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.

pancake beach 032

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 GroupΒ 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.

pancake beach 036

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.

pancake beach 052

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.

pancake beach 051

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.

27 thoughts on “Wilderness for the Soul

  1. I love this post… your thoughts, your photos, your experiences… every single thing about it, except JB’s illness. I do hope he is recovering and on the road to good health. It’s a lovely story, beautiful and refreshing. Thank you. πŸ™‚


  2. As I’m joining the story late, I hope JB has seen some improvements.
    It’s a shame that you had to escape your Lake Superior escape; I know what a disappointment that can be, even if its necessary and you wouldn’t change your decision. In 2005 Tony and I were about 1/4-mile away from the summit on a 14-mile hike, and had to turn back. He was clearly falling victim to altitude sickness combined with heat exhaustion, and it was the scariest hike we’ve ever done because of that. I long for the summit, but not at his expense. One day, perhaps, we’ll go back. Because of his condition, we spent the next day at low altitude playing like children in the Flathead River, an experience we certainly wouldn’t have had if things had gone to plan. All of which is to say that: You can’t always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need. Seems true for you, too.


    • Yes – and now I realize how scared we were. It isn’t all bad the our trip was aborted – and we do best if we take care of ourselves and do what we need to do without too much whining. πŸ™‚ Boy what a bummer to be so close after so much hard work and altitude sickness isn’t anything you would want to ignore.


  3. Oh my goodness, I hope JB is doing better now. At least you got some wonderful moments by the lake, sometimes all that is needed is just a few hours to feel renewed. I can certainly see why you love this place so much, it sure looks calm and very refreshing. Your images as always extraordinary, Pat!


  4. Pat, thank you for joining us this Wilderness Week and for sharing such a lovely post. It moved me in many ways and it felt alive and real and as though I was there with you along the beach and trying to do the work of moving the camper. I’m sorry about JB and about the complications of this trip but so glad that you found solace and shared it with us. I hope this evening finds you both feeling better.

    Warmest regards,


    • We are feeling better but JB was sick for a week. Thanks for the affirming comment. When I write about my experience, my goal is to make it real for others because I believe we have so much in common and it is a way to connect. I am glad we were able to connect – especially on that wonderful beach.


  5. Beautiful photos…the calming of water and the wildness at the same time. We often look for the dramatic adventure of wilderness and forget to allow it to be still as well. Your story of healing that weaves into the place is true to the fabric of life. It is what it is, not what we expect or plan, and if we enter into what it is, we find ourselves living. And life is enough, I think.


    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I am coming to the conclusion that life is enough. I’m reflecting a lot on what life means (or doesn’t mean) at different stages of the life cycle.


  6. Very mixed feelings and lots of anxiety, but you seem to have come through, and be able to enjoy those Wordsworthian moments; tapping into the good energy you felt.


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