Wilderness for the Soul

I am so disappointed in having to abort our trip across the top of Lake Superior. We had just begun that leg of our journey, setting up camp on the east end of Lake Superior at Pancake Bay. This was the part of the four-week trip that I was looking forward to; I felt a need for the wilderness that refreshes my soul and reinvigorates my spirit.

The campground is wooded, long and narrow, stretching out along the shore of the lake. I heard the waves hitting the shore as we set up in the late afternoon. After some supper we were drawn by the sound of the waves so we walked down the tree lined lanes looking for a path toward the beach. How strange that the waves weren’t as big as they sounded.

pancake beach 026And there was evidence that this is where people have slowed down and spend quiet time sleeping, reading, and reflecting. No crowds here.

Unfortunately JB got sick the next day, and then got sicker. He spent three days in bed and we renewed for another night thinking he would get better and we could move on up the shore and then head west. But we weren’t in a hurry, except for wanting to get settled before the holiday week-end, also celebrated in Canada.

There wasn’t much I could do for JB, except give him acetaminophen to reduce his fever and make him herbal tea. He had caught a bug and it had to run its course. I took this opportunity to enjoy the solitude, eating meals alone and enjoying this wilderness area. This is what I needed.

On a sunny morning, after eating a bowl of cereal, I made some coffee and grabbed my camera to head for the beach. The lane had the long shadows of morning, and the short wooded path was still dimly lit with single strands of silk thread crossing in front of my face. And then the morning beach.

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But that isn’t where I am. JB continued to get sicker and he asked that we return to Sault Ste. Marie to find a hospital. We were talking about finding a walk-in clinic further north but when he said he wanted to return to Michigan I agreed. He could hardly stand up, so it was up to me to hook up the trailer, which I did with sweat, rain, and tears of being overwhelmed mingling down my face. I had watched JB empty the holding tanks many times, but had never done it. I found that there was a lot I didn’t know – like having the rinsing hose on too much causes stinky, dirty water to splash all over me. It was heavy, difficult labor that my body is no longer able to do – but I did it because I had to. I also learned I shouldn’t do it if I don’t have to.

We spent the afternoon in the ER, the night in a hotel, and I drove home the next day. JB has a viral infection and was dehydrated. After three bags of fluid and a multitude of blood draws to rule out other things, we are able to keep him comfortable as he continues to fight the infection. But we are disappointed that we weren’t able to make the part of the trip we were so looking forward to. And I am feeling drained and empty.

I follow the Bardo Group and how fortuitous that today Terri posted an invitation to link posts including essays, photos, and poems on “wilderness” during the week of August 31 – September 6 to celebrate the 50th anniversary signing into law of the Wilderness Act in the U.S. I thought of all the time we have spent in the U.S. wilderness areas created and protected by this act. I thought of our trip last Spring to Alaska and the pristine beauty of that wilderness area. Every time I visit a wilderness area my soul is refreshed by the peace I experience, my life feels renewed by the beauty, and my mind is enriched by the wonders of nature.

And I remember my morning walk to the Lake Superior beach, and decide to revisit the renewal I felt as I walked through the sand toward the water. What a gift to feel the cool air and the warm sun on my skin. The water is so calm it gently caresses the beach. I take deep breaths of clear, nurturing air. I marvel at the clear, sparkly water as it gently moves over the sand ridges created by last night’s waves.

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I long to put my feet in, but know it is cold because it is Lake Superior. I remember the sand from younger days, how it molds around the body so I sit on the cool moist surface and wiggle in. The handful of sand I pick up filters through my fingers until only a little remains on my palm. This sand isn’t sticky like the sand made from shells. I examine them to see the single grains of rock but they are almost too small to see, unless a few are lying together. I pick up another handful and examine the beautiful black and gold and tan colors that make up the sand in this location. What rock was worn down to make this sand?

I close my eyes and listen to the quiet, open them to see the sparkle of life before me. I remember the power of the Lake Superior water that has sank large ships, but now is so subdued. I scan the horizon as I think about the breadth, length, and depth of this great lake. I think about how sand shifts, and marvel at the dune grass that has grown to anchor this place at this time but is fragile to human feet.

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In my solitude I am aware of the man who is sitting a ways down the beach, with his face turned towards the sun. He is still and quiet and doesn’t disturb my solitude. But we are connected by our existence on this planet, and our need to experience solitude together at this place. I am humored by the solitary gull who never leaves, obviously waiting for some morsel of food dropped by the human. They also need to survive in the environments we make for them.

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Today at my inland dot on the map in lower Michigan, I am drawing from the wilderness I dream about far to the north. I feel renewed by revisiting the morning when all was calm and quiet and there was nothing to do but breath and observe and drink warm coffee. My God calls me to live in right relationship with the people around me, and to maintain a right relationship with myself. I need to remember to have a right relationship with nature so that our renewal can continue. Because of my renewal from my time on a morning beach, I have the strength to do what needs to be done and feel at peace with my life as I live it where I am planted. Oh, the power of wilderness.

Somebodies’ Somewhere

We were on a short dirt road between nowhere and nowhere else. At least that is what it seemed like to us. We enjoy exploring these back roads, especially when we are far from home and everyday life seems so different. We are beginning the Circle Tour of Lake Superior and are on the east end above Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. We have only been here once before – a long time ago and that was just a quick drive through. This time we have no urgent reason to get home on a specific day so we are staying more nights at each stop.

The paved road we turned on, off highway 17, ended a short distance away at the water’s edge, at a boat launch. We lingered a while taking in the quiet. Going back we turned down a dirt road with a sign pointing toward a lake shore resort. It was a small resort that bills itself as “A slice of Austria on Lake Superior.”

On this dirt road, going to the slice of Austria, I had noticed a small cemetery, on a cliff between the water and the road. On our way back I told JB to turn in and we drove down a short bumpy lane to where the markers were.

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I had said that this was a road between nowhere and nowhere else. This isn’t true. This has been, and is a place of significance for many people for a long time. This is home to the Batchawana First Nation people. There were several homes along the paved road and some evidence that people had established small businesses. But there isn’t much opportunity for employment close by so we could tell it is a poor community, at least from our capitalistic, consumer perspective. Maybe they don’t value “things” so their perspective of “rich” is entirely different. Maybe they value family, community, nature and only feel poor when they come in contact with the dominate values. I would love to move in and get to know them better.

We do know their grief because we lingered in their cemetery. I worried about violating their spiritual space, but I think it may have been okay because I felt a lot of reverence as I walked around and both JB and I felt their grief. JB noticed that most of those buried here were children and young adults – there were only two who were older than 60.

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Most of the grave markers were wooden crosses, although there were some that were white stone. There was one that was made of cement. We had just visited the graves of JB’s ancestors in Owen Sound and both of us were struck by the difference between the expensive stone markers to honor the dead and the humble ways the dead were honored here. Could there be a “richer” statement of grief in burying a beloved child than this. It leads me to question the purpose of our very expensive burial system.

Pancake Bay 066 I have never lost a child that I had held and nurtured, and I can’t comprehend the pain. But these parents lost five young children over a series of years in the late 1800’s. It was almost a yearly occurrence to bury a child. How do you think they coped with it?

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Yes, this is a community that grieves the loss of their own, together – and listens to the spirits of their ancestors in this sacred place. Don’t we all know who we are by remembering who has touched us and left?