this adventure of Love- day 7 – old black water

Sept 7, Burntroot morning, gray skies with occasional blue promises.

A half hour ago, there was enough sun to walk about camp bare bottomed, allowing my body to bathe in the cool, drying air after having taken a much needed bowl bath. I also hung my wet things out to dry in that promise – mostly items from my day pack, which went along on yesterday’s explorations and got soaked through in the drenched afternoon.  That canvas daypack is just not working for me on this trip. Perhaps we have not tripped in so many days of consistent rain in quite a while….

We took off in the canoe after breakfast to explore the lake south and west of camp, tracing its deeply cut shoreline of bays and coves. Numerous islands populate its more shallow waters there. Paddling south, we past a small island with half of its trees felled, laid bare by gale or gust, and around a larger one scarcely separated from the mainland by a strip of just-passable water,

Turning into the large bay, we set our sights on a spot where the map indicated there was once a depot farm here. Scraped into the thin rocky soil of this place, the farm was worked here in order to fuel the men who would fell the great white pines with their axes and saws.

Landing the canoe and climbing out onto the land there, we found the farm fields were being reclaimed by goldenrod and snapdragons, thistle and raspberry bushes, and crumbling stone foundation walls sprouting trees standing 30 feet tall. I tripped over the rusted remains of farm implements and tools — shovel heads, chains, pails –and almost stepped into a patty of bear scat. Climbing the open slope to the top of the rise, I imagined taking in that view through the notch at the entrance to the bay into the wider lake beyond while tending my garden there, and I felt something tender for this place.

Back in the canoe, circumnavigating the bay, we paddled past the remains of another decomposing ‘alligator’. Following the shoreline, we harvested a bit of firewood, sawing from the sundried limbs of old dead cedars, which were downed at the water’s edge. After loading a few of the bleached limbs into the canoe, we continued making our way out of the bay, passing more islands, as Don began trolling for trout.

We stopped for lunch along the way, at the large island, which we had noticed across the water from our campsite and where we’d spotted several canoes had landed on its long stretch of sandy beach for the night. Those paddlers had moved on early this morning and so the island was now unoccupied. Just as we pulled in, that changeable sky of the morning decided to pull its heavy blanket of clouds overhead and soon it was raining in earnest. So, we took our lunch under the cover of some low slung cedar branches, framing the view of the lake.

The long narrow island, which was almost cut in two save for a narrow strip of sand connecting its two halves, contained 2 campsites with a wild soggy land dotted with fallen trees, hillocks and mossy boulders between them. We were surprised to find the thunderboxes here were enclosed, more like a typical outhouse, and we supposed it was because the campsites were easily wandered into from the other, which would make for some startled and potentially embarrassed, bare-bottomed campers, indeed!

As we sat, waiting for the rain to subside, an older couple paddled slowly past, obviously eyeing the campsite. They’d spotted our canoe on the other side and were trying to decide if we were camped there. We stood and called to them that we were just making a lunch stop, which they were quite pleased to hear, as evidently this island has been a favorite of theirs for many years. They’ve been coming for 35 years, they said, since their twin sons were young lads. After paddling around to the back side of the island, we greeted them from our canoe, which we’d launched by then, and shared a few stories of Algonquin trips with this couple from Massachusetts.

By now, the rains had once again passed, the blue of the sky peeking out in widening gaps between departing clouds, then almost clearing completely, and we were feeling energized by the feel of the sun on our faces and food in our bellies. We decided to paddle up the lake, agreeing to stay on the water for another hour, paddling a half an hour north and then turning back. It was 2:45 by then and that would get us back in camp before 4.

No sooner had we headed north into the wider expanse of the now windy lake, Don trolling again, than he hooked a large lake trout, reeling it up for a long time until it was directly beneath the canoe. We were both pretty excited, but just that quickly, as Don reached forward to hand me the net, inadvertently easing up on the line’s tension, the trout slipped from the hook and was gone.

We were both quite disappointed, as we’d really enjoyed the trout we’d eaten for dinner back on Catfish Lake, and my tummy especially was ready for something solid and salty and fresh. I was having a bit of tummy trouble, having to run quite a few times today (not an uncommon problem for me) which I suspected was from eating a few too many nuts, at least that is what I hoped that it was. _DSF5141

On again, off again, seemed to be the theme of the afternoon! for now it was sprinkling rain on us once again, although the sky was still bright in places! That excited me too, somehow— perhaps it was the energy in the air, or the unpredictable surprises that it promised. On the lookout for what I felt was a certain rainbow, we paddled and trolled, heading toward a small campsite on a point on the western shoreline that I wanted to check out.  Just as we were nearing the landing, a rumble of thunder, which seemed to be just over the lip of land to our west, filled the air.

Glad to be near the shore rather than in the center of this large lake, we landed the canoe in a small sheltered cove around the side of the campsite and climbed out onto the land, just as a second thunderclap sounded overhead.   Making our way around and away from the point with its tall trees, we noted that the campsite itself was really quite tiny and evidently unused.  I couldn’t even identify where I might pitch our small tent there.

In the shelter of the cove, I crouched down low to the ground, my head on my knees, just as the storm driven rain began to pelt. Within moments that pelting was hail- marble sized- flailing our shoulders. It was then that I broke into a laugh. It was hailing on us! And it was Cold! What a wildly unpredictable day!

Soon enough, the storm passed, and after emptying the canoe of the inches of rain it seemed to have collected in its wake, we set off for camp, rounding the northern islands before turning south toward home. Curious, we’d spotted what appeared to be, from the distance, a great fallen tree stretched out between them, with its broken off knobby knees lining its length, but as we began to paddle towards it, we soon understood that it was a rocky shoal, lined with dozens of cormorants, which all at once took off at our approach.

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sadly, the cormorants are killing the trees

Headed south, with Don trolling again, we came around the point, now deserted, where we had once hoped to make camp, and got out of the boat to give it a look, deciding that, as things had turned out,  we’d landed upon one of the nicest campsites on the lake after all. The dark waters and wild sky continued to fill me with awe — light and dark, water and sky, sun and rain, wind and calm–how to explain that feeling of wild vibrancy and utter peace all at once?  Coming back to our island with that play of light captivating me, I tried to capture its beauty, in vain, with my camera.

A family of mergansers crossing the choppy water, near our camp, reflected my joy on the water. And then we were home, on solid ground, tackling the evening chores. (that hour long promise had turned into 3 and it was just after 6, by now) The dry, bleached firewood we’d gathered before lunch was quite soaked, and Don worked at splitting some of it, while I took care of water and food. Again, there was dish washing and the hanging of gear to dry.

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the perfect end to a perfect day

 

The moon is now casting a shimmer over the water, but still, that fabulous sky is changing its mind. Just a moment ago a gray cover spread over us, spritzing mist upon our shoulders. I have finished sipping my fennel tea, so soothing to my tummy, and the fire is beginning to die. The air has grown quite chilly.

These days have been so full, in such a good way, but I feel as if I have such little time to write because of that. I barely have enough time to jot down these notes of what we DID each day that there is no time to explore how it FEELS– to honor the beauties both seen and felt– to express how terribly intimate it all feels here– with Don and with this place. I suppose these things will just have to be remembered/cherished in my heart.

 

 

this adventure of Love- day 6

 

_DSF5088Morning on the ridge, the water below, silver and black, sleek as an otter’s back

I awoke to rain on the tent at 6:30, tucked myself into the sleeping bag and waited for the shower to pass. We have no need to push today.

I have just been jotting down bullets from yesterday’s travels, so as not to forget, as I had no time at all to record the day’s passage and then fell into a fast sleep as soon as I crawled into the tent last night. It was indeed long day – 10 hours or so all tolled-  but I am most grateful for Don’s willingness to turn back (‘I think I have another hour of paddling in me’ 🙂 ) when we no appealing place to rest our heads in Red Pine Bay. That detour and search added 3 hours to our  — an hour over to the Bay, an hour or so investigating campsites, an hour back to this spot.

This beautiful spot. _DSF5092

9 o’clock in the evening

I’d awakened this morning with a terrible headache. I wondered if it might be a touch of dehydration , but drinking water didn’t help, so I tried an Advil/Tylenol combo, which also offered less relief than I’d hoped for. Finally I tried a decongestant, as I was having a difficult time breathing with my mouth closed–smoke from the night’s cooking fire seems to have inflamed my sinuses a bit. That did the trick, and I felt sooo much better throughout the remainder of the morning that I understood how folks might’ve first imagined making recreational drugs from Sudafed.

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We had a lovely breakfast, overlooking that water, then set about with the camp chores, which we’d shortcut our way through last evening… wood gathering and tarp pitching (which, frustratingly, took WAYYY too long until we were satisfied with its pitch over the kitchen fire ). I am tucked beneath that tarp now, our damp clothes from the day’s paddling adventures hanging from its diagonal ridgeline in the heat (and smoke!) of the fire. The tarp, backed up to the rise of granite behind us, is capturing the heat from the fire nicely. Unfortunately, it is also capturing the smoke, funneling it efficiently into my nasal passages.

We left camp around noon to head over to Lake LaMuir for a poke around. The portage across to Lake LaMuir takes off from the east end of Red Pine Bay, about an hour’s paddle from here. It was already raining lightly when we left camp, but we both decided it would better to be out on the water– with it’s silky, sleek, silver invitation – than to be stuck sitting tucked up into the corner of the tarp shelter all day.

_DSF5096Most of the west facing shorelines here — peninsulas and islands as well-  are steep walls of lichen-dabbled granite, thinly populated by red pine, with some white pine and cedar interspersed. Around each point or curve of land, one finds the opposite shoreline then  to be a stretch of sandy beach. Following those curves of land, we passed by what we have named as ‘blowdown point’, where those tenacious red pines lost their hold in what must’ve been a tremendous wind.

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Sentinel Island

We paddled past the sentinel , red pine studded island that guards the entrance to Red Pine Bay. We paddled past the campsite with the uprooted tree and the old rusted, square-faced shovel with the hand carved handle.

 

 

The portage to Lake La Muir was a lovely, dark and deep walk through a forested landscape. It rose up and rolled down, crossed several long boardwalks over what is probably often quite boggy, if not standing (or running) water, though not at all so with this summer’s drought. Still, the portage itself was fairly wet with the rains of the last few days, making roots and rocks slick. It was a more challenging portage than we have had on this trip thus far, with rocky areas to maneuver and step-downs to balance with the canoe on my shoulders. Too bad the footing was so precarious, as Don had hoped to carry the boat on the way back.

Lake La Muir was so lovely with its deeply cut shoreline and islands, even shrouded in gray (which may have lent an air of mystery to it this day), even in the heavy rain we encountered there.

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lunch with a view

We both felt that this is a lake we would like to revisit one day. We stopped by two of the three welcoming campsites along its north shore (one was occupied by campers busily erecting a tarp for shelter from the elements), and lunched on the obliging root at the back edge of a sandy beach landing at the 3rd one. By the time we’d finished lunch, it was 3:30, so, reluctantly, we decided to head back to camp, arriving here a little past 5:30.

More evening chores were taken care of – Don rebuilding the stone fire circle, me taking care of water and dinner prep, then cleanup — and now here we sit by the fire, beneath that carefully pitched tarp, which had filled up with water while we were out.

Loons now call and echo in the bay.

Another blessed day in Algonquin.

This adventure of Love – day 5

Morning, Sept 7

The day was so full, from dawn until dark, that I had no time at all to pick up my journal at all yesterday, so I am now (the morning after) jotting down impressions of the day, so as not to forget all of its wonders…..

As we fell into sleep, the night before last, after closing my journal in the tent, we were serenaded by a pair of barred owls, volleying their ‘who cooks for you’ across the lake. Soon, it was morning and the loon call alarm beckoned us forth from the tent into a fog, pinkened by the rising sun, which was draping the islands across the lake in its softness. Don called me to the edge, next to him, to breathe it in, each of us sighing deeply of the gift. The pause was a good reminder to slow down and breathe even on a day that feels as if there is much to do and too much distance to cover. Don raised his mug in a toast of gratitude to the exquisite dawn.

We were on the water by 7:45, paddling into that lingering fog, through the narrows, where we spotted an otter sliding into the water, and soon enough were dipping our paddles into the lower reaches of Catfish lake, where we were surprised to find several campsites occupied by early morning risers making coffee by their fires, and a flotilla of loons—at least 10 of them– paddling those early morning waters. We’d heard their calls by dawn, and now we understood why their chorus seemed so full.

Into the windy Petawawa, where Catfish Lake narrows into her beautiful banks, we made our way, landing at our first portage 90 minutes after leaving camp, where there was a small tidy campsite tucked into the end of the portage. A visit to the box there found it to be neat too.

Three easy portages of around 400 meters each laced together the paddle-able sections of the river here. At one point, we beached ourselves on an unexpected sandy shoal in the middle of one of those sections, where we disembarked and pulled the boat through, and we tried once, in vain, to paddle UP a short 85 meter section of water rather than unload and carry around it. That exercise mocked our vanity as the current being pushed through that narrow, shallow section proved too much for our paddles. We laughed at ourselves for thinking otherwise.

A young couple, doing single carries, passed us by on the last of the 3 portages, just before the widening of the Petawawa becomes enough for it to be renamed as a Lake- Lake Perley. The efficiency of their youth made us smile as we pulled alongside the bank before the last portage to yield to them. They were going much farther than we were this day, and we had time to spare, so we thought. They were terribly polite, in an authentic way, that reinforced to me the gifts bestowed to those of us who are invited into this encounter with nature here. He had been a canoe camp counselor for many years at a boys camp nearby, instilling values of reverence and respect, which were revealed in his actions. This is a Good life.

Then we too were out onto long, long, long Perley Lake, in a headwind that was being funneled by her east west orientation. Each time we thought we were surely coming upon the end of the lake and began looking for the portage sign, she would take a slight bend and continue along her way. Finally, we arrived at her end, at picturesque Portal rapids, where we took a late lunch (it was near 2 o’clock by then) on the boulders piled up at the passage into Burntroot Lake. Don picked up the canoe, feeling the satisfaction of at-last being able to do so without pain, and carried it to the other side, a 155 meter carry, while I laid out our midday meal.

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Burntroot Lake, large and with a reputation for getting rowdy when stirred up by the winds. We weren’t sure how she might greet us this afternoon, and we poured over the map while eating, planning our route in the event of a hard paddle. We hoped to make camp in Red Pine Bay at her southeastern most end (though we’d noticed just then on the map that Red Pine Bay requires a separate permit from the Lake proper). A young man we’d met earlier in the day, going the other way, suggested a beauty of a site on the point as the lake turns towards the east into Red Pine Bay, and we thought we’d take a look at it on the way past. He’d been windbound there for a few days, he’d said, and the panoramic view from it (both sunrises AND sunsets) had made it a quite tolerable layover.

We were pleasantly surprised , however (perhaps I was more anxious than I needed to be) at the ease by which we paddled her length, especially after the laboriousness of the paddle on east-west facing Perley lake. Two hours of paddling and we were entering the channel that opens into Red Pine Bay, past the granite sided cliff on the island that sentinels the entrance. We had passed the campsite, suggested by the young man, at around 3 in the afternoon, in the midst of the haze into which the morning fog had burned. We were getting tired by then. we’d been paddling for 7 hours or so and were ready to make camp, but wanted to get to the Bay. Unfortunately, Red Pine Bay did not live up to the romance of its name. Of the 6 sites on the water there, perhaps 3 of them were ok, but they were each taken. We had reservations for 3 nights here and didn’t feel as if any of the remaining sites was welcoming enough for a longer stay. We were discouraged, but Don said he had an hour more of paddling in him, so…..

Back to Burntroot Lake proper, we paddled, past the inviting view of the alpine bog that leads into Spiza Lake, past the windblown point where the tall red pines were felled like matchsticks, and stopping to check out one campsite at the end of Burntroot Lake on our way back to the one the young man had suggested. Of course, by then his recommended site was taken. We’d said hello to a young couple, paddling the opposite direction, on our way past it the first time. They’d checked it out and decided to stay.

We turned southwest then to paddle around the islands there, hoping to find an inviting place to make camp. By now it was 6 o’clock and we were more than ready to find a campsite. On our way past this part of the lake earlier, we’d hugged the far shoreline and couldn’t really make out much of it in the hazy afternoon glare. So, we were really relieved to find this island site we have landed upon, with its high ridge of granite facing the setting sun, and its protected campfire area down below. Its a smallish fingerlike site on the narrow end of an island, and quite unique. Access to the water from the point or the eastern shore is easy enough for fetching water and loading and unloading the canoe, and the tent site we have chosen is nestled quite cozily into the crook. The box is a far walk on this long narrow site, but there is a surprising amount of downed wood beyond it.

The most distinguishing feature of this site is a large anchor, evidently left behind from the logging era. It would’ve been employed by an ‘alligator’, an amphibious vehicle that was used to wench corrals of logs across the lakes. The island is colloquially named ‘Anchor Island’ for this reason.

We just had enough time to pitch the tent and cook dinner before the sun set. We sat with our bowls on the ridge, grateful for the gracious view of the sky, its low lying clouds now set ablaze. Then, we quickly cleaned up and were soon enough asleep in our tent.

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this adventure of love – day 4, let there be rest

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.  It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”  – Thomas Merton

Day 4, Sept 4-noon

It poured overnight, the rain gushing in gullies down the hillsides into the lake. Rivulets ran beneath the corner of the tent, though we stayed bone dry within its shelter. (Good tent!) A few times the lightning and thunder cracked simultaneously overhead, seemingly right atop us, making me catch my breath. However, the earth here is in such need of replenishing rains, I also exhaled some gratitude, for her sake.

The temperatures this morning have not been terribly cold – perhaps 50-55 degrees or so- though it is quite blustery, with these drying winds chasing after those departing storms. The winds seems to have shifted direction throughout the morning and now are blowing from the northwest, where they were pushing steadily from the southwest earlier. I imagine the game of tag up there is getting playful- like rainclouds like children dodging the outstretched fingers of those gusts, causing the forward motion of that chaser to be diverted into aboutfaces and spinning spirals. Down below, we’ve also reoriented the tarp as a windbreak, so we are warm and dry enough.

Whitecaps break on the lake.

The bay around the corner should be more protected and we may take the boat for a troll around its perimeter again, gather some firewood, fish for a bit. It seems that drawing that whopping trout forth from the bottom of the lake yesterday thrilled Don in a way that he wants to feel again.

At some point this afternoon, I do need to look at the tent. Though the tent fly shielded us admirably from last night’s storm, the zipper on the interior tent screen has come loose from the fabric and the teeth won’t hold shut. I hope that by sewing the zipper back into place and trimming the frayed edges, the zipper itself might stay on track too. While we don’t really need that insect screen this time of the year, we do need shelter from elements.

We had toyed with the idea of moving today, getting a few hours paddling in, to the far end of Catfish, at least, or even as far as Perley Lake, as our planned route tomorrow from this northernmost point of Catfish Lake south to Red Pine Bay may be a long one. I felt fairly fatigued yesterday for some reason after the day’s paddling, and the idea of putting some easy miles in today began to percolate then as I pondered tomorrow’s longer push. Alas, the wind has made the decision for us. While we may not be truly windbound, (who knows what it might be like out there), there is no need to battle these waves today, which would counter my desire to make tomorrow’s trip less strenuous anyway. We are content to stay in place. Besides, a day in camp to rest may accomplish the same.

Rest.

All of those trips during the months of July and August, as host and trip leader- and so, the one ultimately responsible –seem to have taken a toll on my energy. So many times, already on this trip, I have been grateful for the more equal sharing of responsibilities with Don, been grateful to allow him to carry something for me – both literally and metaphorically. I was juggling (mothering?) a lot on those trips- logistics, food, gear, meal prep, inexperienced paddlers, personalities!, negative attitudes (whining), people’s happiness, details, challenging water levels – not to mention the calendar!

I am still devastated when I think of how I dropped the most cherished ball, which was my future daughter-in-law’s bridal shower. That was the most essential date on my calendar for the summer, for which I had rearranged everything else to be in attendance, and still I somehow managed to mess that up. I so wanted to be there for her, for my son, for MYSELF!, to be a part of that circle of women, welcoming her into our family fold, to BE there with all of my daughters-in-law, my granddaughters. I am still both stunned and disconcerted at how I could have gotten the time on that day wrong. I had driven the whole way home from Ontario just for that very important-to-me day! I only hope that in dropping that ball something precious was not shattered.

It is always so hard to forgive myself. My self-recrimination, as usual, is quite painful. My fear (insecurity?) over losing my son’s love is great. I continue to hope that someday I will dwell in a place of safety – though I realize that this safety must come first from within myself, I must be the one who will not abandon myself as unlovable for falling short. Old wounds here run deep.

Relationships ARE important to me, however. Perhaps that’s why I stress over them so much, worry so much about giving enough to them. I expect my anxiety is not a symptom (of my ill-conceived notion) that my heart hasn’t isn’t engaged enough/doesn’t love enough, as it is a sign that it is deeply connected, quite sensitive and, so, feels much. Perhaps the shift needs to happen in me as to what a healthy heart looks like to BE in relationship. Is it about me ‘doing’ enough in order to be loved, to be secure, or is there something else I am missing.

More so than (or perhaps in addition to) that relational exhaustion, however, the fatigue that I am experiencing here may have to do with having given away THIS sacred place -where I experience the quiet replenishment and deep re-grounding of myself in Who I am- by making these trips to Algonquin about providing hospitality to others…an outward flow of energy, with no time or place left for refilling myself. (hmmm, back to the previous paragraph, perhaps the hospitality/welcome I need to be offering is to myself?)

I also am noticing that in order to act as trip leader, I am needing to tap into what sometimes is named as a masculine energy – an organized, efficient, list-making, planning, providing-for, task oriented, productive, busy, well-oiled machine (ew, even that word coming forth is quite telling) part of me that is required to be directive, assertive, and take charge. Not to mention the physical components of being at the helm! I am uncomfortable in that role, this is true, but what I also realize is that living from that space over time drains me, and parches my feminine soul. It’s paradoxical for me to think of these actions as masculine, however, since these responsibilities are also what it looked like to be a mother of a tribe of kids in this modern world. However, earlier this summer, while listening to a female speaker who was addressing what it means to nurture our feminine energy and the myriad ways in which our culture has usurped both the definition and the role of the feminine, it rang so true, I was suddenly, unexpectedly brought to tears.

I always try to pay attention when something strikes my heart with a lightning bolt like that.

What would it look like for me to allow someone to care for me, to let go of my need for control, to allow myself to receive, to be still. Silent, DO nothing? How might my creative, loving self, my inner wisdom be freed to come forth? I sometimes think my fatigue is my body’s way of forcing me to me to stillness, inviting me to reorient my life, as we did that tarp, so that it is not being buffeted.

I expect that this is also at the root of my dis-ease over these years, in my resistance to taking on too much daily child-care responsibility for my grandchildren (assuming/resuming a more mothering role). Something within me knew that chapter in my life was over. It expressed itself in exhaustion. I was simply drained from being in that doing-for/taking care of role—and all of the busy-ness that it entails—and ready for a new way of being. And again, it is not that I do not love deeply, but that a part of me was simply tapped. Like a maple pouring forth her sweet sap, I know I am deeply rooted in love, but it was time to pull the tap in this season of my life, so that I was not drained, and more so that my natural colors during this autumn season of my life might be revealed as a new kind of gift. I am no longer who I was when I was at the mother stage of my life. Something has shifted in me, something deep within me that needed to let go of all of that doing, all of that busy-ness, at this stage in my life—something in truth that cannot even perform in that way any longer — something that wants to have permission instead to simply ‘be’.

That was the unexpected, yet richly appreciated, gift in the annual ‘Daddy-daughter’ camping trip this summer for me – my sons took over completely the meal prep, and, freed from that responsibility, I was available to show up with simply my Self. It was a beautiful time for me to be WITH my granddaughters, to be present, to bear witness, to share of my self…. to be Love.

To be Loved.

Allowing myself to fail (or say ‘no’) and believe that I will still be loved. Allowing myself to receive another’s doing-for me. Allowing myself to simply Be ( without doing) Love. That’s a lot of letting go, a lot of learning, too.

Letting go of control, and allowing myself to be nurtured, also in THIS place, Algonquin, which I also love, without feeling as if, even here, I have to perform- giving myself away until I am weary to my bones- is perhaps the message for me to hear in this forced-to-be-still day. I think I have mistakenly believed that, even here, I needed to earn love, to earn my place. I wonder, how is it that I twist the desire to share this place with others, which flows naturally from within me, and from a place of love—for both the other and for this place—into something that drains me? Why do I repeat that relational pattern? How does love become so exhausting? Is it conditioning, some internalized learning about what it means to be worthy? What it means to be valued, or valuable? To be a contributing, and so welcomed, member? Or is it simply that I take on too much?

Could it be that there is something in the nature of the relationship even here in this place that needs to shift – into one of being-with rather than doing-for. This is the deep sigh that I feel when I am here with Don. We are here WITH one another, both of us working (sometimes quite hard) side by side. (Or, perhaps more fittingly, equally yoked in the canoe) No one leading or carrying a disproportionate weight, neither of us responsible for the other, yet supportive of each other. Ours is a relationship of mutuality, a reciprocal one, and so it creates this feeling of ease. I do not need to be a mother here.

Perhaps I should simply safeguard this place as a place of retreat and self-nurture? Besides, it hurt deeply to have that negative energy, which felt so very adolescent in it’s expression and was so prevalent on one of this summer’s trips, trample on what is sacred ground to me, and so to trample upon the gift I had offered.

Yesterday, I was reading about the wonders of soil, its lavish generosity, the abundance of life that it holds and brings forth, but also the ways in which it is depleted if the nurture it offers is simply drawn from it year after year, with no fallow years, with no replenishment, with heavy things bearing down upon it. It seems that the earth, and we bodies who are made of it, is a finite source. It takes 1000 years to rebuild an inch of topsoil , which we so irreverently scrape away with our plows for the nurture it offers up, leaving nothing to hold it in place. Then when those storms, like the one we had last night, deluge , that precious life-giving soil is carried away, eroded. (Or, conversely, in dry times, blown away by those chasing winds) When the author spoke these words, in reference to those great dust storms, “It was as if the soil had no strength. Exhausted and depleted, it couldn’t hold itself together’, I felt that in my own bones, that dissipation, that pulling apart…

As I ponder this life transition, which has been this journey from motherhood to crone, I realize today that much of what I have been both intuiting and experiencing is right and true. Something indeed must shift at this time of life. Call it energy. Call it Center. Call it the earth. And, as with any birth/transition, perhaps the movement begins in resistance, and ends in a new way of being. Perhaps all of my railing against, all of the pushing against, all of the confusion and pain even, all of this fatigue, was necessary to usher myself into this new place, this new way of being and seeing. Something deep within me knew it was time – time to change. The problem is that our cultural values are so built upon the values inherent in those productive, householder years of Doing-for, that we can’t see the value, the meaning, in the ways of Being in quieter, less active lifestyles of  It can be hard to frame who you are as worthy when worthiness is based upon what can you DO.

Evening.

The wind continued to bluster throughout the afternoon. I didn’t really feel up to steadying the canoe while Don fished, so we stayed in camp. While Don busied himself with gathering firewood, I attempted to repair the tent, sewed the hole and trimmed and turned under the fraying seam, but the zipper still won’t hold shut. Perhaps it too has held it together long enough.

We lunched down below, in the cove in the lee of the granite shelf, where it was good to be out of the insistent wind for a bit. Afterwards, I baked a bannock for tomorrow’s breakfast, as we hope to make an early getaway in the morning. Coffee is in the thermos in the foot of my sleeping bag. We’ll need no cooking fire in the morning. Just bannock and ‘warm’ thermos-ed coffee and we’ll be on our way.

As it turned out, the midday seemed to revolve around food, for soon after I finished baking the bannock, I began prep for an early dinner. We were hoping that with evening would come calmer waters for paddling. That turned out to hold true (as it may be in the evening of life too). The waters were indeed calm, the light lovely, and several beavers came out to swim with us, as we slowly explored the perimeter of this northern arm of the lake. The evening  paddle lifted my energy, once again. Each time I kneel in the hull, it seems my serenity expands, my spirit rises.

We stopped to climb out of the boat and explore a few campsites down in the narrows too, one of which is an amazing site with a view of the bog/marsh on one side and a long view of the island studded lake from the other. Again, I immediately began to imagine friends I could bring to this place, how they would love it here too, how I would love to share it with them. There I go again. You see, my heart does so long to connect and to share.

Share perhaps is the operative word.

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low water level line

As we paddled we noted the low water levels, so evident again in a striking waterline ‘painted’ on the granite shoreline. Even a place as love-ly, as abundant, as this sometimes needs some replenishment. Perhaps it will rain again overnight. I do hope so.

A fire and star gazing to the song of the loons ended our picture perfect evening. Now I am looking forward to tomorrow’s paddle. I must sleep though, for the 6 am wakeup will come quick. For now, the lullaby of loons lures me back into stillness.

Evening paddle

this adventure of love- day 3

Day 3, September 3

Early morning

We tucked into our down bags shortly after 9:30 last evening. I awakened once or twice throughout the night to clear skies, those slow trolling flotillas of clouds at last having slid into port somewhere east of us. On one of those mid night calls, I made my way out to the point to drink in the milky way, noticing that the dipper was also plunging her ladle into those waters, her bowl almost making contact in the northwestern bay.

The morning waters now are just beginning to ripple, after the stillness of dawn, and a low scattering of clouds, thin, is beginning to build, settling in to cover….or perhaps pass over as did those great spreading fans in succession last evening. This morning, however, they seem to be moving from the east back to the west, as if they are in a great spiraling dance above us.

We are not moving today, so I do not need to move either. Breakfast can wait. Don can sleep. I can be. Still, beneath a dancing sky.

Later

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We went out fishing before breakfast, paddling past the sentinel islands and into the fingerlike bay in the gradually graying morning. The bright berries of Mountain Ash punctuated the banks, lending the sweetness of ripening that things only can do when they’ve matured.

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After trolling down one shoreline and back up the other, I climbed from the boat in a small cove tucked into the south shore, where a great pile of sunbleached logs had gathered, their trunks twisted and curled about each other, like lover’s limbs, where they lay. It reminded me of a pile of bones in a mass grave. This morning, we’d heard the lumber trucks motoring along a logging road somewhere to the north of us. The vestiges of the logging industry all about us here in this lush landscape– the rusted alligator, the remains of the log chute, the simple cross marking the death of a log driver – remind me of the tenacity and resilience of life, but also the oft-short sightedness of man who commoditizes its gifts, forgetting that he is an integral part of our mutual thriving.

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The fishing line came back empty, so we returned to camp with our empty bellies to fill them instead with pancakes, cooked over the fire. It was already 10:30 by then. So, fairly hungry and hunched over beneath the kitchen tarp, the cooking of those pancakes, one at a time in my little skillet, seemed a protracted process. I soon realized I’d forgotten to pack maple syrup (sprinkling the buttered tops with sugar made the last batch more palatable). Finally, after boiling the same pot of water one too many times (I’d not heated enough for the cleanup), I was more than ready to be back out on the water, as we set off again to explore. Upon kneeling in the boat again, that feeling of what I can only describe as a deep sigh, through my own weary bones, flowed into and out from me.

Catfish lake is really quite beautiful, with its many fingers and larger bays, some of them quite isolated from the main body of the lake, offering a wide variety of habitats – from meandering wetlands to high rocky cliffs. It harbors wide open waters, island studded bays, and jutting peninsulas. Through the narrows that lead out of this northeastern bay, we paddled, noticing the remarkable water lines, some 2 feet above the current water level, on the rocks there.

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Past turtle rock and around ‘Shangri La’ island we traveled, getting out of the boat once, on a long point of land jutting out into the water, to explore a campsite there. On to the southernmost end where the lake narrows again into the wide sweeping curves of the Petawawa river, we continued. With the low water levels, large swaths of sandy shoals were exposed around those broad bends. We noticed several beaver lodges with their ‘underwater’ doorways exposed and others that appeared to be suddenly stranded on sand spits. Stopping for lunch around 1:30 at the last site on the lake, we too were surrounded by marsh.

As we were boarding the canoe after lunch, a light rain began to fall, and so we donned our raingear before launching to head back to camp. The rain bounced on the water in a rhythmic cadence, increasing in tempo as the drizzle grew to a shower, as we also began paddling a more deliberate pulse. Still, the lake was quite beautiful, with its high knobs and shallow notches bathed in gray.

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By the time we arrived in our bay, an hour later, the rains had temporarily ceased. So, Don decided to try his hand at trolling the last stretch. Just as we were pulling close to our campsite, a strong pull on his line indicated he’d caught something- either a large fish or the lake bottom. In fact, he wasn’t sure which it was up to the last moment, when the line was directly beneath the boat, drawing his rod into a great arch. By then he thought he surely was snagged, when suddenly out from the water emerged a 21” lake trout, speckled with gold.

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It’s funny how we can’t always discern what that tug might be. I know that I struggle with this so much of the time. Is this thing I feel just in my head, or is it real? There are so many tugs and pulls, so many stirrings in my belly. Are such nudges merely what it means to be a sentient being? Does any one particularly strong pull mean that I should act, or is it something I can release? Am I being invited to bring it up to the surface, so that it can be released, or should i let it lie? Is it even mine to grab hold of in the first place? To what call do I respond? Could that heart tug be anchoring me…for good or for bad…or will my persistent attention to it draw forth something wet and wiggling into my hands to offer its nourishment, guilded with gold? .

Delectable, pink fleshed, seasoned just right, we dined on the fresh fish with delight, grateful for the gift. I wondered if the fish tasted so delicious somehow because she had so recently been alive- breathing in oxygen, swimming in these waters of life. In this strange earth, of life and death, where one thing naturally gives up its life so that another may live in this reciprocality of being, what does it mean that the fish, that ate the frog, that ate the insect, that drank the nectar, that gathered in the bloom, that blossomed on the stalk, that grew from the earth, is now a part of me.

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Now we are beneath the tarp again, the fire keeping us warm and dry. It is blowing mist, and quite gray. I’m pretty tired tonight, though it is only 7 o’clock. I think I will be headed to the tent before long.

this adventure of love- an interlude

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Two months have passed since the days documented here took place. Flipping through the pages of my journal, I am transported back, and I get to relive those exquisite moments. One simple sentence opens an entire scene for me, and small unrecorded details come pouring through that opened door – I feel my body picking along that rock strewn shoreline in the mist, my feet finding tenuous footing, my arms pulling the bleached limb free, my fingers caressing its stunning smoothness— I recall balancing the pail of water as I pull it and my body up over that rockface at the water’s edge… I hear the profound quiet of that evening paddle….inhale the scent of pine underfoot in the campsite.

After almost 2 months, all tolled, in Algonquin this summer, I admit it took some time for my spirit to return to me here. I felt a bit like an alien landing in a strange, disorienting, noisy, busy world, or a zombie perhaps – my body was here, being moved by outside influences of routine and commitment, but its animating force hadn’t yet caught up. Going through the motions (fake it til you make it?) and feeling a little lost, I finally grounded myself here by reconnecting with the earth in this place, too- taking my camera along with me on a few hikes to help me see beauty here- and reconnecting with those whom I love in this place. Connection to that love within myself brought me back home.

I have come to understand that my days in Algonquin are profoundly spiritual ones for me…mountaintop experiences in that low relief land of water and sky. The combination of singular presence, deep attention, love, beauty, body and spirit alignment, silence, intimacy, and pace all contribute to that experience. I am fairly certain that there are other mysteries, beyond my ability to see or understand, that also make it a sacred place for me. Perhaps the scents, chemicals, songs of water or bird, curve of land against the water, vastness of sky, deep darkness… are calling something home to me, perhaps something ancestral, perhaps something healing, perhaps something of belonging, perhaps something human that is buried in the world of man-made artifices.

I recently read a facebook post where the sharer stated ‘This is the place where we pay our annual pilgrimage. The building there is the gatehouse to the cathedral’ (the building in his post was the office where canoe campers check in and pick up their permits). Yes, Algonquin is truly a pilgrimage for many of us, this rhythmic return to a place that is sacred, involving the slow, steady journey over land and water, where the physical, daily work of our bodies combines with the quieting of our minds and the opening of our hearts, where we encounter something perhaps ineffable, yet vital. And, as with any unspeakable experience of the sacred, any attempt to share them with those who have not felt it, who cannot possibly grasp its life-affirming reality, can cheapen it. Online connections with like-spirited folks, who get it– because they have tasted it, love it, understand the draw for More– can help with those feelings of disconnection, isolation, and alienation.

Last evening, I listened to an interview with a film-maker, who also keeps returning time and again to Algonquin because she experiences something profound there. The artist in her keeps trying to capture and express what it is that she feels in that place. She explained that this is what artists attempt to do… bring forth/ make tangible, that which is felt or experienced, no matter how unreachable is that hope to do so. It drives us to go back, seeking the essence of that feeling, and drives us to craft something real to pay homage to it. Like those ancients in biblical times, or ancestors from the great north, with their impulse to erect a cairn to honor a place where the sacred was encountered, we humans long for something to bear witness, giving expression to our wonder.

That I attempt to do so with words is a great paradox, because we are speaking of experiences deeper than words, for which the attempt to name them only makes them slip farther from grasp. Perhaps these words open the door for me alone. Perhaps only I can enter through the portal they create in me, into that space of physical wonder.

I know that my partner can walk through that door with me too – because the memory of the stories is also in him. A few years ago, when he was in so much agony following a traumatic injury to his body, when strong pain medications – oxycodone and morphine, both—were unable to touch his pain, he asked me through tears, to please read to him from the journals of our most recent trip to Algonquin. The words soothed him, almost instantly, as he was transported. Perhaps he left his body behind, traveling with me to that place of peace, beauty, and love. And so, I know that these words at least capture a drop of its healing essence.

However, I also realize that the sacred, which I experience out there, is also deep within myself, and it is that wild soul dancing, my Real self, awakened, alive and intact, keenly present to Beauty and in Love, a self that is competent and unfettered, a self that thrives without mirrors and walls, without façade, fear, self-doubt or shame, a self without striving to fit in or belong, because it is born from wilderness and in wilderness it returns home – that I encounter out there and truly wish to bring back with me. How to distill that healing medicine, bring that home? Because while Algonquin is indeed powerfully magical, it is who and how I am, and how I simply am who I am, when I am there that I most miss when I return. And like all spiritual experiences – on pilgrimage or retreat – the challenge is bringing that experience of the Real back into my everyday life.

That requires some turtle medicine, perhaps, for she reminds me that I carry my home with me wherever I go, and that my true Self is contained within, always.

On this day, we paddled past turtle island, an aboriginal spiritual site. In the Anishinabee creation story, Turtle offers his back in the midst of a watery world to Sky Woman, who has fallen through a hole in the sky, grasping onto a fistful of seeds from the tree of life on her way through. Her dancing in gratitude upon his back- after the creatures of the waters, one after another, have dived to the bottom of the lake for the mud, which they understood she needed- causes the soil to grow. It is there that both nourishment and life for the creatures of the land began.

And so…. on to day 3

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this adventure of love- day 2

Day 2 – Sept 2

I have been up for an hour or so, since a little before 7. Don is just beginning to stir. I have just now settled, coffee in hand, into my perch, overlooking this boulder strewn river. Kingfisher is busying himself, catching his breakfast. Ours is prepared, waiting, tucked into the cozy to steep.

I hear Don beginning to pack up the tent. I will let that be, for now, not jump, like a knee jerk to the reflexive hammer, at the sound. I have been busy enough with my own morning chores – fire tending, water gathering, breakfast preparing. Division of labor is a good thing.

I slept so sweetly to the song of the river, rose just once to attend to the water in my bladder, and then to the stars at water’s edge. It was startlingly clear then, though by morning a blanket had pulled itself over the sky – like a child not wanting to get up, or like Don when the night is too clear!

However, it was warm sleeping last night -warm this morning too- and I am kicking myself for digging into those extra clothes now. That night in the campground was dangerously tempting, with all of those extra items of clothing at close hand in the car. I so easily could have layered what was already in my pack. Sigh. Oh well, perhaps later in the trip, I will be grateful for that cold opening in the campground. Who knows?

Now. A loon wails in the distance. Crows squawk nearer by. River babbles. Around and between these, silence. With no man-made sounds at all, I feel my body unwind, even with all of yesterday’s physical work.

I can let go here, with Don. Breathe. Be still. Be here.

The grasses are ripening, their seed heads, tawny and full. Joe Pye and Goldenrod add splashes of color to the autumning landscape, each finding purchase wherever they can in the river bed, in rock crevasses, upon seasonal islets. The bracken is browning. Even cedar and pine are shedding the needles they will release this autumn, as their cones- golden on cedar – fill up on waning sunlight.

The small maple on the islet’s caribou-moss-covered knoll blazes orange already, announcing the coming to its neighbors on hillsides and ridges, like a child to the adults surrounding her when she spies something exciting upon the horizon.

so much more detail to share – the bright red of low blueberry, chokeberries in purples and reds on the same branch… but it is time to move along now.

Afternoon @2:00 pm

We have landed on beautiful, peaceful Catfish Lake. We have the place to ourselves, at least this northeastern bay, where we came into the lake from Narrowbag Lake late this morning. Exploring this end of the lake before settling upon this red pine clad site, with its rocky ledge up high and its sandy cove down below, with its 270 degree panorama of islands, bays and sky, with its west facing sunset view, we found the lake to be surprisingly charming. It feels much smaller, more intimate, than it appeared to be on the map. We’ve already seen a small beaver out for a swim in the narrows between this upper and the lower section of the lake. We’ll surely revisit that spot before dusk.

Click on any image to enlarge

We left camp shortly after 9 this morning, and were escorted through a craggy channel into the welcoming bay of this lake @11:30, 2 short carries and paddling the length of Narrowbag Lake was all that we had today after putting that long portage behind us yesterday. Narrowbag Lake, with its singular campsite, surrounded by shallow lilypad carpeted water, opposite a steep granite wall, felt inviting to me. The lake narrowed at the end, where we portaged around a shallow riffle where the remains of an old log chute were being reclaimed by the river. Looking at the map, it appears that it may be possible during the high waters of springtime, to poke around in some of the small bodies of water south of Narrowbag Lake – lakes by the name of Onach, Kagagee, Waymuk. It could be a place to bring our friends D&M one day (there I go bringing to heart loved ones again, in this place that I Love). I think they’d love it here — after we got past that 2400 meter portage, that is!

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log chute remains

Yet another remnant of those logging days rests on one of the islands across from our

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campsite here, a rusting ‘alligator’ – a steam powered machine that could travel across both land and water, used to corral logs on these lakes a hundred years ago- will likely take many more seasons to be returned to the earth. Sometimes, its hard to believe that these beautiful shorelines- thick with cedar, spruce, pine – and hillsides of hardwoods, this afternoon hinting of orange and gold, were utterly denuded a century ago, in this place I want to see as untouched.

It is so very quiet now, especially since the brief shower, with its accompanying breeze, passed through after lunch. No rushing water here. No wind. The only sound – that of Don putting on his shoes.

Time to gather water, wood, fire up the stick stove. Coffee. Read.

Evening.

After dinner we paddled down the long finger of a bay that points eastward around the corner from our camp. I had walked along the shoreline -piled high with rocks that are likely submerged by more typical water levels- to the point at the mouth of that bay this afternoon, after those light showers had passed over, and laid out several large pieces of dry firewood on those rocks to be picked up by canoe this evening.

The water was tranquil as we paddled along. Reflected in its mirror was the boulder crammed shoreline, the berry clad shrubs, the departing clouds. Alternately shoals and then coves traced the water’s edge. Multiple beaver lodges and otter dens, with their garbage piles of freshwater mussel shells outside their backdoors, were tucked into its banks.

Shells that will one day be sand.

Turning west to paddle back to camp, the clouds over the islands were catching the remnant blaze of the setting sun. I’m fairly certain my own face was aglow in response.

Don and I sat on the high point to take in the stars, after our return to camp. Mostly, we watched the clouds rise and take form over the ridge to the west, then spread like a fan over our heads as they moved towards the east, alternately blanketing the stars, then pulling the curtain back again to reveal the show. The moon, too, a waxing crescent that hung low over the southwestern horizon, played peek-a-boo with us.

Soon we were chilly and the tent called us inside. Sleep beckons.