caught in the mystery

Our last morning in camp, we awoke to a clear, cloudless sky, though the air was so heavy with moisture that the trees – standing there in the near freezing cold, unable to hold any more in their outstretched limbs – dripped and dropped…upon our tents, then our shoulders, pocking the sandy soil at our feet. The sun had not yet broken over the horizon as we arose to break camp. We’d wanted to set out across the large lake while the waters were calm and still, before the certain winds of the day whipped it up.

The fog lay heavy over the water as we set off , so we paddled within view of the shoreline, about 20 feet or so from our boats, in order to keep our bearings, for we would’ve quickly become disoriented had we lost sight of the land. Beyond those muted edges, the water and earth were obscured by a blanket of white, impenetrable. It made me think of being lost at sea, with no identifiable features in sight, by which to gain one’s bearing.  Navigational methods other than landmarks are required in such places as that.

Perhaps I too am in a necessary cloud at this time in my life, my own outstretched limbs unable to hold it all anymore. This evening, thinking upon that morning fog as I am about to embark in tomorrow’s dawn on the journey back home, I wonder which direction to go from here? Do I keep the safe but known shoreline within my vision, even as I long for these deeper waters? Where are my landmarks for such a time as this?

Some part of me understands that there is something particular  in the landscape here that draws me. Its forms and its beauty -those sweeping curves and spires- interplay so gracefully with the water, both evoking and remembering me to a similar harmony within myself and my life.  I too am made up of both. Water and Earth. How to hold the truth of that within my vision? Hold gracefully the tension between these two in me?

What navigational tools do I have for a place such as this?

As we came out of the portage trail onto the larger lake, the sun was just gaining enough strength to begin clearing the fog. Beauty gradually opened upon us, liquid ribbons flowing across the blue water, autumn colors just beginning to kiss the hillsides.

Perhaps something will clear in the warmth for me too… the shroud will unfold and open the way for me .

For tonight, I will just keep paddling on before the winds of tomorrow whip.

 

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To change or not to change, there is really no question

This afternoon, overlooking the rain-and-windswept lake while cocooned in the safe harbor that has been this lodge, my mind swirls with the currents back around to thoughts of transformation… of becoming. As I ponder how it is that this blowing rain, being slurped up so thirstily by the earth, is made of the same substance as that charcoal water, which is being whipped into whitecaps even as it flows full and deep in the lake, I marvel at the vast myriad of ways this essence of life is expressed. And  realize that I too am made of that substance. Like the water, I am both ancient and new, the elements and essences that make up my body have also been here in one form or another for ages.

 

Why do you bring me such comfort my friend?  Why is it that dipping my paddle into your silken depths brings me such peace?  Or sitting here with your agitation, stirs something quiet in me awake?  What exactly is it that I draw forth to drink of so deeply from you?   Oh yes, there is your pervasive constancy… so visible, palpable, and easily discernable, especially today in this blanket of heavy clouds, in those perpetual waves of the lake, and these streams that pour from the roof and drench the land. You are always present, always beckoning, always reminding and remembering me.  Yet, even moreso than the serenity in your stillness, the life-giving energy of your turbulence, and the persistence of your presence, it is your unspoken mystery – your unknowable depths, your unfathomable past, and impenetrable future- that strangely soothes me. Where have you been? Where are you going? What form will you embody next?

 

The longing in me to follow you remains , to follow your mists as you rise and you roll from the lake and into that distanct notch, drawn from the coolness of night into the warmth of the beckoning sun., to follow your flowing rivers around the next bend, and into the unseeable, on the way to becoming who- knows-what next?

 

I wonder why I am here, next to this lake in this north country, on this paradoxically quiet afternoon. Though the wind rushing through the trees at times fills this entire space with the quickening sounds of a womb, my heart/mind is tranquil somehow.  Is this place a womb for me, then, a place I have come to be born? How am I being formed into something new? And how will my life look different when I emerge from this time and this space?

 

I am being changed in this time and place.  I am being picked up by the warmth of this sun, separated out from this particular body of water that I have inhabited for so very long,  transported by these unseen-but-felt currents.  Will the Love-that-I-am be condensed in some place around the bend where I might pour myself out? Though I cannot conceive it all, I trust it, sensing only this-something-shifting in me, and, in this moment, I feel comforted alone by the mystery of that… my own unknowable becoming just a small measure of wonder in life’s unknowable depths.

 

 

Ps. This was written yesterday, before the window rattling night that blustered its way into dawn, a morning without electricity until now. As I walked this morning, along the path through the woods, gathering along the way some early changing leaves, I was enchanted by the ones with green, yellow, and red on the same leaf… and so it was that the title of this blogpost came to me.

Hay Lake morning reprise

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I am writing from Hay Lake Lodge, where I have been staying between trips into the Park (Algonquin). I was there for a week with 3 women the last week of August and will be going back into the park on the 14th for 10 days more. This last trip will be my fifth of this season. I am blessed, indeed.

 It is a rainy morning, the first such day since I arrived in Algonquin with the 3 women on the 24th of August. I am grateful for the invitation that the rain extends to me this day to be still at last ( I am also grateful that Erin, the lodge owner, did not need me to help out until this afternoon). It was not until Tuesday this week, after the women left on Thursday morning, that I felt like I had a moment to myself (that is, when I was not sleeping!. Erin did indeed need some help around here, moreso when the weekend woman called off sick for the ‘hectic’ holiday weekend.  I was in bed most nights by 8:30, exhausted. Running a Canadian lodge on a lake is not so glamourous a life, after all, but Erin does it so graciously.  She has a gift for hospitality that I can learn from.

 

Still, I am grateful, always grateful to be here. Life next to the water is so revelatory for me, making what is so often invisible or unnoticed, more perceptible somehow. Not only the mists that rise and roll from the waters each morning, revealing the unseen but always present currents and gradients, but the surface of the lake itself, which can go from mirror-like to windswept in the span of 15 minutes time, from reflecting the clouds in their depths to being stirred awake by them… not unlike my experience of the Sacred, who is reflected in our own depths and then stirs us awake when we least expect it.

 

The sky, too, continues to be my companion and guide these last weeks, teaching me about transformation and change. The sky is so much a part of the landscape here, and is as changeable as the water, the relationship between the two so  very apparent here.  From early morning blankets of gray , to breaking blues and clouds of every shape and hue, to stars so deep and vast your mind’s eye can’t seem to process them at all, the sky becomes from moment to moment something new. Last fall, it was those deep stellar reaches that stirred me to wonder, but this year the changeable and transformative lower reaches of the sky have been most potent for me, the way in which in the midst of that deep constancy, closer to home and our human experience, life is constantly shifting and moving and becoming and departing. I feel as if this transitional period of my life has been that way too as I have sought out a new way of being.

 

One morning in the park with the women, I read from a litany of facts to ponder about water… the way it is constantly being transformed and recycled, becoming ice in one place, then part of an animal in the desert in another, for instance, across time and space… which was so suddenly illuminating for me it was like the sun breaking through in a blaze of color at dusk. The canoeing quotes that I later read spoke of the way that it feels to be in the flow of life on a canoe trip, moving with the water and through the currents in a sort of dance in which one is a part of the natural flow, not simply a witness along the shoreline, but becoming one with the water and the natural order of things.  I have been through quite a long season of transformation, it is the way of water after all – the way that it changes forms itself but also the way it carries life along with it, cleansing it, fueling it, carving and transforming it, becoming cloud for a time, bearing its passengers into a new landscape.

 

I recalled that for years as I would explore the turtle totem… which had always been a land animal for me, teaching me about carrying my home with me, and finding that place of safety within, as I journeyed through life’s changing terrains….  I would find written thoughts about the aspect of the turtle that really flows when she gets into the water and into her natural element, and I did not understand nor connect with those ideas, could not find that particular feeling within me. I understand that feeling of flow, of aliveness now.

 

 In some ways I feel as if it has been like a long pregnancy and birthing process for me, not knowing what was being birthed within and from those amniotic waters (Though at times it felt both painful and powerful, growthfull and constrictive -alternately requiring of me resilience and patience, forcefulness, assertiveness, breath and endurance- what has gushed forth  suddenly from this long labor has been a new life) In other ways, it has felt like a long pilgrimage through many kilometers of water and portage trails, not knowing what was around the next bend but being ever drawn to discover, placing one paddle stroke after the other, one footfall after the other, on some sort of sacred quest/journey…..

 The past 2 mornings, I was able to be on the water again, leaving from the dock at the lodge where I am staying. On Tuesday, I had the day to myself and I took off in my canoe down to the spillway at the far end of Lower Hay Lake.  Along the way, next to a rock face, I met an otter, who I would have missed entirely had he not risen to hiss behind me. I also followed a northern Harrier for a time along the shoreline of a small marshy area, and a kingfisher came chattering across the water there, too. Still, that paddle felt noisy somehow to me. There were a few motorboats and cottages here and there on the upper half, and I could hear the logging traffic somewhere along the ridges, near the powerline…then there were the 2 military planes who swept around the corner, evidently practicing flying beneath the radar. I think my heart stopped for a moment as I felt my body instinctively duck in the canoe.

 Yesterday though… oh my oh my. I paddled the opposite direction through bogs and marshes on the way to Drizzle Lake. It was quiet and the sun in its heavy blanket of early morning grey was barely lighting the water and the ridge, which are showing hints of autumn on the treetops. I paddled through the bog,  up close to some beaver lodges, where I could hear the beavers mewling inside, which felt so terribly intimate to me.  Beavers have long spoken to me intimately, of crafting a personal environment of safety and nurture, one which transforms the landscape around you to one of blessing, while creating abundant habitat where others might also thrive.

 

Into the cranberry bog I poked my boat, stirring up some mergansers at one point. So many trails to follow, but I followed the flow around the bend and into a more open marshland, where again a pair of Northern Harriers hunted, while flashing their white tail band. I noted some Pitcher plants, with their reddened stems and leaves, rising up from the bog, attracting the insects they capture in their cupped leaves for food.  So many lessons here to integrate….perhaps another post, or perhaps not. At last, I turned back, my own need for food stirring me, knowing I had a long paddle back.

 

Being on the water like this is prayer for me. I can explain it no other way. There I am stilled and quieted, like that babe at her mother’s breast, attentive and present to life in a way that brings me to stillness and wonder, gratitude and faith. The motion of the paddle is like a mantra that stills my heart/mind and ‘I am’, simply, in the presence of the sacred. When I rise from the water, as from the mat, I am somehow transformed…. like the water itself, by the water itself, and by the spirit hovering  within it all.

 

 

 

Hay Lake morning

I arise on camp time, my body awakening with the dawn, my eyes longing for the water.  I must admit, however, that my skin is quite happy for the warmth it received upon opening the door of the unheated bedroom (our choice) to the rush of heat in the kitchen, rather than the blast of cold rain that would be greeting it this paeticular day if I were pulling back the fly of our tent. This lodge is indeed a peaceful place to ‘come home to’.

My friend is also awake. It may have been her coffee brewing as much as my internal clock that awakened me. She sits in the chair behind me, her eyes, like mine, cast softly outward upon the framed view. It is good to be silent together, in one another’s presence without busy-ness, which can often be the routine of the morning while camping, with its myriad chores. Shelter can in some ways make stillness simpler, though at the distinct cost of distance from the immediacy of the earth. Though I can glimpse a portion of the water passing by the window, can detect the faint chirp of a bird, my senses are far removed from the landscape. Still, there is a quietness here to my soul.

There is a great birch with its limbs arching over the dock, like a child reaching across to his friend in a game of London Bridge. I realize I have never been in this place when the birches are in full leaf. We typically visit either before they have leafed out in the spring or after leaf fall in the autumn. I can imagine them now, bright green and fluttering, filtering softly the high summer sun, or dressed in the yellows of autumn, framing the blue of the water and sky and that far ridge beyond, aflame with the farewell of maples. I long to be here throughout the long season, to watch it unfold and fold.

I picture myself sitting at a similar window, overlooking the birch-framed view of Deer Lake, where there is a cottage for sale that we have been considering. Her window is so close to the water, I imagine it opening in summer to the sounds and the scents of the lake.  Last week when we visited, the land behind her was alive with trout lilies and dutchman’s breeches, trillium and spring beauties. That makes me want to see what might unfold there next?  How might the silence unfold for me there? Would there be still, quiet hours in which I might find my own rhythm, my voice?

This morning that feels so right to me….and so I can be almost assured that my husband will have come to the exact opposite conclusion. (I was correct in that estimation, by the way). We swing that way, in perpetual counter balance, it seems. Things seem to have eased between us with the lessening of the physical stress for him, though my body is already longing for more.  I don’t know how this (creative?) tension between us will evolve and resolve over time, but by the nature of things, I trust that it will.

This morning, this moment, I breathe in joy.

I exhale peace.

I breathe in beauty.

I exhale contentment.

For now, this is enough.

 

 

Purple and Gold

 

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Flowers in my pocket

deep inside my pocket

there is sorrow

there is pain

but somewhere deep within

there must’ve been a seed of hope

for my pocket is now bursting

with flowers, purple and gold

they spill out o’er the top

like waterfalls from rocks

after a spring rain

but deep inside my pocket

 there is sorrow,

there is pain

I wrote this poem 15 years ago, the morning after my first date with my husband. I had dreamt that night that there was a bouquet of flowers, purple and gold, bursting  from my breast pocket, directly over my heart, whose soil at the time had been broken open and laden with the humus of loss. The next day, without knowing about the dream, that dear man sent flowers to me at my workplace.

They were purple and gold.

Several years later, when we were married, the poem was read at our wedding. I wore a purple cotton dress and he wore a gold silk shirt, and we passed out sunflowers to our guests. The first home we lived in together, while completing the labor of love that was the raising of our children, was situated on a postage-sized plot of suburban lawn, which we, over the 8 years that we lived there, gradually replaced with (mostly) native gardens. It was an act of love for both of us,  but particularly for me, as, with my hands in the soil, the earth healed me as I breathed new life into her. The earth and I were engaged in a relationship of reciprocal tending. The work of restoring to that bit of land what had been stripped from her in her taming – letting her become a little more wild and encouraging her to blossom with what may have once come naturally -restored and freed those same places in me. My husband and I complemented one another in that work. He provided the structure…. building walkways and walls,  digging beds and ponds…. I filled them with color and life.

We named that garden, Flowers in my Pocket. It was overflowing with blossoms, purple and gold.

Recently, I listened to an interview OnBeing, with botanist, Robin Wahl Kimmerer, who was drawn to the study of plants because she wanted to know why purple and gold were so beautiful together. She had grown up in upstate New York, where the aster and goldenrod painted the fields around her home with color each fall.

What she learned is that the eyes of insects are similar to those of humans when it comes to perceiving the colors purple and gold. The fact that the wavelengths of purple and gold are received by the same cones in our eyes (whereas blue has its own receptors and so does red), which then flood that signal to our brains, makes that combination sensually saturated. It grabs our attention and then fills us. It does the same for bees, which are so drawn to the color combination that more pollinators visit a field with purple and gold flowers than would visit a field with just one color. Thus, more flowers are pollinated in their blooming together than would be if they grew separately from each other.

Her artist friends taught her that purple and gold are opposite one another on the color wheel ‘as different in nature as can be’ and that ‘in composing a palette, putting them together makes each more vivid; just a touch of one will bring out the other’. Turning to Goethe, she found this quote ‘colors diametrically opposed to each other.. are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye’. Her printmaker friends confirmed this when they showed her how staring at one color of the pair and then immediately staring at a white sheet of paper would elicit the other color in a phenomenon called ‘color afterimage’.

“Purple and gold are a reciprocal pair…the pairing of (them) is lived reciprocity. Its wisdom is that the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other” – Robin Wahl Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass*

My husband and I are also diametrically opposite to one another. Our Meyer’s Briggs types are exact reversals (mirror images?) of each other. If there is a math problem to solve, I go around to the right and he to the left — to reach the same answer. I thrive in metaphor where he dwells in hands-on and concrete. His body temperature runs hot in the morning, when I am cold; he is cold in the evening, when I am warm. I make a mess. He cleans up. We once carried in our pockets 2 halves of oppositely swirling ammonite fossils, and hanging on the wall overtop of our headboard is a photo of 2 individual trees standing on opposite sides of a deep valley. You get the point. Sometimes it is downright comedic.

When I am among the trees and the lakes, I feel nurtured and supported, loved and in love. Though my husband has learned to appreciate our backcountry experiences, he does not share the same passion for wild places as do I, does not feel it in his bones the way that I do. He goes because he loves me (and that is a BIG deal), but it does not bring him alive in the same way, doesn’t whisper to him, as it does to me, something of his own essence.  There are also places that bring him alive – the marketplace for instance – that deaden me. Sometimes that is downright sad.

Watching his energy drain over time from the raw physicality of it all, in these wild places where I feel such embodied vibrancy, brings great sadness to this part of me that longs for connection and shared joy, for my partner and I to come together, mutually in love with something (as perhaps young married couples are with their children)  When my yearnings are running high, the loss of that can bring me to grief (killing my joy)– complete with its stages of anger and blame, bargaining and denial. I experienced all of those and more that dark, rainy night next to the water.

Sometimes I worry about that. I wonder where our alivenesses might intersect at this autumn stage of our lives. I fear our tugging tensions will pull us apart. I fear that I want too much.

But then I remember the purple and gold in those autumn fields, that reciprocal pairing.

I wonder about the subtle difference between mutuality and reciprocality.  The word ‘mutual’ has more to do with something in ‘common’ whereas ‘reciprocal’ seems to connote equal sides, each giving to the other.  In math, a number multiplied by its reciprocal equals One.

My hope is that we complement one another, each bringing to the other what would not be a part of our lives otherwise, like those bees to those blossoms. My hope is that, as with the artist’s palette, the touch of one evokes something more vivid in the other, that ‘the beauty of one is illuminated by the radiance of the other’. My prayer is that we continue to practice wiping the slate clean, so that gazing anew, with receptive hearts and eyes, at the mystery of the other, we might behold in the afterimage, the wonder of our paired colors.

 

*I’d carried this book with me in my backpack during our canoe trip and was awestruck to discover these words, so much needed. Who can explain such a gift as that?

resolutions (or rain-part 2)

The Guest House – Rumi
 
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
 
 

It was alternately grey then drizzly in the morning as I rose, and so I correspondingly alternated between my perch on the humpback rock and my seat beneath the tarp. I thought perhaps the day would clear as the sun warmed the earth and persuaded the clouds to depart. Or perhaps not.

And all would be well.

I had awakened, grateful for those rains that had nourished the thirsty earth, which had been so dry as to crunch underfoot, grateful also for my own nighttime storms that somehow softened my crunchiness and prepared my own morning soil.  And so I began the day with intentional prayers of gratitude. Gratitude for it all, for the ones who accompany me through this journey of life as well as for my overwhelmed introvert self (many days without any solitude can make of her an exhausted monster).  I resolved, that early morning atop that great whale’s back, to fill my heart with (self) love instead of animosity, with tenderness rather than critique, with blessing rather than curse, with compassion rather than anger. Invoking the phrases of the lovingkindness meditation, I prayed, successively bringing to my heart’s mind each one of us, bathing us one by one in the rich feeling space that each phrase evokes within me.

May I be happy.

May I be free from violence (internal and external)

May I know Love.

May I be safe and at peace.

May I know the deep joy of being alive.

May you be happy

May you be free…..

May you..

Then I moved to join my awakening friends over hot coffee, bacon, and hash browns. Later, I did make that climb up the ridge to the hardwood grove, carrying my saw and a bag for carrying firewood, while my friend went looking for birds.  I asked the earth to show me what I might receive as a gift and she offered her gifts of a recently fallen maple, propped up from the soggy earth by a boulder. I thanked her and made my way back to camp.

Beginning the day in gratitude, as I had just learned that the Onondago children of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy practice each morning in their schools, does indeed change one’s heart along with one’s perspective.

Our final day in camp was glorious, though it began rainy and chilly, becoming quite windy with what we thought was a clearing front passing through, though the blue never broke free much at all, and we were forced to be grounded in more ways than one. Throughout the course of the day we continued to forge our relational bonds with one another, moving in and out of one another’s company that day as smoothly as breath, alternately walking or sitting alone by the water, then reading together aloud the  Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address  ( be sure to click ‘next’ through the pages in the link to receive the full blessing), moving into the cocoon-like solitude of our tents, then breaking bread in communion around the fire.  Two of us gathered wood, another one sawed it, while another took the opportunity to sit on a rock ledge high above the water.  We shared laughter over a card game, using the pot lid as a table and our pockets for holding our tricks to keep the cards from flying away in that great life-bringing wind from the south. We cooked dinner (and while we were at it, tomorrow’s breakfast in preparation for an early morning departure),  washed and packed up the dishes, then sat by the fire, watching the wind play with the water until at last, near dusk, it settled.

Finally, we put that rain tarp back into the pack.

Somewhere in the midst of that day, I came to realize that I was loved just as I was, gnarled warts and all. It brought to my heart the truth of that great dream I  was given years ago… the one where I was told to do just that, let myself be filled from my roots to my crown with Love.   What a blessing was that.

The next morning, we rose early, eating an unappetizingly cold breakfast, then paddled out of the park in a constant drizzle. I found myself -completely disoriented- once. It was such a beautiful day.

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Always on these trips, this realization surfaces in me that I must come here alone to become still enough to listen, to hear, and to honor the call of my own voice. Call it my introverted self, my neurotic self, my codependent self, my socially anxious self, if you will, but also I recall the affirming words of canoeist and author, Robert Perkins, on the need for and gifts of alone time-away, spent drawing from the deep well that is solitude in nature.

…when you aren’t as consumed with your thoughts and your fears, you begin to sense other things… if you are with another person it is twice as hard, with five people, 5 times as hard. You end up turning to them, wanting to take care of them. ‘Are you alright?’ ‘Can i help you?” Your mood is up. Mine is down’,

or of Sigurd Olsen

two of the greatest values of wilderness travel, solitude and silence’

or Emerson

there are voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter the world’

but finally those of Rod MacIver,

‘Perhaps more than anything other than love, a life needs spirituality and it needs a rhythm. A life lived close to the land and the water nurtures both…Our natural rhythms emerge in the wilderness from which we came. That is our real home, and the ultimate repository of the human soul’.

I need to find and to honor my own rhythms without feeling as I am trying to coerce another into resonance with them. This was the gift and the message of this past winter, after all,  with my husband laid up as he was, this discovery and honoring of my own slow, quiet natural rhythms. Here, I am reminded to honor the gifts of my introverted self –this deep place, for instance, where the writing comes from, is one of those –rather than curse it, to honor as valid my deep need for solitude.

And yet, I do long to share this place of deep belonging with another. Always my heart longs for that. Whenever I experience this deep connection to the earth, to myself, to the sacred in these places, my opened heart invariably longs for its connections with the human persons that it also loves, to include them in this wide welcome home. I also honor and trust in the deep transformative conversation that the dialogue of relationship invites.

Both/and. Always in tension, always seeking balance, the needs of the self, the need for relationship, the needs of the individual, the needs of community  (and FOR communion).

Honestly, sometimes when I imagine coming out here alone for an extended time, that can feel just as difficult and intimidating as navigating the complex terrain of relationships. Perhaps true gifts do require work, after all… not in an earning favor kind of way, but in a willingness to sacrifice and practice kind of way, as in a gift for the arts, for instance.  Earlier in the week, while alone on the north side of our little island home for a few days, I read the portion of a creation story -in Robin Wahl Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass – concerning the sweet syrup of maple trees and how it was that, once upon a time, the Great Spirit noticed that humans were not tending the earth, not planting crops, gathering roots, or putting up stores. When that Great One went looking for them, they were found lying beneath the Maple trees with their mouths open, gulping down the sweetness that was pouring from them freely in those days. It was then that the Spirit poured buckets of water into the trees to dilute their sweetness so that humans would have to work to make of the sap something sweet and usable.

Without work, we become less than who we might be. With too much ease, we fail to attend to our relationships, with the earth, with each other, with our deeper selves. We become lazy and take advantage of what is given too easily, forgetting to honor and tend the gift. In relation to the earth, when the lights turn on at the flip of a switch, or our cars turn over with the push of a button, we forget to be diligent in attending to exactly what occurs in order for that to happen and asking if what we are receiving is gift or chattel taken forcibly .  Thus, both our relationship with the earth as well as the earth herself is damaged.

In our human-to-human relationships, we can also take advantage, expecting the sweetness to flow into our mouths without putting in the work and the time, not wanting to deal with the dis-ease, and so perhaps those relationships also wither.  I trust there is also value in attending more closely to one’s relationship to self. Though too often such a value is condemned as selfish, we do damage to ourselves by not nurturing it. And most of us find ourselves lost in a existential crisis, living ‘lives of quiet despair’, if we fail to nurture a relationship with the Sacred aspect of life.

And so out here on these trips, the work of making fire, constructing shelter, sleeping on the ground, traveling by self propelled power, carrying gear on our backs, gathering water, preparing food, living in rhythm with the rising and setting sun, in concert with the stars and the weather, puts us into a closer relationship with the earth and does make life taste sweeter somehow. Likewise, the work of understanding differing perspectives and needs, strengths and weaknesses, fears and joys, preferences and dreams, makes of a human-human relationship sweeter. It is not always easy, but perhaps that is what makes it a gift.

 

rain

 

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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

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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.

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(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.

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