such a song of endearment to my ears.

THIS.

 

I had the time of my life- day 2

Day 2, May 15, Grass Lake

Another long, long day…but oh my goodness, what a splendid one it was.

The day began cold, so cold that it invited us to linger in the warmth of the tent and then begged us to don all of our layers—wool base layers, wool pullovers, fleece zip ups and down jackets.  We arose early, around 6 am, grateful for both the hot coffee and the warm breakfast of rice pudding.  

After packing up camp, we were on the water by 9. By the time we were on the Nippissing River, an hour later, the sun was peeking through departing clouds, and when we stopped for lunch, perched upon sun-drenched rocks next to a rapid we were stripped down to one or two layers. Drinking in that warmth and pleasing view refueled us as much as did our meal.

There were numerous ( 6 or 7) portages along the way today, though all of them were under 200 meters, some as little as 60. Because of the swollen waters, we were able to bypass one portage altogether (though we may have left a bit of paint on a few rocks) and to line the boat through half of another, but every trail we took seemed to be ridden with blowdown, making some of the simplest of portages ridiculously difficult.  

Then came the serpentine twists and turns of the alder thicket-lined Nippising river. Often paddling complete U turns, we likely covered 3 times the distance we actually traversed. At times we had to duck in our boats to make passage, and often we were scratched and wacked by the branches as we passed them by.  So much fun! , though I can’t imagine what it is like to make passage there when the alder are full of their summer growth!  Luckily though we were able to slide over every beaver dam we encountered because of the high water levels, which likely saved us quite a bit of time and work at the end of the day .

We saw no wildlife today, save water fowl and other birds- warblers, wood ducks, mergansers (male and female), loons, Canada geese and the like. Again, we noted a plethora of moose scat. In fact, there is quite a bit of it here in our campsite, too, along with a healthy dropping of hair-infused wolf scat on the trail to the box. We imagine he was letting us know he was not happy that humans have returned to his territory.

We understand why he fancies it so. Feeling a bit weary and uncertain as to how long the remaining twists and turns shown on the map might take us, we had paused after the last portage of the day for a late afternoon snack to refuel, just in case. Having passed by quite a few campsites that were less than inviting along the way, we were quite delighted, then, to round that last corner so soon and to spot the orange campsite tag, like a neon sign announcing the location of heaven, on its welcoming tree. We could almost hear the choir of angels singing, so inviting was that sight.

This campsite is just so incredibly amazing – secluded and peaceful, with both sweeping and intimate views of the river, the marsh and the spruce bog beyond. Red pine-needle carpet for our floor and alpine notched hills for our walls, the water stretches long on both sides.   The feeling of remoteness about this place, which takes at least 2 full days of paddling and portaging to reach, is so very remarkable.

The peepers are singing quite impressively this evening as the night darkens. I soon won’t be able to see to write, the first stars have already turned on their lights.  I expect that dark dome to be ridden with stars tonight and I hope to stay awake for at least a taste of its wonder, though I’m not at all certain I will last until those sacred hours. Eight hours on the water and trails, many of them quite physical, pulling boats over logs and up river banks, trudging up hills and hauling gear over fallen trees, not to mention the steering of the canoe around all of those hairpin turns . My entire body has gotten a workout today!.

But here I am now.

I am feeling quite sleepy. Without a fire, I am growing quite chilled, as well. The stars will have to wait…

 

 

I had the time of my life- day 1

Day 1, May 14, Big Bob Lake

We worked so very hard today. I’d expected this first day to be grueling, as there was no place to stop and make camp after committing to that first 400 meter portage, north out of Tim Lake, until we arrived at this one, two 400 meter and two 800 meter portages later. Much later, as it turned out, as we arrived here (slogging down the lake in the midst of a heavy downpour) around 4:30, some 8 hours after having put in to the water this morning.  Today’s exertion was really the extent of my capabilities. We were both beat upon making camp.

Cold too. D had taken an unexpected plunge getting the gear out of the boat at the start of that very first portage, the entrance of which was blocked by a recently downed tree making the unloading of the boat a bit more tricky than usual. And though we unpacked the Billy Bag then and there so that she could change out of her wet things immediately, the insides of her boots were wet and so her feet, too.  She retired to the tent for warmth as soon as we had cleaned up our dinner of chili, which we  quickly rehydrated upon making camp as we took some hot tea into our bellies, and then heated hastily over a small fire. Had the rain not relented after making it to shore, I think we both would have been in our tents as soon as we made camp, eating gorp, perhaps, for dinner.

It is now 8 o’clock and I am propped up, writing in the warmth of my own tent in the dimming light of the day. I am set up in a sheltered area where it is obvious that a weather-stranded camper must’ve also taken shelter at some point during these last weeks of inclemency. There is a pile of wood and evidence of a fire back here….

We were up early, had a leisurely breakfast of granola in the cabin at Edgewater Park Lodge and were on the road before 8.  Arriving at the access point to the Tim River, it took us some time to unload and repack the car and then load up the canoe for travel. The paddle to Tim Lake along the Tim river was enchanting in the swollen waters. Already we noticed that were going to be slowed a bit by the taking off and putting on jackets and underlayers with the clouds passing so quickly overhead, sometimes dumping rain, sometimes revealing a warm sun.

Tim Lake appears to be a gem of a lake, with its large island in the center creating a sense of intimacy for a lake of its size, and I admit that I second guessed myself many times about our route. Should we have continued through Tim Lake to reenter into the Tim river where it empties on the opposite shoreline, taken that short 120 meter portage and made our way eastward to Rosebary Lake rather than heading north into Big Bob and the Nippissing River? Only time will tell, I suppose, as this trip unfolds.

I do expect this will be the more isolated, wild, and remote route, which is something we both appreciate. I knew this would be an aggressive endeavor, though when I discussed it with D, she wanted to stick with the plan. We’ve been trying to map out a route into the Wolf Marsh along the Nippissing that D has been eyeing on the map for some time. Though we don’t have the number of days required to make it there on this trip, it will be good to test the waters.

Still, I think we would have been fine today had it not been for the slick conditions of the trails, so impacted by these weeks of rain. D lost her footing a second time on that very first portage, slipping on a root and landing face first on the trail. Until she got up I was anxious that she might really be injured, but she was just checking in with her body. It seemed that her smaller daypack, which she’d hung on the front of her body, had cushioned her fall. There were several more slips and tumbles, by both of us, throughout the day, though D’s boots seem to be especially slippery. The roots and wet mats of leaves make for treacherous footing, and the muck is slick as well, especially on sloping grades.

It rained off and on throughout the entire day, beginning at the lodge this morning at 7. Though the forecast had called for it to abate by mid afternoon, we had our heaviest rains after lunch, which we took before we embarked on the two back-to-back 800 meter portages on either side of the tiny West Koko Pond.

The forest floor is thick with trout lily, too, and so our eyes, needing to be attentive to each footfall, were also blessed by it. The trillium are just beginning to bloom as are the Spring Beauties.  There were so many tracks of moose to follow and we thought we identified a bear track, too, along with a smaller weasel-like track which may have been marten. Piles and piles of mooseberries littered the way. Surely we will be greeted by one before our time is up here.

This site has an enticing long view to the west, though the heavy cloud cover seems to have precluded any opportunity to view the sunset this evening.  A gull broods on her nest atop the granite islet just offshore from our campsite. Her partner swoops in from time to time to roost on the remains of an inukshuk left behind by a camper. Turtle eggs have been dug up on the bank of our campsite’s landing. So much evidence of life everywhere.

The peepers are just beginning their evensong, the loons their evening serenade, and an occasional raven puts in a word or two. Overhead, the wind continues to rush through the treetops, though the tent has stopped flapping now, as the system seems to be lifting. I am cozy enough in my down quilt, though my nose is getting quite nippy. I will soon blow out the candle. It is almost 9.

At once, I notice a subtle glow lighting the side of the tent. Like opening the curtain to a symphony, I pull back the tent flap to reveal a stunning sky, peach in color and mirrored in the waters below.  Stepping out to grab a quick photo, the sky turns to dusk just as quickly. What a grace it was to have noticed, to have opened to that gift.

Closeby now, a white-throated sparrow whistles her clear ‘Sweet Canada’ response to another somewhere across the water, where the peepers chorus crescendos into a fully voiced lullaby. Someone splashes into the water below.

I can hear D snoring softly from her tent up above. She was so exhausted tonight I do hope tomorrow makes all of the work of today worthwhile.  

I should close the journal and simply be…the day has been so very full .

I am suddenly quite sleepy too.

 

lions and tigers and bears, oh my

It was an instant and easy answer for me, a simple “No, thank you”- a straightforward and poised response, informed by a deep and assured knowledge of self – my strengths, my energy, my needs, my preference, my fears, even. There was no lamenting, no deliberation, no anxiety. I was at ease in a way that I often am not in my more people-pleasing stature. I even joked that I was modeling resisting peer pressure.

And I was fine, for awhile, watching the others make choices different than my own. Being a witness without judgment – of self or the other – creeping in.

Of course, soon enough it slipped in that open door. Was there something wrong with me that I didn’t want to do this thing? Was there something wrong with them? Was there something wrong with what was being asked – some contrived measure of the human heart?  Was I merely defending my own weaknesses and failings with such judgments?

And without another person saying a word, I noticed in my chest and my belly the same sensations I do whenever I am feeling judged as unworthy, when I am feeling inadequate, when I am feeling alone and rejected, when I am feeling as if I have failed- in being a good woman, when I am second guessing myself and my choices, when I am feeling Shame. And, because the feelings were so familiar in me, I wondered if this is the same thing I do to myself whenever I say “no’, whenever I set a boundary that is simply right for me.

The invitation was intended to offer an opportunity to challenge oneself, to push one’s limits and, so, to learn something about the fear that holds you back, I suppose. And I suppose I became familiar with the face of my fear after all… without needing to strap on the harness, scale 50 feet, or jump.

It was a valuable experience after all (though I still maintain that it has the potential to be harmful to young persons, girls in particular, who may, no matter how carefully the proposition is offered, be made to feel isolated and ashamed of their own saying ‘no’) , a good connection to make, a new body-mind awareness. As I integrate the experience, as this particular self awareness takes root, might I recognize in this feeling in my gut when I am feeling shame for my own needs, preferences, and desires, my own choices, and my own right to say ‘no’.  This is a groundbreaking (speaking of taking root) body wisdom to discover for one such as me whose boundaries have been pummeled so that they are easily crossed.

Might I also learn to recognize where it is in my own body that I do the judging of myself as inadequate and so allow the crossing to occur? Then thank her for trying to protect me from whatever it is that she fears (Being alone? Rejected? Punished? Unwanted or unloved?) and reassure her that I will respond to her with Love. Just think how high I might climb ?

 

climbing tower

Protected: kneeling down

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healing this – part 2

These weeks, since I’ve been back from Ontario, I’ve been digging around quite a bit in this piece of earth that so graciously offers a home to me here. Getting my hands in the earth has always been healing for me and, I was sorely in need of a bit of that.

For some reason, it’s not been an easy acquaintance between the earth and myself here in this place. At times, I have considered that I really may not want to get to know her too well. It might get too intimate, I might fall in love, after all, and then I’d be stuck.

Though I’ve not wanted really to alter the naturalness of the earth here with formal gardening of any sort (after all, I’d spent all those years at the last place in my life, working so hard at trying to reseed and reroot a wilder, less domesticated, more native landscape), I have planted a few natives here and there – few of which have survived my misplaced notions of what belongs, some of which stubbornly refused to ‘bloom where they were planted’. Alas, I am still learning her ways in this place, what it is that she is trying to tell me.

As I consider our relationship now, I wonder if it could be that we have been giving one another permission somehow to be free. She has set me free by not demanding of me that I be constant caretaker of her.  I have set her free, in a way, by pulling out the stranglehold of exotic intruders planted by generations of folks trying to tame this woodland village , by letting the leaves fall and remain where they will, by allowing her the space to emerge and create what is easeful and natural for her to do, and by feeding to her here and there what might provide her the energy to do so…. shovels full of compost each spring from the worm bin.  As I spell out each of these phrases, I can hear echoed her reciprocal invitations to me – the untaming of self, the letting go of control, the allowing of space to emerge, the letting die what does not belong (no matter how many times I try to replant it), the ease of being myself, the feeding of unseen roots.

There have been a few discovered delights in these most recent days of making our reacquaintance. A family of cohosh multiplying where the creeping nancy was pulled away. A clutch of ash saplings sprouting up where the pachysandra once choked. An enchanting dogwood toddler peeking out at the hem of my skirt as I fill the feeder. A spindly adolescent rhododendron uncovered with the lopping  off a burning bush.

I consider also the relationship between a man and a woman at this time of transition from working so hard at supporting a family and a career to discovering who you are now that you are cutting away those entanglements. At times it can feel as if nothing is taking hold. At times the old ways of being can grow smothering. At times it can even feel dead. But then there are sudden surprises revealed — old, long-covered ways you once knew how to blossom and new ways of being green- with just a little pulling back of vines that have grown unheeded from misplanted seeds, and a few shovelfuls of rotted and foul-smelling compost turned over to nurture the depleted soil.

Oh you, earth sister, how you continue to surprise and delight, to heal and transform, to offer your fruits just when I need them the most.

Protected: restless souls – merton and me

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