Summer of Becoming – nwse

This trip was with a group of four women, who have known one another as participants in a nature-based spirituality group since 2012, a group that was about healing our broken connections – with other women, with the natural world, with thesacred, and with ourselves.  We called our group, NWSE-(north-west-south-east)  Nurturing Women in the Sanctuary of the Earth and used the cycle of the Earth and her seasons as our guide. Last summer, I offered to ‘guide’ these women to this place that I love so deeply. It was my first time hosting a group of non-family members on a canoe camping trip.

Day 1, Thursday, August 25, Farm Lake, near dusk

About a half hour’s paddle from the Farm Lake access point, in the narrows between Kitty and Farm Lake, we have settled and made camp.  This spacious and open campsite has the feel of a peninsula with the way the water winds around it on its southeasterly way.  Indeed, the site has more the character of lazy river campsite than a lakeside one  (no expanse of open water, no long views, no loons ), which I suppose it is in a way, as the Opeongo River narrows and widens many times throughout this string of lakes on its way from Annie Bay to the Madawaska River.

From the seat of a canoe on previous visits to this part of the park, I have often admired this site as being picturesque as I paddled through this way. During our base camp stay here, I expect we’ll also have a bit of ‘traffic’ passing us by on this particular narrowing of the Opeongo’s course, and will likely have close neighbors just across the water, too. However, seclusion is not the goal of this inaugural trip, rather introduction.  Given the experience and comfort levels of our group, this seems to be a wise and sheltered choice for all – with no portaging required.

The rounded site sits high over the water with ample views of the meandering river and the small intimate coves that surround it, as well as lots of room for spreading out and finding personal space. Foot trails down to the water’s edge offer seclusion for those of us who long for a closer intimacy.  I suspect, based upon initial exploration, that otters and beavers reside in the neighborhood, too.  And so, despite my initial resistance to being tucked away from the more open waters of the lake, I’m certain that this spot will work its unique wonder, as any place in Algonquin will do.  The artists and poets, nature lovers and bathers, and first time canoe campers among us will all be content to drink from the bosom of the land here for a few days.

Expectation so often destroys our ability to appreciate the beauty that is spread out before us.

I have been surprised already by a few unexpected responses from two of our women.  One of the women mentioned that the lake reminded her of her favorite reservoir back home.  I wasn’t exactly sure if that was a delight or a disappointment.  Another has surprised me with her relative comfort and familiarity with camping in tents, as she has always refused to sleep out of doors when we met as a group back home, choosing always to sleep inside the cabin instead.


Ah, Algonquin, I trust you will have your way with us all. I must remember how overcome I was by you when I was a virgin in your arms, just around the corner from this very campsite, in a cabin as a matter of fact.  There is nothing I need to do, nothing I need to force or make happen, no particular experience I need to create.  I need only be here, fully awake and trusting, allowing with full humility the days to unfold as they will, and you to do the magic you do.

And so I roll over in your arms even now to breathe in the depths of your stars.

(more text after the images)

Day 2, Friday afternoon, August 26

The stars were indeed delightful last night, a wide swath of the Milky Way painted across the dark sky, visible from the southeast shoreline near to where the boats were pulled ashore.  Celie, who joined me when she heard me crawl from my tent, was also enchanted, though she said she’d seen better somewhere back home.  We indeed do have a more limited view from this more enclosed setting, a smaller portion of the bowl from which to drink.

I am noticing something in many conversations of late that has me troubled. I’m wondering about the ways that we share the life-giving and transformative experiences of our lives without turning that sharing into seeming one-upmanship.  I understand that on some deeper level our ‘Yes, Me Too-s’  come from our longing to connect, from a yearning to know and be known, but too often they come across as ‘Know-it-All’-ness. I shall try to watch for that in myself.

Listen. Listen. And Listen some more. Of course. Ask questions, Be curious . Be open to receiving from the other, to learning something new. Oh sweet humility, here is your invitation to me once again.


A small mammal lives along the bank near to where I sit this afternoon, but it is not an otter as I imagined. It swims with its nose just above the water, trailing a telltale V in its wake.  Something smaller- perhaps a mink or a muskrat ? – that uses these watery passageways into the river bank.  Early this morning, we heard someone splashing, as if into the water from the shore, as we sat here together in silence.

After breakfast, we packed for a day trip and then paddled to hike the portage trail over to Booth Lake, the wind crossing Kitty Lake strong enough to affirm my decision to not paddle into bigger water with this small band of women. One of the women, struggling physically with the 600 meter hike to our lunch spot, made clear to me that the choice not to portage camping gear on this trip was a wise one. Even the steep climb up over the root ‘stairs’ to our campsite is a challenge – we need to use hand holds and so carrying water is tricky. I have overestimated the stamina and strength of some of my friends, forgetting that some are 15 -20 years older than me. Once again, assumptions and expectations are clever tricksters, keeping me present and responsive to what is, or at least inviting me to do so if I don’t try to control or resist.

We discovered a charming swimming hole, a large eddy with a small lodge of some sort nestled into its cove, just downriver from the dam on Booth Lake. There the water, which was roiling just 50 yards upstream, was still and deep. Aster and goldenrod had replaced the summer blossoms already, tucked into the boulders along the river bank. Even the tea is dying back now and just one lone, overripe blueberry clings to the thicket near where I sit writing.  My guess is this same thicket was swimming with blueberries when my friends spotted a bear swimming across the river here just one month ago when paddling these waters.

Several small water snakes dart about in the water now. At first I thought them to be small turtles, as their heads poking out of the water appear quite similar, but their swift agile movements made me look twice. I wonder what it is they are zigzagging to eat? Insects of some sort, no doubt. A heron glided in a half an hour ago to perch on a log to my right, while the cormorant has taken up her sentinel post on the tip of exposed boulder across this small bay.

The afternoon has quieted nicely. I am grateful for this place away, even from dear friends who are with me on this trip, to be alone and not responsible for another’s happiness and comfort in this moment. Hmmm, now that is interesting to write out loud. I realize how unrestful some of my trips have been with my constant worrying and care-taking in that way.  I am not complaining, nor would I take back any one trip as they each have been special in their own unique way—building relationships and shared memories—but just noticing what ALSO might be needed.  Some more time like this—just to BE here.

I think of how stressed I was before leaving home for this trip in those readying days leading up to our departure, how I was unable to slow down and be still, to be there for my daughter during her unexpected visit during that busy time, for instance. But then I think that perhaps she may need me to NOT ‘be there’ for her as much as I am, that what she needs more than that is to learn how to ‘be there’ for herself.  And I realize that this is my work, this letting others be responsible for their own happiness, this letting go of trying to ‘make’ – to make the other see, experience, feel, be, what I want them to see, experience, etc.  The Mary Oliver poem, ‘The Journey’*, comes to me now, with those lines about those in your life, whom you love, tugging at your ankles, clamoring for you to ‘MEND MY LIFE’

I long for Don’s presence here with me too, the way we move in rhythm with one another when we are here, the unspoken communication that occurs between us, the intimacy that develops in the quietness of this place, like dancing together to the music of silence.


Evening paddle, like a prayer, quieting my soul and bringing me peace

Alone, I paddled through the silken water, each stroke as softly and smoothly as I could. I’d thought at first to paddle only in the cove immediately beside our campsite, but my sister’s flute lured me on. Around the bend, it trailed me with its haunting melody, as if we were playing a duet.

The water was so terribly still that my paddle strokes, along with the wake of the canoe, created a ribbon of silk, refracting in her mirror the images of the trees along the riverbank. Long silken-haired grasses lay down with the current to sway with her invitation.  Though bright green, they picked up the angle of the setting sun’s light like strands of silver.

Oh, I wish I could say more about those exquisite moments on the water, but now I am quite sleepy. My hope is that this brief entry will remind me of the way in which the water caressed my soul this enchanted evening.

Day 4, Sunday, August 28

Yesterday, three of us paddled over to Crotch Lake, retracing the paddle strokes that had brought us from the put-in and then continuing on beyond it.   Elsie duffed in the center of the canoe, on a throne of birch logs we loaded for her, while Alice chose to take a day of rest altogether, remaining behind in camp. It was a lovely day of paddling and bathing in the beauty.  A leisurely day of exploration, we stopped by many campsites along the way, and lunched at last on a fabulous double site on the island in Crotch Lake, just south of the portage to Shirley.

Last evening at twilight­­, we paddled as a group around the bend and out into the open water of Farm Lake, returning to camp after dark, a dark that was hastened by a sudden heavy cover of clouds, which made navigating our way back in the shallows a bit delicate. The sunset colors that had painted the evening the day before were absent this night from the sky, making of the same vantage an entirely different view.

This morning, Elsie woke with a headache and an upset stomach, so today, she and Celie chose to stay in camp while Alice and I paddled across to the portage to Bridle, where I carried the canoe with my daypack so that we could continue exploring once we arrived there.  We extended our walk in the woods from the other end of Bridle Lake, taking the 1600m trail over to Shirley Lake, where we breathed in the sweeping view from the sandy shoreline over our lunch.

Along the way, we took time to appreciate the small life of the forest trail.  Lichen and fungi, mushrooms and a variety of fern lined our way. One great old trunk hosted an entire village of mosses and mushrooms. Another old one that had fallen left in her wake a boulder strewn cavity that I mistook as a dry streambed at first.  Returning the same way we had come, my intimacy with that forest trail deepened as I recognized and greeted those we had passed coming.

A moose antler, left propped at the base of the sentinel tree, was curious to touch.  I was struck by its parched boniness, by the weight and the coarse texture of it.

Returning to camp just as a few large drops of rain began to hit the water, we were pleased to note that the weekend ‘crowd’ that had been at Kitty Lake cabin had packed up and departed.  The return of the quiet will be welcome.

Tucked into my own quiet nook this morning, in what has become my morning ritual on this trip – rising quite early to boil the water for coffee and tea, then taking my cup to the edge of the water as I wait for the others to awaken, a beaver swam quite close to me. Laying still in the shallows nearest the shore for what seemed a long stretch, she basked before turning and slipping away, seemingly unalarmed or unaware of my presence. I’d heard several crashes in the night while in my tent, which I realized this morning was likely her doing.

Now I am beneath the tarp with my friends, though the rain has been brief, occasional and light, and now the sun is peeking down at my page through fast moving clouds, creating a strobe-like effect. I am comfortable though, so I will likely remain here, with this view of the water. My hip is talking to me a bit after those carries today. I really must lighten my daypack for days such as this, though I really wanted to lighten Alice’s load today, freeing her to walk farther.

Celie is painting. Alice is reading. Elsie has gone to lay down in her tent. And, as they say, Life is Good.

Day 5, Monday morning, August 29

My day has begun, rising again at 5:30 to boil coffee, while watching the last of the stars turn off their lights for the day, the silver sliver of the waxing moon still bright in the bluing sky. Sitting here now, I notice some clouds have crowded in, pushing across the horizon, steel grey but blushing pink on their undersides from the touch of the rising day star, not yet visible to me but revealing his whereabouts in that subtle reaction.  Already, even as I jot down these words, a touch of gold glances upon those pinks and peaches and greys, casting a luster where I’d imagined dreariness a moment ago. How revealing is that?

They pass so quickly, as if downstream in a fast moving current, that the sky is now practically blue once again, tinged only faintly with yellow and lavender highlights. A light mist is beginning to rise from the surface of the water and I imagine it too will soon be flowing in earnest toward the bright sun that draws all things forth.

Moment by moment, changes. Nothing is constant, it seems. So noticeable is that truth here, without the distractions that prevent me from seeing and being present to this great gifting earth.

Last evening after dinner, we attempted, once again, a twilight paddle and float, but those same heavy clouds blanketed the sky, darkening our way back to camp quite precariously again. Upon our return, we enjoyed a campfire, our first evening fire of the trip, where the conversation turned to future trips- which pleased me as it revealed that this one has been meaningful for my friends.

Oh, those low clouds continue to roll, more coming in from the west The sun in the clearing for just a moment, I drink in her welcome. Soon she will be high enough to warm the earth here.

A loon wails in the distance.

Day 6, Tuesday, August 29

Another morning on the lake, another bank of clouds, another mist rising. The clouds this morning are more heavily striated, gray like yesterday, though I am learning that even the white ones look gray before dawn!  Indeed, even now I can see through a break in those low lying clouds, higher ones already lit up like gold.

Last evening, I sat here, watching the beaver peruse the shoreline.  Indeed, I think I spot her even now, headed this way. Over breakfast yesterday morning, we watched a pair of otters off the opposite side of camp, in the distance just before the river bends, near to Kitty Lake Cabin.

Alice has joined me now. It is 6:45 and I have been up for an hour, boiled water for coffee and again for tea. It takes awhile longer to prepare enough for everybody, but I am fine with it all. I am content to share- because I have enough – an interesting thought and awareness that has unfolded in me on this trip.

A pileated calls as she crosses over the water, calling again from the far shore. I hear her drilling now. Perhaps she has found nourishment too.  A flutter of wingbeats in the bush at the water’s edge near my feet announces the arrival of a companion, even as Alice’s footfall did the same.

The greys are now flushed with peach, trimmed in gold, the lower ones a long streak of lavender on the horizon.

Yesterday morning, before our contemplative sit, I read a few pieces aloud. I am grateful that my friends indulged me so, for in the reading of them I heard what was not clear until then. The first piece was about water, the myriad ways it is transformed and transforms, recycled and reused, across time and distance- flowing, freezing, cleansing, filling. The other was about canoe tripping, the daily routines, the getting into the water, the being a part of the flow of it all. I came away with an awareness and an affirmation of why a moving trip is so potently meaningful to me, why I feel so much more alive and present, immersed and intimate in such a trip, flowing with, being transformed by, and becoming a part of the natural world

(Now a trio of ducks comes in for a landing with such velocity and suddenness that it is as if a gust of wind as touched this still lake)

There is , of course, another sort of intimacy in this sitting here, quietly absorbing, witnessing, though I feel somehow detached and a bit distant-from, hidden here in a way, I suppose. I expect this is life-cycle stuff, this longing to flow with, this desire to dive in and become a part of something bigger than me.

Now the loon wails her alert on the next lake and the beaver returns to her lodge at my feet, blowing bubbles in the water as she dives for her underwater doorway. The cormorant again announces her arrival, the beat of her wings moving currents of air to vibrate the drums in my ears, then alighting with a cackle upon her perch. Good morning.

Fingers of sunlight reach for the reeds on the opposite shore before the rolling clouds pull them back once again. Something splashes in the water, just to my right- someone taking a morning swim before breakfast, no doubt.

And it is time, as well, for me to prepare breakfast here for my friends.


Our last full day in camp was spent exploring an old logging road, looking for an old bridge over a beaver pond, which I’d remembered lunching at once upon a time.  We never did find the bridge. I suspect the beavers finally had their way with it after the logging company stopped maintaining the earthen road. The ‘road’ was overcome by watery beaver runs in some places, and filled in by wildflowers in others. We eventually came out on a newer logging ‘road’, which we followed for a bit, half-heartedly so, before fatigue turned us back.

Tomorrow morning we will breakfast, pack up camp,  paddle out to the ‘real’ world.





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  1. Trackback: summer of becoming | Emmaatlast's Weblog

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