Wilderness Homecoming – part 4* Homegoing

Homegoing –  

“To the Native people, the land was not wild. It was home’- Bill Mason, Song of the Paddle. 

Today, we paddled out, through mist laden lakes, where the silhouettes of islands slowly materialized, then disappeared. Most of Caribou Lake, which we passed through early this morning, will remain shrouded in that thin veil of fog for me–except for what was up close, which is where David Whyte suggests I should begin anyway. 

After Caribou Lake, there was yet another portage before we passed that indistinct boundary between wilderness and civilization, somewhere in the middle of a long narrow lake by the name of Lizz, though it felt to us as if her sole island at the far end stood as sentinel to that vague passage. Then, like walking down a long hallway and stepping through a curtain, suddenly we were standing on the shores of Poplar Lake, with its cottages and fishing boats, and American flags flying half mast ( ‘oh no, what has happened?’). Landing on its far banks, we climbed the hill to the lodge where we were to call our shuttle. (oh, that’s right, humans need to wear masks out here)…….   

A few days ago, while we slept, someone turned the colors on. We’d gone to bed with the subtle beginnings of autumn tawnying the landscape, and awakened to the brilliance of gold. The cedars and pine had shed their brown needles seemingly overnight, their litter coating the water’s surface like pollen in springtime.   

Throughout our last days in the wilderness, we basked in that brilliance, taking a day trip one morning over to aptly named, Vista Lake, where we had lunch-with-a-view, perched atop one of her windswept islands. The thing about islands out here is they can offer refuge in a way that making camp on the mainland cannot. We stayed 2 nights on a large island earlier in this trip, and when the winds were too blustery to sit on one side of the island, we could walk to the other and tuck ourselves into the lee of the land, where it felt 10 degrees warmer. That can happen from one end of a portage trail to the other as well… such a short distance, totally different climate….as our layers come off and back on.  

The other thing about islands, of course, is that you can get stuck there.  If the winds grow too strong, you can find yourself windbound on an island in the middle of a large lake, unable to cross the expanse between it and a sheltering shoreline along which to paddle. On the other hand, if the mainland is on fire, an island is where you want to be.   

Don and I often gather the firewood we will need for evening warmth on the exposed beaches of small islands, where the sun has dried what has fallen or washed ashore there.  I’ve noticed Ravens often roost on islands overnight, and a pregnant cow Moose swims out to an island in order to give birth in the spring. There, she and the newborn calf are less vulnerable to predators. However, they must soon make haste to the mainland, swim across that exposed channel separating it from that place of safety, in order to have access to enough food to survive.  We’ve made camp on islands in early May where we’ve had to sweep the ground with pine boughs, clearing the piles of moose scat left behind by mother and baby during their respite there. 

You quickly learn when paddling that what looks like a separate piece of land is really just the rise of the earth where it emerges above the surface of the water. Often a shoal of rocks, or lurking goonies, stretches between the mainland and an island, or at least for some distance from the ‘edge’ of it. The separation, of course, is an illusion, and an unsuspecting paddler can accidentally find herself abruptly grounded, seemingly in the middle of deep water.   

So then, where does the wilderness end?   

Though intellectually, I understand that the boundary is subtle, or even ‘unreal’, a mental construct, my body tells me it feels abrupt and stark, the climate shift real.  The world of machinery and technology, plastic and steel, containment and disconnection, rushes in like a powerful wind. I don an extra layer. Reentry (or is it exit?) feels that disorienting, the loss potent and abrupt, my very humanity at once diminished.   

Diminished?  

The essence of wilderness is the experience of being untamed – unbounded and boundaryless.   No lines between mine and yours, inside and out, sky and water, earth and me. Within that boundaryless expanse, something distinctly human in me is liberated. Free to explore, to get lost, to find belonging, to be, something latent in the human spirit comes alive and thrives, something so muted by our modern existence that it is almost entirely forgotten. Something about what it means to be, or what it feels like to be, human . Something so foreign, yet at the same so deeply intimate, that I struggle to find words to express it.  

This feeling of deep belonging is entirely different than visiting a place. Your body understands that you are not a visitor, not an outsider, nor even an observer, rather your being is seamlessly with and within You become a part of it. It becomes a part of you.. Sleeping on the earth, beneath wind rustled trees or star littered skies, drinking from her waters, sharing a moment with a wild creature, you recall this feeling of embeddedness.  Held within that vastness, something innately human awakens …a vibrantly wild kind of belonging to the earth.  

We have only islands of wilderness left in our world today, where once there was vastness.  An island, as I learned from Moose, is not enough to sustain us. The best we can now do is gather enough firewood there when we visit, to carry back ‘home’ with us for warmth.  

There is much talk about saving our diminishing wild places, yet even as we speak the words, I suspect most of us, when imagining this wild place, envision something outside of ourselves that we are losing. Few, perhaps, realize this loss OF ourselves that we experience when we are divorced from the wilderness, when it is parceled out as a thing set aside, as a thing that is separate from us. I wonder if, perhaps, it is not only the wild spaces ‘out there’ that we are beckoned to save at this crucial turning point, but something of our very humanity. The two are not separate. We need to re-place ourselves within this wild earth, as an integral part of it. 

I long to bring this wilderness-in-me back home.  I yearn for my spirit to remember what my body simply knows here. I don’t want the switch to be turned off, the colors to fade, the curtain to close. I want to remember that the island is connected under this water, that the protective lee is just a short walk away, that my inner landscape is still wild and free, a refuge worthy of preservation. But the wilderness in me is so intricately intertwined with the wilderness of the earth, I don’t know how to extricate myself and remain intact.   

But beyond my self-centered sense of loss, something tells me that when we extract our humanity from its wild place, making ourselves separate than, an ‘other’, we become capable of devaluing and desecrating what we no longer experience as home. Perhaps, then, the extraction of human beings from the earth is one of the costliest ravages of our ‘natural resources’. 

Rumi has said, “The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill, where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.” 

Unless, of course, you are lying upon the ground, beneath wind-rustled trees and star littered skies… 

Postscript

Thank you for reading along with me on this journey. Even as I read each day, I am brought back to that place, but also touched anew, somehow. These words this morning, when reading, filled my heart

“….But the wilderness in me is so intricately intertwined with the wilderness of the earth, I don’t know how to extricate myself and remain intact. But beyond my self-centered sense of loss, something tells me that when we extract our humanity from its wild place, making ourselves separate than, an ‘other’, we become capable of devaluing and desecrating what we no longer experience as home. Perhaps, then, the extraction of human beings from the earth is one of the costliest ravages of our ‘natural resources….”

especially after watching David Attenborough’s heartbreaking, yet hope-filled , ‘A life on this planet’.Here is the link to the last in the series.

In beauty we walk,V

(*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)

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Evelyne Noel
    Oct 16, 2020 @ 18:21:48

    Thank you for this.
    “So then, where does the wilderness end?”
    Perhaps in our hearts, then….

    Like

    Reply

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