I spent some time listening, this morning, to this essay byCraig Childs https://emergencemagazine.org/story/on-being-alone/, about his experience of solitude while paddling the Green River canyon in Utah. And while, from my few visits to Utah, I can picture the Red Rock cliffs through which he and his canoe meandered in concert with the river, it is his experience of being alone, out there, away from conversation with others but in a deeper conversation with life and earth, that echoes its resonance like a healing tone waved over the cells of my body, causing them to vibrate in harmony.

Earlier, I spent some time paging through a photographic site. Like slowly turning the pages of an old family photo album, I was transported by memory and feeling. Dedicated to images of Algonquin Park, my own beloved landscape, familiarity flooded my vision with joy and peace. Like this one, for instance, taken along the Arowhon Road

photograph by Sarah Tee

I can feel the silence in it, the crispness in the air, the clean bite of fragrance. I see the beaver dam in the foreground and know well the pond that lies still, beyond it, frozen over and blanketed, surrounding a beaver’s lodge.

I am transported to that flooded frozen plain, drawn into its invitation.

As if I am actually there, each of these virtual realities carries me to some place deep inside of me where I am flooded with the medicine of wilderness solitude. Sometimes, I think it must be oxytocin that has been released during my times in a canoe, particularly in Algonquin, for the bond in me to (mother) nature floods my being with the bliss of falling in love even in recalling it. As if it is setting all things right in my body around my primal bond with my physical/biological mother, this bond to my true biological mother, including the watery womb in which I once was bathed, re-minds me (or should I say, it re-bodys me?) of my belovedness.

This is a flooding that is not at all about being overwhelmed. Overcome perhaps, by goodness and peace. I am re-aligned with love and belonging. I feel it in my heart, closing my eyes, breathing it in.

I once read that the vibration of the earth is the same one we mirror in our bodies when we are engaged in prayer or meditation. Perhaps then, my trips to those wild places … within and without….are one long act of prayer.

This morning, I also read a brief essay on the value of hibernation for the human animal. (**see below). With these feelings of healing resonance swimming in me now in the quiet of a slow, attentive morning, I am, even moreso, affirmed in my instinct to pause, be still, listen, receive. Upon awakening this morning, I’d felt something I suppose I could describe now as ‘dissonance’, before I followed by body’s pull- its alerting wave of fatigue, or was it sorrow, that swept through me (or did it rise from within me?) , compelling me to sit awhile.

This time spent rooting out the stories of shame and unbelonging, feeling them fully and then flooding them with the balm of love and deep belonging (for self –and the other, though I am not ready to do that quite yet) may allow me to lay to rest, at last, those residual unresolved, buried alive, griefs in me. No longer fearing that darkness, perhaps I might also bring forth gifts, less blemished by pain, that I have been blessed with by their presence. Gifts transformed by healing.

This feels something like waving a magnet over a field of chaotic iron filings. My wounds, my sorrow, and my pain has disturbed the field of my self, shaken it asunder. These experiences of deep belonging put them back in line with Belovedness.

Perhaps that is truly who I am.

**We are approaching thethreshold of winter.
Life is being drawn into the earth, painlessly descending down into the veryheart of herself.
And we as natural human animals are being called todo the same, the pull to descend into our bodies, into sleep, darkness and thedepths of our own inner caves continually tugging at our marrow.
But many find the descent into their own body ascary thing indeed, fearing the unmet emotions and past events that they havestored in the dark caves inside themselves, not wanting to face what they haveso carefully and unkindly avoided.
This winter solstice time is no longer celebratedas it once was, with the understanding that this period of descent into our owndarkness was so necessary in order to find our light. That true freedom comesfrom accepting with forgiveness and love what we have been through andvanquishing the hold it has on us, bringing the golden treasure back from thecave of our darker depths.
This is a time of rest and deep reflection, a timeto wipe the slate clean as it were and clear out the old so you can walk intospring feeling ready to grow and skip without a dusty mountain on your back& chains around your ankles tied to the caves in your soul.
A time for the medicine of story, of fire, ofnourishment and love.
A period of reconnecting, relearning &reclaiming of what this time means brings winter back to a time of kindness,love, rebirth, peace and unburdening instead of a time of dread, fear,depression and avoidance.
This modern culture teaches avoidance at a max atthis time; alcohol, lights, shopping, overworking, over spending, bad food andconsumerism.
And yet the natural tug to go inwards as nearly allcreatures are doing is strong and people are left feeling as if there issomething wrong with them, that winter is cruel and leaves them feelingabandoned and afraid. Whereas in actual fact winter is so kind, yes she pointsus in her quiet soft way towards our inner self, towards the darkness andpotential death of what we were, but this journey if held with care isessential.
She is like a strong teacher that asks you toawaken your inner loving elder or therapist, holding yourself with awareness offorgiveness and allowing yourself to grieve, to cry, rage, laugh, & facewhat we need to face in order to be freed from the jagged bonds we wrappedaround our hearts, in order to reach a place of healing & light withoutgoing into overwhelm.
Winter takes away the distractions, the noise andpresents us with the perfect time to rest and withdraw into a womb like love,bringing fire & light to our hearth.

•Italicized words Brigit Anna McNeill•


beaver medicine

Each day that passes, the intensity eases. The earth within me grows quieter, pieces of my self return. Goodnesses that seemed wiped out, or at least diminished, in the wake of those floodwaters, return on my horizon, like the return of creatures after the fierceness of a storm, or the breach of a dam.

I have witnessed a woodland after a beaver dam let loose. The area that was once underwater, offering habitat for not just the beaver but the others who benefited from her capacity to engineer a place of safety and nurture for herself, all at once laid parched and barren. Rich in nutrients from all of those years underwater, supporting season upon season of life, the seemingly devastated and depressed basin soon will become a meadow, supporting other forms of life… grasses, sedges, flowering and berrying plants, and all of the subsequent reliant species of birds and mammals. Downstream, where a new dam has been built, trees find their feet suddenly feet underwater, their branches graying, their canopies thinned to let in light, soon to become the snags that will support cavity dwellers. Not just those particular waterfowl will follow the beaver’s dislocation and reorientation, but also the wading birds, warblers, marsh hawks, insects, amphibians, fishes, and small mammals, such as muskrat, and moose.

I find it fascinating and wonderful the way her need to survive, combined with her instincts, compel her to build something new, and the way that her subsequent and seemingly destructive flood in actuality offers shelter to others who need her particular gifts of survival.

Gifts have been flooding me. Loved ones — dear friends – old and new –children, grandchildren, sisters, and companions – have come bearing them. With a smile, I picture their arrival, marching over the dry land, carrying a branch or two to stuff into the breach, reminding me that this deep well I have crafted within me is a place of warmth and nurture, comfort and safety, love and blessing to them. My presence on their landscape has provided something important and vital. Precisely because of my particular wounds and gifts, my need for emotional safety, it seems that I provide a space of nurture for others, too.

As I began to explore in my journal yesterday, I am continuing to ponder my capacity to hold all of this… the fierceness of my pain alongside the depths of my grace, my mother’s rejection of me alongside the love that the rest of my world reflects back to me. Today, I’m thinking about that enlarged heart the doctors discovered this summer inside of my chest. I am thinking about my canoe trips… my resilience, my grit, my creativity…..and the way my body celebrates there.

Today, I wonder if I diminish the softness of my heart’s ability to hold all in compassion by labeling it as broken, or if i diminish the largeness of my soul when I label my well-learned and long practiced gifts of self-care as suppression or repression, or even ‘toughing it out’. Oh, perhaps that was what I was doing when I was ignoring my pain during earlier years, or even these last years/months of my mother’s life, when I was trying to fit back in to the dysfunctional definitions of ‘good girl’, but I don’t believe that’s what I am doing now in acknowledging the depth of these waters in me, waters that include both boot sucking, fetid muck and delicate, fragrant waterlilies.

My heart has the capacity to receive the one who comes raging from breached dams. It is a familiar event for me, for she has been dealing with the abandonment of dams for as long as she can remember, has learned to adapt and adopt and make of those waters a place of peace and plenty. I have learned well these ways to soothe myself, to create safety, find nurture, rebuild the dam. Learned to help her see that she can be a place of welcome, that she no longer needs to be alone with her pain.

Yesterday, i received these words.

“Needing emotional safety and support isn’t something wrong with you. It’s the sign of something deeply right with you. You were never supposed to learn to be alone with your pain”

Once upon a time, it was true that I was left alone to deal with devastating pain. Yes, it made me strong, it made me learn to be self-reliant and creative in order to survive, and thank Godde I had some innate instinct to do so gracefully enough, though there were years that could have spun dangerously into darker adaptations. But now I see that the dam I built around that pain, which for some time isolated me, has become a place of life, where gentle creatures thrive within its richness.

A beaver pond is a quiet, soothing body of water, after all, with so much life beneath the surface, so many beings drawing nourishment from its stillness, even along the edges, and so much song surrounding it. She’s quite clever that way, really, to have built for herself a such a environment of safety and support, beauty and bounty, love and light. I think I can love her for that

Algonquin October, 6 & 7

Day 6, Hay Lake Lodge

My heavy lids dropped into deep sleep shortly after my gloved hands penned those words in the tent at 8 o’clock last evening. My spent body did not stir at all until 4am or so, when I awakened in the same position into which I had snuggled after closing my journal and pulling the draw string of the sleeping bag tight around my neck.  I was indeed exhausted ….and also quite cozy encased within all that down.

Emerging from the cocoon of the tent at that early (4am) hour, I was dazzled by an indigo sky spectacled with stars, one of which blazed across the onyx dome, as if startled by my appearance as much as I was by its. Its tail was bright and thick and seemed to linger just a bit longer than typical.

After that predawn arising, I lay awake until the first hint of morning lent enough of its light to begin packing up inside my tent. Heavy clouds had moved in sometime between 4 am and the sunrise, which now set the horizon ablaze with a fiery orange band of brilliance between those low lying clouds and the dark expectant land.  My camera skills failed to capture the remarkable view that greeted us as we crawled out from our tents, but here’s my best shot.



We were on the water shortly after 7, soon entering the mouth of the Tim river and paddling our way along its meandering course through the silent marsh. Golden tamaracks made for us a blessingway.  With just two beaver dams on this portion of the river, both of which we pulled over with relative ease, we were soon at the only portage of the day, a short 125 meter up and over.  By the time we came out onto Tim Lake, the winds were up, but manageable. Still, when we at last reached the takeout for our trip, the gravel parking lot, I was fairly weary, my arms feeling abit rubbery. Yesterday’s hard paddle evidently really gave them a workout. 

After loading the gear and canoe into and onto the car, we were on our way, back along the leaf strewn lane, driving alongside quiet marshes, past beaver lodges and granite faces, and whispering our internal goodbyes. We ’d hoped to stop by the little breakfast place in Kearney—we both were craving a cup of coffee– but found that it closed on Sundays at 1 and we arrived just a wee bit too late. So, it was Timmy’s in Huntsville where we finally stopped the car –  where on a fall weekend on the edge of Algonquin quite a crush of humanity, seeking the refreshment of both body and spirit, had descended. Onward, across the park, we drove, east on route 60 and through Whitney as we made our way to Hay Lake Lodge- — where indoor plumbing, showers, heat, and a soft bed awaited and welcomed us.

Later that evening, after a grilled pickerel dinner at the local diner/bar, we were both ready for bed by 7, after all it was dark and our body’s rhythms were in sync with the light by now. (not to mention we were pooped!).  We managed to stay up until 9pm or so, chatting and reading about all recently hatched turtle eggs we’d seen in the park. 

Day 7, Hay Lake Lodge

D left this morning. After she pulled away, I walked up to E’s house, to spend some hours reconnecting with my cherished friend. Her life is so very full, and full of upheaval, right now, and I pray I am not ‘one more thing’ to which she feels the need to attend, though I feel as if I was able to offer to her a listening ear, a receiving heart.  It can be so difficult for me to recognize the gifts I bring; equally difficult for me simply to receive, or to allow myself to simply need.  I suspect some part of me always believes I am undeserving, as if I must earn my place, as if love is not assured. It makes me a bit neurotic…especially when I’m tired.

By noon, after E had graciously fed me lunch, I felt the energy completely drain from my body, as if, sitting still, the  depth of my fatigue at last hit me. Even the thought of driving 15 minutes into town to buy groceries so that I might have food to eat suddenly felt like just too much.

I will stay here for a few days, hopefully draw some of that deep rest for which I’ve been yearning.  Sabbath is perhaps what my body is literally aching for. Every muscle in my body aches… along with my heart. It has been a long stretch of both physical and emotional work.  I come here perhaps to escape some of the emotional work, to be refueled and refilled by beauty, wonder, presence, joy, aliveness, but it seems my body is paying the toll. Perhaps it is only with all that physical work that I can forget, but perhaps it is time to stop running… back and forth. Be still. Find a way to be filled in one place. 

I dreamt that my mother wasn’t really dead, that we had buried her alive, but that she was now back in rehab. I realize I want my relationship with her to just be buried with her. Being in her presence those last weeks of her life, so much sorrow, shame, anger, and pain was dug up from the place in me where it had been so long deeply buried.

Laid to REST, I thought.

 I talked with my daughter this afternoon, too. She is feeling more settled, stronger, grounded. Again, I am invited to move into hope, into trust – in life, in growth, in journey, in the soul’s wisdom. In love. IN ‘all is well’. Healing the legacy of mother-daughter injury is hard work, important work, life-changing work. 

Peace, be still.

I have drug the reclining chair across the room, over to the French doors, for a long view down the lake, where the water is being churned into whitecaps again by this biting wind. I am grateful for shelter, for warmth, for comfort, for safety, for acceptance, for the nurture of friends.

And the evening and the morning were the 7th day, and Godde said it is good.




Algonquin October – day 5

Saturday, 5:15pm, Rosebary Lake

Today was a physically challenging one. Though the portage distances were shorter than when we came in — as we were able to abbreviate the portage from Sittingman Lake to Bog Pond by exiting the trail at an earlier location, which we’d scouted along the pond’s bank, and to skip the last portage of the day altogether by paddling and pulling over the beaver dam there, rather than walking the passage from Bog Pond to the upper end of Long Bow Lake – there were some real challenges along them, too. Also, the two dams in the end of Long Bow Lake were tricky to maneuver, as they were too high to simply slide over and the footing was precarious when we disembarked.

The day began with the portage from Ranger to High Dam Lake. That portage exited the water as a soupy trail through a spruce bog, where my boots were nearly sucked from my feet more than once as I wielded the canoe. At the other end of that trail, we were greeted by the log jammed bay that we had precariously balanced our way through on the way in a few days ago. Today, those logs were glazed with a thin coating of ice. Trying to balance on them felt really unsafe, and the muck that was surrounding them was deep.. Loading there was not at all possible, so we hauled the gear another 50 meters or so along the edge of the bay to a point beyond the logs , where we could safely load the canoe from the shoreline.

At the beginning of each of two remaining portage trails, where we’d had to slide the canoe downhill, across our thighs, hand over hand, on our way in to camp, we now had to haul it and the gear up those same hills. That meant both of us working together to get the boat to the crest, then returning several more times for the rest of the gear. Sometimes THAT meant using all four limb to get our things up those inclines. Those first 10-20 meters of each of them were rough.

After clearing all of the portages and dams we’d have to on this day, we stopped to take a snack break before rounding the corner into the main body of Loooong Bow Lake. It was not quite noon, but our bannock breakfast was early this morning–we were up at 6–and we knew the paddle up Long Bow was going to be into the wind, which had already begun to gust by then. Pulling the canoe into the grasses, we ate a part of our lunch, for fuel, in case it was a longer paddle than we hoped it might be.

It was.

Into a strong headwind, it felt like we paddled for hours (we did) up the length of Longbow. By the time we got to the juncture of Longbow lake with Rosebary lake, the waves were being whipped into whitecaps. My arms were already aching when we, at last, reached the first campsite we came to, on the point after the narrows between LongBow Lake and Rosebary, where hoped to make camp for the night. The site is quite lovely, with open tent spaces and views to both the east and the west, but there was no protection from the wind.

We are quite weary of the wind.

We could see from across the lake that the far shore was in the lee of the land. A band of calm water lay in its shelter. So, we decided to press on, taking an angle into the waves, crossing to the opposite shore. That paddle across the open water was intense, and at times I feared we were going to lose our angle.

That last push took all of my energy (and perhaps a little adrenaline too), so I rested for a bit after making it safely to this campsite this afternoon. (It was 3 o’clock by the time we landed upon the first site we came to along the western shoreline). While we hung a line to dry socks and gloves , gathered water, and pitched our tents, I fired up the stove to boil water for coffee to drink with the remainder of our late afternoon ‘lunch’.

I am now seated a few feet back from the shore, on the top edge of a gently sloping rock, tucked into the trees, with a view of the water, which is much calmer now. It is good to be calm. I wonder if sometimes we just have to push past our comfort zones to get here, weather the buffeting that our anxiety and fear want us to relent to, in order to reach a new place, an internal harbor of peace.

The sky to the east is layered with clouds, as if the wind has swept them into a heap and piled them up. The sun must be breaking through behind me. The low angle of its light is playing with the trees on the far shore, striking their tips with gold, setting them aglow. So many leaves have come down in the 5 days we have been here; the winds and rain have stripped the hillsides almost bare.

Tomorrow we paddle back up the Tim River. Again, we hope for calm waters and so plan to get out bright and early so that might be possible.

D has joined me here on this rock. We will sit for a short while, until we lose the light altogether. It is good to be still and quiet, to be able to simply sit without feeling cold or getting wet. I will savor this moment, for it may be as fleeting as that light kissing the far ridges.

Later, 8pm, inside the tent

We hurried into our tents after dinner, which we cooked on the propane burner, which we pulled from the pack for the first time this trip, as we didn’t feel the need to forage for firewood today. We also didn’t bother with heating water to wash the dishes, as we’ll be paddling out to sinkfulls of running water in the morning. D was chilled, without a fire or a hat (she lost hers along the trail today) , and so we rushed through the evening chores and into the relative warmth of our tents and sleeping bags.

I’m pretty tired, though I may read for a bit the remaining chapters of the book I have been appreciating. My eyes are heavy, so perhaps not….

Algonquin October – day 4

October 12, 8 pm. Ranger Lake, inside the tent.

We took some time, after yesterday’s afternoon siesta from the wind, erecting a windbreak/shelter, as the temperatures were rapidly dropping with the gusting wind. We had hung a tarp when we made camp the day we arrived, but we tweaked it a bit, pulling the front corners down and hauling the canoe up the hill to prop on its side between tree trunks and some boulders we’d lifted, in order to augment its windward wall. We had gathered and cut some deadwood along the portage trail on our trek back to camp earlier in the day. The physical work warmed us, even as the shelter held in the warmth of the fire we built beneath it.

Unfortunately, the shelter also trapped in the smoke!! (I guess our design had some flaws; there’s a reason wigwams have smoke holes!). It was lovely to cook inside of that shelter, though, and to sit in easy friendship with D, who continues to be concerned about her seeming decline in skeletal strength.

Finally, after dinner and clean up, the smoke got the better of us and we retired again to our tents. Again, I slept fitfully, with the wind blowing hard all through the night. I was, however, warm enough, despite the temperatures dropping to near 30 degrees. By morning, we had been lying in our tents so long that I was wide awake quite a long time before the sun finally rose. Again, I noticed myself beginning to worry… about D, about my daughter, about the impending weather, but remembered to practice breathing ‘All is well’.

As it turned out D and I had a fabulous day today, chatting long after breakfast and then taking a day trip back across the portage trail to beautiful Devine Lake, to paddle her waters this time. What a treasure she is, with so much water and shoreline to explore – coves and long bays, passages between islands into nearly isolated backwaters, and wetland streams exiting each of its many, fingered bays. All of this, and only one campsite. With just 2 long days to get in (perhaps not so long with more intrepid portagers) and 2 long days to get out, it would make a perfect destination for an 7 or 8 day trip, with 3 or 4 days to simply BE there. Alone. The 2000 meter portage that leaves it southeastern bay would make for a lovely walk in the woods, without needing to carry gear, and evening paddles on her intimate waters would be sure to delight.

D and I pushed our way as far as we could through one of those wetland streams, the one exiting its northwestern bay, pushing our way toward Saw-Whet Lake. Through the narrowing channel, alder and grasses brushed both sides of the canoe as we pulled ourselves along, sometimes by grasping the plants and then tugging to make progress. When we ran out of ‘navigable’ water, we got out and bushwhacked for a bit, until we decided it best to turn back. D was wanting to conserve energy for tomorrow’s portaging.

this could be the end of the ‘road’

Back on the main body of the lake, we circumnavigated each of the northern arms. The winds were still gusting, so depending upon which way we were facing when we came around the curve of the land, the paddling was arduous or easy. When we came around to the lake’s lone campsite, we landed the boat to check it out. With a high sweeping view to the west and the portage across which we’d come, space enough on its pine needle carpet for a couple of tents, and lots of land to explore, both in the woodland behind it and along its shoreline, it felt like a place where one could slow down and deepen, become rooted again. There’s a shallow bay, around to the side, where I can imagine retreating for quieter reflections of water, wildlife… and self.

After lunch on the campsite, we set off to explore the lake’s large renowned island….but first, we had to empty the canoe! We’d left it tied at the edge of the water, pulled just partway onto the gravelly landing, but the pounding waves, coming ashore and hitting it broadside, had rocked it to the point that the outside gunnel must have dipped beneath the surface and begun taking on water. It was about half full when I came down the trail and noticed.

The island is legend to have offered refuge to poachers in the early days of the park’s existence, when the park’s identity as a place of refuge for wildlife was not yet well regarded. (Changing one’s identity is like that… it takes some time for persons to accept new rules and roles. Some folks, perhaps especially those who have been dependent upon the old ways, won’t ever adjust to or be in favor of it) The huge central basin supposedly harbored the camps of poachers, undetectable by rangers who were also camping on the same lake. We found the basin to be quite large — a small village of tents could’ve been tucked into its shelter. Today it is filling in with small trees- mostly balsam it seems, and we noted several piles of mooseberries while exploring it, so perhaps today it is offering refuge of another sort.

I’m already dreaming a return trip to this place, the seclusion of this lake is so compelling. I can’t decide who to bring first, Don or a women’s group.

The day was such a delight.

Back in our own camp, D and I had afternoon coffee and candy. Then I baked/burned a bannock, which we will eat for breakfast. We hope to get an early start in the morning and we can simply pull this out of the barrel, along with our thermos of coffee, without having to light a fire or wash dishes. We’ve already taken down the tarp and packed up the ‘kitchen’. All that remains are our tents and clothing. We hope to be on the water by 7; I’ve set my watch alarm for 5:30, though it is still quite dark at that hour….and will likely be the coldest we have yet experienced on this trip. It may be hard to crawl out of the warmth of our sleeping bags at that hour.

It is not yet quite 8 o’clock. I think I will read for a bit, though it is already feeling too cold to keep my shoulders out of the sleeping bag, in order to have my arms free to hold the book, for much longer.

Good night.

Algonquin October -day 3

Intimacies (or ‘Facing myself in the wilderness and the wilderness in myself’)
Ranger Lake, Thursday, October 11, 3:30pm
I’m lying in the tent, taking a break from the wind, which has been gusting intently and intensely since we crawled out of our tents this morning a little before 8. It rained all through the night, the last morning shower being the hardest downpour of the series, convincing me to wait to arise until it had passed, though I had been inside the tent for 12 hours by then. Just a bit ago, when we decided to retreat inside our tents again, the wind was blowing cold mist across the lake and into camp. Now, I can see that the sun is again out by the glow on the tent wall. It is supposed to be blustery like this all day, as a cold front pushes through, dropping the temperatures from yesterday’s hot and humid 80 degrees to lows in the 30’s by tomorrow morning.
We walked the portage over to Devine lake this morning. It was a different world over there, on the other end of the trail, in the lee of the land. The lake looked quite inviting, but we hadn’t carried the boat with us, as we understood that just beyond the illusion of stillness in that bay this lake would be blown by the same wind that was buffeting ours. We do hope to return to explore those waters tomorrow.

Though the 400m portage over to Devine Lake was fairly undemanding, I still believe our decision to not move camp today was a wise one, as we were so tired by the time we arrived here yesterday and adding one more portage with gear to our journey back out, against these winds, may have been just too much. This way, we can get an early start in calmer waters on Saturday morning (in the forecast, the intensity of the winds looks to be diminished by then), perhaps be on Rosebary lake shortly after noon. We don’t have a permit for tonight for this site we are on (the only site on the lake) but I doubt that someone will make the trek out here, midweek in October, with the current weather conditions and the forecast.
Lying here, listening to the wind, I recognize the anxiety stirring in me, worrying about D, my sense of responsibility for her safety and happiness affecting my own state of being. Now, it is drizzling again. The wind slicing it into the tent so that it almost sounds like sleet. Can I simply be here with it, with the same appreciation with which I bask in the beauty of a serene sunset? Not fast forward into fear.
‘I sit listening to the wind’, the title of a book on my shelf back home.
After we’d arrived at the far end of the portage trail this morning, we spent several hours just poking around in the woods, following animal trails and tracks, scat and browse, across a mossy carpet beneath a canopy of spruce. The mushrooms and fungi are in full blossom about now. They invited us, with each footfall, to slow down, pay attention to the world right here, at our feet. Such intricacies, patterns and interrelationships, an array in just one square foot of earth. It was a feast of a morning, though my actual physical hunger called me back to camp sooner than I expected, or wanted, to return. I was feeling light headed by then.

The world at our feet. (click to scroll through)

It is good to be still, although it is an enforced stillness- being windbound as we are, with little recourse than to simply sit and wait. (though I could choose to walk that bounteous trail again).
Again, my mind cycles back to its concerns about the 12 hours westward travel we must make to get out of the park, with the weather seeming to be all at once on the cusp of winter. There is a notation of ‘moderate mix’ in the forecast for tomorrow ( those tangible transitions, I pondered yesterday!! ) and only one potential campsite, on a small lake between here and Longbow, which we know is at least 6 hours travel for us in good conditions. We have provisions for extra days, so if it becomes necessary to wait out the system, we can stay put until the weather is more favorable, which surely it should be before long. Obviously, things change quickly here.
Lying in a tent is a good place to observe one’s mind, it seems.
Back to stillness. It would be nice to be able to be still without these gale winds forcing me to comply, without the need to retreat to these woods in the first place, to be still within my home environment. Without anxiety. To simply be. Quiet. In the midst of the chaos. Here, the chaos outside of me is physical, the swirling whirlwind quite literal; back home the chaos is from another source–human borne – emotional pain, difficult personalities, systemic dysfunction, mental and physical illness, addictions and codependencies, crises and dramas, big and small.
Obviously, some of the chaos is within me.
How I long for tranquility. To simply observe life without anxiety. To watch in wonder. To participate without fret. To sit in the wise center of the whirlwind without being drawn into the chaos.
Jack Kornfield’s lovingkindness expressions had been showing up in the periphery of my awareness these last few weeks. An invitation to stillness back home, reminding me to practice the peace that I long for. Obviously, it arises for me in relationship, even here. This feeling of not being enough, this feeling the heavy responsibility, carrying the burden for another’s safety and happiness — even though the other is fully capable, possibly even content. But there is also the fear of the unknown. Fear of inadequacy in the face of something much bigger than me.
I begin again. Always. Each moment. Each day.
May I be at peace.
May I be safe and protected.
May I know the natural joy of being alive.
May I be free from anxiety
May I be free from inner and outer violence.
May I know that I am loved
May I know that I am Love
May I know the beauty of my own true nature
May I live ‘all is well’.
Two ends of the same short trail, one end exposed and facing the brunt of a system beyond your ability to control, stirring demons to rise. The other protected, in the lee of the land, the waters placid, the ground soft, inviting an attentive, intimate, quieter presence to life.
The invitation is always there. It’s just short walk to the other side.

Algonquin October- day 2

Ranger Lake, October 10, 7:45 pm, tucked inside the tent.

It rained off and on throughout the night, last night. I slept fitfully. My tent pad was not nearly as level as I thought it was, so, sleeping on my side, I felt like I was rolling downhill. My body never felt fully supported, as if I was trying to keep myself precariously balanced ‘just so’, and so I never completely relaxed into a deep, restorative sleep.

I had nightmares too. It seems I always do on the first few days of a trip. I’m not sure what that’s about– unloading of emotional baggage? unacknowledged fear? the wilderness in me? One of the dreams had me trapped inside a padlocked and barred building with a dangerous man (most often these dreams have to do with dangerous men), me running from one potential escape to the other, trying to find a way out. He was closing in on me when I cried out in my sleep “Help me!”. Across the campsite, D said she heard me moaning and thought I was singing. With no way of telling the time, and knowing we’d wanted to get an early start, she assumed I was humming as I was packing up my gear, and began packing her own, deflating her sleeping mat and stuffing her sleeping bag, before she realized she must’ve misheard. So, the rest of her night’s sleep on the cold, hard ground was a bit fitful too.

After that lack of sleep and the long day that was this one, we are both fairly pooped, and so we have crawled into our tents early, although it is already nearly dark. The sun set about an hour ago – with little fanfare; it is quite overcast . My body’s rhythm syncs fairly quickly to the hours of light and dark when I am out here. If we don’t have an evening fire, which we didn’t- just enough to cook by, I fall into an easeful pattern of rising and setting with the sun. I may read for a bit, but I likely will just close my eyes for the night and sleep.

We emerged from our tents this morning to a saturated earth and sky, the sky so full of moisture that its heaviness coated the earth in a fog so thick we could not see the lake at the edge of our feet, let alone the far shoreline. It was 10 o’clock when we pulled away from camp and, even then, the last of the mists were still lingering in the shadows of bays.

We paddled and portaged for almost 6 hours today, though we took a long lunch break (maybe a half hour) and rested for a bit again later, before the final portage of the day.

We began by paddling the length of Long Bow Lake (aptly named) to its far eastern end where a small island marks the transition from lake to creek. Along the way, we could hear water rushing along the shoreline, small cascades feeding the lake from streams swollen with the runoff of recent rains. The relationship of sky-water-earth here is so very palpable.

Rounding the bend, we were soon over our first beaver dam and into a boggy pond, still laden with late lilypads, looking for the first 300m portage. We had been warned of blowdown along this portage, advised to follow the boggy shoreline, rather than take the trail up the hill. As we explored that boggy shoreline trail, it circled back out to a landing near a channel that looked wide enough to easily paddle. So, when we went back for the boat, we decided to paddle it back out into the bog, to find the inlet to that channel. Sure enough, we were able to paddle, rather than carry, that passage and soon had the gear back in the boat and were approaching the second beaver dam of the day (which we later discovered the official portage trail also bypassed). We still believed it to be easier to haul the boat and the gear up over that beaver dam, rather than unload and carry across the trail. The water was high, but so was the dam, so it was a bit more physical effort than our first glance led us to believe. The footing is always tricky around a dam. The edges are marshy, the pond on the upstream side is deep and mucky, and the dam itself can be slick. My foot slipped on one of those footings and I wound up with a boot full of water. I was grateful that the day was hot (and so humid that my glasses fogged on portages under the canoe, and the camera lens fogged each time I pulled it from its bag.) Hot and humid can be taxing, but Wet AND cold is miserable.
From there on, the rest of the day was in and out of the boat, short paddles across ponds and small lakes, short portages joining them. We discovered that the 700m portage between Bog Pond and Sittingman Lake could’ve been shorter still. After walking the first 100 meters or so, we noticed a second access to the trail from the water was possible, especially in this season. Though we didn’t think it was worth hauling the boat back down the hill by that time, we will certainly take advantage of the shorter walk on our return trip._DSF4103

That portage ended at a quite steep 15 meter descent to the water, where we had to feed the boat hand over hand, using our thighs as a ramp, because to walk with it down the sharp, eroded, decline was impossible. We lunched on a log that lay across the water at the end of that trail, the view of intimate Sittingman Lake an appetizer for our eyes. Sitting there, we noted how the night’s rains and winds had already changed the palette of the landscape before us. The reds and oranges of the maples had been stripped away, leaving bare patches on the hillsides. I was grateful to have had the previous day to appreciate their brilliance, although the gold that remains offers a subtler beauty. Transitions here are so very evident, the shift to winter unfolding before our eyes as the unfolding of spring from barren to blossom had also occurred for us during our time here in May.
I wonder if my own transition during this time of my life has been so evident. Has it been subtle or sudden? A bit of both, I suppose. So much takes place beneath the surface and then suddenly it appears as if you have changed overnight. Or an outside circumstance forces a shift, perhaps more quickly than you might have intended, and you are suddenly changed. Suddenly barren… or subtler…. or even more peaceful.

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Refueled by our simple meal of nut butter and wheat crackers, figs and dried fruit, we pushed on into Sittingman Lake. We had heard that the 2 campsites on this lake weren’t great, but I found the small one on the northshore to be quite inviting, with a small sandy landing around the side, a red pine canopy, and an intimate view of an intimate lake. It might be nice to visit again there someday.
From the north bay of Sittingman Lake we took the 125m portage up to High Dam pond. It felt longer than that to us, perhaps only because we had to do some clearing of blowdown along the way (which we’d had to do on all of today’s unmaintained trails). One last portage awaited in the bay at the opposite end of the pond, but first we had to negotiate its boggy landing, choked for several dozen meters with logs embedded in muck. We got the boat as far into the bog as we could, getting out to stand on those logs as we pulled, then unloading the boat while balancing atop them, not so easy, as you have to shift your weight and heave to pull the gear from the boat anyway. We took our break after that!
A steep uphill began the last 500m portage, around a great old white pine, and then we were on a trail lined and littered in gold, singing tunes from the Wizard of Oz. Following D’s drybag, a bobbing blue beacon, I trailed behind with the canoe.

One last paddle across Ranger Lake brought us gratefully to our stop for the night. This site is uphill from the water, the dropoff at the water’s edge eroded by waters higher than today’s. That means we have to don boots to enter the water in order to fill bottles and buckets, as you can’t reach over the side, but the view from atop is quite picturesque and serene, with the meandering shoreline weaving its way to the west.
We had planned to stay just one night here, then make one more portage into Devine Lake, to stay there for 2 nights, but I am concerned about getting out from there in just 2 days travel. We’ll decide in the morning – perhaps a day trip over to Devine would be wiser. D has acknowledged that today’s travel was hard on her body. I am tired too, from today’s work, but also just from the wearying weeks leading up to this trip. I was seeking respite during this trip.
It is supposed to rain again overnight. The winds are beginning to sing in the red pines overhead, a lullaby for me. Time to sleep now.