Back on my porch this morning, drawn instinctively by the sound of the rain on the roof when I opened the door to the day, I am wrapped again in my grandmother’s warmth. The rain is persistent enough to temper the blaring bass of the high-octane music being pumped through the mega speakers and into the veins of the triathletes gathering just down the hill. I wish them well on this soggy day. May their hearts celebrate in what they love.
‘There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth’ – Rumi
For me, the rain also sings in my heart of the rain that soaked the earth in Killarney on day 4 of our trip. We were fatigued in a good, spirit-full, way, having paddled and portaged (much more paddling than portaging on this trip, due to my husband’s recent ankle surgery) for 6 hours that day through the pink granite and turquoise water landscape, before making camp on the isolated, granite and quartzite rimmed lake. Arriving at the put-in of our chosen lake, after portaging the short 80 meters around the picturesque waterfalls, we thought at first we might have to leap from the ledge of that massive rock to load and board our canoes below, but were grateful for the accommodatingly flat granite step just below the water’s surface, surprisingly unslippery, which granted us a safe landing and loading. Camp chores completed – filtering water, gathering wood, repairing the latrine sit-upon box (not AT ALL the same kind of sit-upon that I’d made all those years ago when I was a girl scout), whose front boards had collapsed, exposing both one’s eyes as well as one’s legs to the putrid contents of the not-deep-enough and soupy cathole (I took on that chore with a rock as a hammer), setting the dinner pot to rehydrating, and erecting tents- I crawled from the back door of our tent to investigate the enchanting and inviting 30-foot, moss-lined path, through hemlock and pine, past the 8 inch diameter tree that the beaver had so diligently chewed to the point of timbering only to have it get entangled in the limbs of its neighboring trees on its way to the earth, down the 2 obliging root stairsteps, and onto the back of a humpback whale of a boulder jutting into the cove behind our tent.
There, I stretched out on my belly, flat on her back, wrapping my legs and arms around her solid contours. There were a few ants excavating her cracks, but they mostly made a wide berth around me (I must’ve smelled, by this time, quite unappealing) and I was enthralled by the workings of their universe. To my left the shallow, crystal clear, cove was busy with schools of gray, pill-shaped, water bugs skimming the surface above the lime-greening grasses just tall enough to dance in the subtle current. Soon they will be standing tall, reaching for the light, filling this now watery bay with vegetation.
The day before, we had paddled through just such a shallow passageway, our canoes barely skimming along like those water bugs, this time between Balsam and Deacon lakes, above a springtime bed of water-lily leaves, their tiny heart shapes still red with hope, and skirting over a short beaver dam. I imagined that waterway would be impassable in a few months, filled to the brim with life. After reaching Deacon, we’d lunched at a lovely secluded campsite next to some rock stepping-stones that formed a peninsula into the bay along her eastern edge. There I noted signs of visitors, like us, otter and deer, using the same entrance ramp as we to and from that delicious water. A marsh surrounded that bay and as we paddled its circumference after lunch, we took note of the otter’s lodge in the roots of a large tree.
Later that evening, we’d set off at dusk to explore the marshy bay to the east of our own island, from whence we had heard the riot of peepers each night. Again, the swollen waters of spring, combined with the just-awakening plant life of the more typically lowered levels, granted us access to a sanctuary that is likely well-guarded from mid-summer crowds. Into the near-circular pond we paddled, with the evening sky mellowing behind us, to the isolated village. About the circumference of the water’s edge was a colony of lodges, six evenly spaced, though nobody seemed to be home. It was upon departing that wonderland and turning the serpentine corner that we were delighted by its inhabitants out for the evening, dragging limbs and slapping tails. A few black flies, the first and only of our trip, decided to join the party that warm spring evening, and we were soon chased from the bog back to our rocky camp.
Back on the back of my humpback, I noted that the shoreline of this little cove was once again, as at our last campsite, lined with leatherleaf and her dangling bell blossoms, the visiting bees here numerous. Beyond them, rimming the cove, were the cedars, then the pines, and, on the rise, pockets of hardwoods – maple and birch- peeking their heads with their red and yellow buds. I would explore there tomorrow for firewood.
(okay, I must take a diversion from my storytelling now, for the loudspeakers are currently blaring ‘Purple Rain’ and that brings a crooked smile to my face)
The intimacy of the tiny cove to my left was in great contrast to the broad and sweeping view to my right, with its white quartzite ridge beyond. The water seemed to be flowing from somewhere beyond the pink granite point of the cove to the south, opposite me on the rim, as if we were the two lips of a great mouth gulping
Killarney is known for these grand rocky views and their mirroring turquoise waters. While indeed breathtaking, I admit that I prefer the intimacy and fecundity of the alpine bog. Even the day that we carried our canoes over to David lake for a day trip, circumnavigating the extent of her shoreline, paddling beside and beneath that long line of craggy white ridges dotted with conifers, I was much more drawn to the dreamlike reflections nearer our meandering canoes. Blessed by the stillness of that day on the water, we paddled along the boulder strewn shoreline to the drumbeat of the grouse, mesmerized by the images created by that liquid mirror. Totem like, the rocks cast their benevolent faces, blessing our tiny band.
Likewise, on today’s paddle through Johnnie Lake past its remarkable pink granite cliffs, rounded by weather and water and time, it was the numerous otter lodges wedged into the roots of a bay that captured my delight.
(okay, now they are playing ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ Smirk)
From the back of the humpback, I noted a distinct change in the air. Rain would soon be falling, I suspected, and so I rose to return to camp to see if it might be time to pitch the tarp…
Later in the evening, @ 9 pm, just after sunset.
It did indeed rain, the drops beginning to fall before the tarp was out of the bag. We prepared dinner over propane stoves instead of the gathered firewood, and retired by 7 to our tents for their welcoming shelter. The rain soon enough subsided and I emerged to move to the water’s edge, my back supported by a boulder that appeared to have been plopped down by a giant hand upon the flat plate of the gradually sloping granite ledge, like a solitary pea placed just so by a child onto an empty dinner platter.
I secretly hoped to see the beaver who had been so evidently busy at this site through the late winter, chewing not only the timbering trunk on the path to the humpback whale, but also what i imagine had been a sentinel for this campsite for many over the years. At the point of the landing before me, with fresh chewings around its base, stood the stumped remains. Already it was getting too dark to see clearly, so I imagined I might be too late to greet him on his evening rounds, but I was warm enough in my layers to wait for quite some time, with the blanket of clouds overhead holding in the warmth of the day.
This was the first evening I’d had the energy to stay up late into the darkness and a part of me wished that dark blanket would lift so that I might bathe in the stars, which i had only visited briefly on this trip during those ‘neccessary’ middle of the night jaunts. The peepers were in full chorus though, and I could at least lose myself in their song. From time to time, a light rain would erupt, as if someone above was shaking out that wet blanket, and I had the thought that i’d soon be sent scurrying to my tent if it developed into a full-fledged wringing, but for the moment i was content to be there alone in the dusk by the water. A barred owl, in the distance, perhaps along the shoreline of Johnnie, serenaded me briefly, as did the haunting pennywhistle-like, call-for-its-mate of a distant loon.
In the darkness, my thoughts turned to the inner landscape. Always these trips into the wilderness invite me to explore that inner wilderness too. There I encountered my own shadowy creatures, much more menacing than any I met outside of myself, the faces of my own neurotic and compulsive self – those ugly fears of unlovability, the deforming gnarls of worry, anxiety, and shame, the distorted faces of my misguided attempts to earn belonging with people pleasing behaviors (with which I mask both my own authenticity and wildness, and which some part of me believes are the only parts of herself that people truly like, but which more likely are anything but pleasing), my twisted fears of being too much…too pushy, too manipulative, too demanding, that gnawing sense of inadequacy and never-enoughness, those triple gross countenances of self-doubt, self-blame and self-disgust. I realize that these are the long conditioned responses of one desparately seeking acceptance and love. Mostly I try to notice – even welcome -them without judgment, though honestly that gut-response of self-protection, which is my censoring and silencing self-critique, can feel as instinctual as the adrenaline panic one feels when coming upon a bear.
That night, however, I realized that my deepest longings were contained in that dark internal woods too, writhing as if trapped in a leg iron, longings for my passion to be celebrated and met with an equal measure of joy, longings I heard echoed in the call of the loon. I was weary of fighting to keep myself small… my excitement, my energy, my passion, my desires, my aliveness, my ideas… my wildness, my being ‘too much’. There is a lot of despair in that for me. But the truth is I was also quite hurt and ferociously angry, and much of my self-disgust was around not wanting to own those particular feelings, trying to keep them corraled and restrained. I had some soul-searching to do.
The night sky was growing as ominous and heavy as my thoughts. It would soon be dumping its contents too, and a chill was moving in with the dampness. It was time to retire to the tent, to listen to the voices outside of my head for a time. I was perhaps more tired than i thought, having risen that morning before 6. The night was indeed dark and it was time for sleep.