Wilderness Within


It is late in the afternoon of our last full day the park, a day of paddling and portaging, which began around 9 am this morning just as the blanket of fog was beginning to break over the still, sleeping ­water surrounding our campsite on Bonnechere Lake.  A morning of pure delight, I had awakened pre dawn, @4:30am, to pull back the tent’s fly to a vision more lovely than any dream that might have seduced me to lie a bit longer in the sleeping bag’s relative warmth. The late rising moon, having waned from her fullness-of-light — so bright in those earlier days of our trip that she cast shadows upon the tent roof as if she were a city streetlamp shining its beam through a canopy of limbs and leaves– now at less than a quarter. Still, though more subtly, she silhouetted those dark pines over the water, her light not at all burning away the fog yet somehow diffusing its heaviness.

Bundled against the frosty air, I walked to the water’s edge with the blackened pot, which has become a vessel of the morning’s awakening warmth, to fill her belly with the crystal water, wading in myself a few feet – as far as my rubber boots will allow. Then, curled into the boulder-backed firepit, feeding sticks to the fire, I sat, my own belly being filled by the quietly unfolding blossom of dawn.  Soon the bog, spread out at the feet of the spruce like a petaled wedding aisle, began to sparkle with the gossamer topped twigs of so many cupped spider webs, capturing the morning dew while also waiting to be fed.

 A lone loon wailed her broken chord over and again, a melody made more mournful than usual somehow by her inability to find the opening tone, her voice seeming to break as mine might also do if I tried to sing my way through some grief.  Broken limbs, caught up in the shallow waters of the inlet, shone like specters in the rising mist, as at last the sun broke over the horizon, culminating the breaking of the day by casting the shadow of the treetops onto the almost opaque screen of fog.

With the light down the path near my friends’ tent and  a rustling nearerby in my own, where my husband was now stirring, at once the stillness of the dawn began to shift and move. Cranberries, picked along yesterday’s portage, were poured into the buckwheat mix, as sleeping bags were stuffed into dry bags. But then, a sudden sound, and all was still again.

A lone wolf howl. We paused and pricked our own ears, even our breath quiet in anticipation. And then it arrived, the chorus of reply, the yips and the whines of the young, the moans and the wails of the old.  We were now moved to stillness, listening deeply, harkening to something old and wild within ourselves….

Their moving chorus accompanied us as we also moved throughout the morning, cleaning pots and pans, loading boats, then paddling softly through the parting blanket of the morning across the mirrored water, on our way.

Each stroke of the paddle, each step of the boot, carried us into the day and away from the morning, as with each lake we traversed, each trail we carried, we were brought back from the edge of that great wild silence. We watched two eagles circling and soaring in it, far overhead, near the south end of Big Porcupine before passing a campsite, upon which we’d stayed in earlier in the trip (a rain-soaked day) on the point where the lake turns in great C curve, and needling our way through the shallow narrows. The lake’s campsites were populated with weekenders, likely arrived late last evening (Friday), curled up next to morning fires. Indeed, the chill of the morning was still evident when we stopped by an empty north-facing campsite for lunch, the shade inland beseeching me to seek the patch of sun near the water’s edge. The second portage of the day was brimming with seekers of wilderness, like us, lining the trail and the shoreline alike (to be clear, I am talking about a dozen, not a hundred here). By the time we entered the southern end of this lake, where we now have set up our final evening’s tents, the calm of the morning waters was replaced by a wind-whipped passage through the graveyard of treestumps and sunken logs and a seeming armada of canoes making its way toward us from the north.

But now I have made my way around to the rear of our campsite. Late afternoons have become a time of solitude and renewal for me. After a day’s worth of paddling and the busy-ness of making camp, I am ready. Early in the trip, on one such late afternoon, I’d followed a trail of mushrooms, a myriad of colors and sizes and shapes, far back into the hemlock grove, slipped into a crevasse between the clinging-to-boulders roots of two giants, down over the granite embankment to a silvered gray log perched out over the boggy water.  Yesterday afternoon, around this same time, I found myself atop a great granite cliff overlooking Cradle Lake, where I’d actually howled aloud myself with the pure joy of having bushwhacked and hauled myself by my fingertips to that great outlook. (hmm, now that seems like an interesting metaphor. I wonder, is it possible to bushwhack through the overgrowth of our own selves and haul ourselves to a great outlook?). The freedom of being up there alone, literally stripped of the clothing I’d worn throughout the day before adding a fresh base layer, made me realize there is something profoundly liberating and necessary about such a stripping, about such a howling to a sky that would later that evening be ablaze with its own fire, as the setting sun hovered beneath the light-catching tinder of low-lying clouds.

This afternoon, I find myself far away from camp, having trudged and crunched my way across the sandy marsh that lies between the lake and the isolated pond that lies some distance behind it, hidden from view unless one makes the short journey over the hassock and hole laden thicket, clamoring over the graying skeletons of once-great trunks, as the streambed that once fed it is now a bog, created when the beavers dammed this passageway from the main body of the lake.  I wonder about the way I am drawn like this, away and away, further inward and into, behind and beneath. I wonder about the way that it satisfies so deeply some urge in me to go deeper, and deeper yet, to follow the uncharted over and under, to slip quietly through a passageway, hidden, that opens out into wonder.

Of course, a part of me knows it is the introvert in me, seeking renewal, seeking that ‘room of her own’ even out here in this vastness, retreating to find a place to tuck herself away for awhile, to breathe, to play, and to dream. But a part of me also wonders at this Great Wildness-Untrammeled, that I seek in these afternoon forays or when rising early to bask in the Great Aloneness.  Is it also that within myself that I seek? This Untrammeled Wildness, this Hidden Jewel , to and from which I return. “I Am that which I seek”, it is said.

I have had the feeling for some time now that there is some piece of myself with which I lost touch somewhere along the way from there to here, some part cut off from the main body of my life when the water levels were lowered, something fresh-and-wild, dammed up, separated from the day-to-day of my life, something hidden to which I can no longer seem to find the way.  I miss living from those sacred depths, from that rich source of aliveness, from that Presence of Something within.

You know how it is, don’t you?  

And so, I take myself by the hand, and show her the way back, the way forward, the way into… Wonder. And Beauty, And Silence. ….where she howls her joy and her grief into that Vast Wilderness.




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