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.

Ford’s Terror

The ship’s navigational system could be programmed so the captain would know how far it was to his destination and how long it would take at his current speed. He had consulted the tidal charts (very important in these northern waters) and knew the critical window of high slack tide (14:00 to 14:15 hours) to get through the narrow passage and into the beautiful fjord where he wanted to anchor for the night.

Entrance to Ford’s Terror

When we reached the entrance, the captain idled the engines and we sat. Every two or three minutes he would pick up his binoculars and look. Not quite yet. Finally he decided it was safe to proceed. The surface of the water was still, neither moving in or out.

Ford’s Terror is a narrow fjord with very steep, very high vertical walls. It is also very deep and the water very cold. It got its name in 1899 when a naval crewman named Ford saw this beautiful, calm passage at slack tide, and decided to investigate in his dinghy. He rowed around for a little while and when he was leaving, the tide surged and he was caught in the turbulence for a terrifying six hours. Thus the name, and the lesson for boaters wanting to explore this beautiful area.

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Traversing the entrance of Ford’s Terror fjord.

Captain Ron proceeded slowly and carefully because the passage is narrow and shallow. First Mate Tommy sat next to the captain with his eyes glued to the depth meter, calling out five feet, six and a half feet… I cured my tension by stepping out on the bridge deck, so I could get a little exercise – shudder finger exercise.

When the tide is flowing either in or out, there can be as much as a 3 foot drop in levels and the water churns in white-water rapids because of the shallow depth. This is especially deadly at low tide. I would love to see it, maybe experience it, but the smarter part of my brain was happy for our calm passage.

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What a place to anchor – all adjectives I can think of seem inadequate. Those glaciers did a brilliant job of gouging out this peaceful cove.

Captain Ron had to wait for the next day’s high slack tide for our safe departure, so there was time for skiff rides and kayaking – the water toys were lowered. We went on a skiff ride in the evening and also saw a demonstration of kayaking skills and safety. The kayaks would not be available for us until morning because they enforce the rule that no one can get in a kayak in the evening if they had alcohol with dinner.

I was up early the next morning because: a) I still hadn’t adjusted from Eastern Time to Alaska Time (4 hours); b) I wanted to get some photos in the early morning light – but not dawn’s light at 3:00; and c) Crew member Dillon had promised me the night before that he would take me on my very first kayaking adventure. Dillon – my hero!

My reward for getting up was a beautiful mist hanging over the water.

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I later learned that traveling companions had seen a rock slide on the shore close to our ship and this was dust hanging. It reminded me of the constant dangers that are present in Alaska’s wilderness, and the extent of my naivety about surviving in this ‘hood.

My real reward was going in a kayak, relaxed as I explored the differences between canoeing and kayaking – and also taking a few photographs. Dillon did a wonderful job of making me believe I was an important member of our paddling team, as he kept us going straight and steady.

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It surprised me that Dillon was the one who suggested we get back because the other crew members needed him to help with the work. I wasn’t ready to leave the calm and peace of floating on these still waters.

As we were (sadly) exiting Ford’s Terror, I was amazed at the beauty I had missed when we had passed that way before.

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Previous posts about my small ship cruise in Alaska’s Southeast Passageway are Life Aboard a Small Ship,  Dawes Glacier, and  Whoa, Close Enough.