Wilderness Homecoming- part 2 – Windblown Wisdom

The second of four, in this series, Wilderness Homecoming.* On this day, I am searching for some Ancient Wisdom, and I find glimpses of it in the Earth. It’s a story of loss and rejuvenation, of that which is gathered, stored, and finally released. To read how it unfolds for me, please read on.

Windblown Wisdom

Today I washed my hair. Heated a pot of water over the fire, laid back over the edge of a sloping rock, and let Don pour the pail over my scalp, which I’d soaped with the bar of Doctor Bonner’s.  Now, as I sit perched at the water’s edge, it blows dry in a brisk breeze, as does my laundry, which I washed in a bag with the same bar of soap.  Again, the feeling of luxury soothes me.

Autumn is subtly unfolding here. The tawny needles of the shedding cedar and the slight yellowing of birch and poplar lend to the landscape a faintly faded hue. The wind, playing those poplars at present, elicits the melody of water rushing through a river gorge.

It is day 6, the midpoint of this, our second trip into the park, and we are taking a day of rest.  Yesterday, we were 9 hours on the trail, having broken camp at dawn to get across the big water of Brule lake before it became Bru-tal—that is, before the rising sun stirred the slumbering winds and waves awake.  There remained just a series of smaller lakes after that, but the 8 portages between them were quite rugged. Many of the trails here are rather like river gorges themselves- boulder strewn beds- such that distance is not an accurate measure of difficulty, nor time required, as we plan our days on the map. Traversing them is not so much a matter of endurance but of patience and grace (as in self-forgiveness, not necessarily elegance ) as we care-fully choose our footing and negotiate loading and unloading the boat.

I am reminded that all trails are not the same. We think we are practiced, that our experience has prepared us, but no matter how the basic elements are the same, we walk upon new terrain.  We cannot simply muscle, or bulldoze, our way through to the other side. We must tread more wisely than that.

My husband and I double carry. That means one of us carries the food barrel (which begins our trips weighing in at 55 pounds ) and the other, the canoe, on our first trip across a trail connecting one lake to the next, then go back empty shouldered for the 2 remaining packs, which contain our tarp, tent, clothing, kitchen, sleeping mats and bags, etc. There are those, mostly younger than us, who choose to carry 80 pounds all in one go, to cover lots of distance in one day, but that is not our way.  We, perhaps by necessity, are willing to be inefficient. We don’t feel the need to ‘see it all’ at this stage in our lives, but to ‘see’ it all.

Gazing at my husband, asleep shoulder to shoulder with me in the tiny tent this morning, I suddenly could see the old man he is becoming, and I questioned how many more years we will be out here, doing this. I felt, in my own body then, the anticipatory grief, the resistant denial, the tender letting go.

This area of the wilderness has suffered both massive blow downs and devastating wild fires, one of course setting the stage for the other.  Yesterday, we passed through a portion of the 75,000 acres burned a decade ago as a result of both natural and potentially human sparked events. At the end of a long, wearying day, I’ll admit it was disheartening for me to realize that the lake we’d landed on was one of those ravaged by fire. It did not look like the landscape I’d hoped to find. Yes, I understand the fire dependent ecosystem, it’s reliance upon natural cycles of succession. And yes, there was rejuvenation–verdant new growth where sunlight and ash and fire-released seeds have performed their alchemy, forging a burgeoning young forest. I have paddled through fresher burns than these in years past, in other wilderness areas, found breathtaking beauty in the stripped bare and resilient skin of the earth, but there is something in me this season that longs for the comfort of the Ancient, the familiar, dark and deep. Something that longs, perhaps, for Wisdom.

Perhaps it is that there is enough destruction in our world right now, that we are all walking on unfamiliar trails, as gracefully as we can, balancing precariously on these boulders unexpectedly strewn in our path, hoping that what we find on the other side looks somehow familiar. Longing for Wisdom.

I trust in the Earth’s.

We moved from that recovering lake this morning to this one. Now I sit on the perch that is a fallen White Pine, overlooking a vista that soothes. She too was likely a casualty, on the margins of that high wind event that sent millions of her sisters crashing and subsequently providing fuel for those inevitable wildfires. Before learning the story of their fate, I’d known simply that somehow I missed them here– those large white and red pine – feeling their loss on the landscape of my heart. I imagine those travelers who passed this way before me, who knew intimately this particular point of granite,  felt poignantly the loss of this particular Pine’s falling, their hearts sinking when rounding the bend to find a beloved sentinel fallen. 

Curled into the crook of her great rootball now, I trace the sliver of soil in the crack of the rock, where she once clung to life, trace the mirrored angle of one of her legs, put the pieces together. Today one long tendril of root stretches up the slope for a toehold of earth, a sip of water, so that even in this, the laying down of her life, she still produces needles, gathering sunlight into her five fingered bundles.

During our daily travels, my eye has been drawn to those of her sisters that remain standing, rising high above this canopy of spruce, cedar, fir, aspen and birch, still catching that wind, revealing its prevalence in the grace of their leeward reaching arms, being caressed by it and forged by it. Their silent vigil as we’ve paddled past them fills me with their Wisdom and peace.

Many will fall, or be felled, or flare up- to become something new, releasing a century of gathered sunlight in the process.

I too.

You too, my love.

Us too, dear world.

(*This entry was originally posted as a Prayernote for Oasis, a local to me contemplative prayer community, at their invitation. You can read my offering it in it’s original format by following this link For more of these exquisite Prayernotes, written and offered by their co-director, Glenn Mitchell, you can go directly to the Prayernote page by following this link)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: