The Sweet Silence of Nature.
I had an experience. Thats the way I would like to begin this story. An experience, it truly was. This will not be a story that is meant to change the way you look on life. It is simple and genuine. I have learned that where there is genuiness, there is truth. I will be sharing truth. Why? The easiest way to put it is that I havent been able to think about anything else since having this experience. So here it is…
My husband and our friends Yvonne and Melissa, who are also a happily married and interesting couple at that, decided to go camping in the Boundary Waters. The BW stretches from northern Minnesota and Canada. Its over 1 million acres of untouched (to the highest degree possible) green wilderness filled with an abundance of wildlife and clear picturesque lakes surrounded by tall species of coniferous trees mixed with birch. I hadn't the slightest idea of what to expect given the fact that I have never been camping before. I was also informed that we would be portaging throughout the 4 day trip. I faced this reality with great optimism and much enthusiasm to test out my relationship with nature.
We were taken deep into the woods by vehicle with our canoes on top of the truck and all of our belongings in large heavy packs in the back seat. We saw a few deer on our way to the drop-off site where we would then begin out first and longest portage to the snake river leading to one of the lakes. It was hot exiting the vehicle that brought us to our final destination before saying goodbye to civilization. Misquitoes and large flies began to swarm around us immediately (no exageration) as we exited the vehicle. We all knew it was time to spray ourselves or be bitten alive! I am not one for insects or arachnoids of any kind. In fact, I can probably be quoted for saying that this world would be more enjoyable if it weren't for those pesky creatures. None-the-less, I was determined to accept reality as it was in that moment and take note to myself that these creatures were only doing what was in their nature to do. We were in their territory now. What right did I have to wish them away?
The trek down to the snake river was rough and, dare I say, humorously enjoyable. The pathway was extremely narrow and, at certain points, was nothing but thick mud. I laughed as I walked through its soft texture while mosquitos continued to bite my face and other body areas indiscriminantly. We soon realized how heavy our packs were and how difficult it is to carry a pack and a canoe over ones head! We finally arrived at the river only to see that it was just as narrow as the path we walked through to get there. Only this path was swarming with very large dragon flies. Large shrubbery hung over the banks of the river making it a challenge to navigate our way. I soon realized that pushing these shrubs out of the way would allow for large spiders to drop from them and land on either myself or somewhere in the canoe. I laughed as I would let out shreaks upon realizing that I had many new friends in the canoe with me. Hello friends! Squat! My instant reaction without thinking left me feeling somewhat sad. Poor little creatures who I disturbed are now no more.
I continued to find enjoyment out of our ignorance and more my own in all situations that came about during entering the BW. The river began to expand and I was able to look up and out into the great silence of the forest. Seclusion. Thats what I would say to myself as I listened to the birds play their tune and the wind sway the tall trees back and forth. The sound of the babling river filled with large flying bugs was even a warm welcome for me. I was content. Happy. Free.
Our guide, Eliza, was increadibly helpful and taught us much of what we needed to know if we were ever to come back on a trip alone. We stopped in our canoes and had a snack prior to entering the large lake where we would search for our first camping site of the trip. Each of us inquired our own questions of interest and were met with openness and kindness. We would continue to share many laughs together. I kept looking around in hopes that I would not miss anything and attempted to take as much in as possible of this seemingly new world.
We canoed through a large open lake named Bald Eagle Lake. The reason for its name has nothing to do with seeing bald eagles but with the shape of the lake. Interesting how quickly one comes up with assumptions. The stillness and seclusion exceeded my expectations. Around the clear lake were no motorboats (or boats of any kind) and no planes flying overhead due to the restrictions of flights over the BW. I wondered, is this what it was like before human inventions began to suffocate nature?
Our guide was hoping to get a specific camp site. We did not succeed in that quest. It was taken already. We were forced to go to one that another man in a canoe was moving away from stating “its trashed”. Looking for a little adventure, we took a peak at it anyway and saw that all that was left was cardboard. There is a rule in the BW. LEAVE NO TRACE. Not only does this show respect for the natural surroundings but also keeps one accountable for the trash that one brings into the BW. We placed the “trace” (as our friend Yvonne so reluctantly continued to call every piece of trash found on the entire trip) in our packs and set up camp.
Setting up the tent, I must say, was the easiest part of camping. I learned so much about what camping is all about. Or at least what it eventually meant for me. There is a fair amount of teamwork involved. We took care of eachother. One of us would forage for wood and wild berries (which we placed in our morning pancakes), one would skin the fish that were caught, filter the lake water, provide hand sanitizer when needed, brighten our day with a “Good morning, what did you dream about?”.
I am a flexitarian meaning that I will eat fish or dairy when it is necessary, when I have no other choice, or when it makes it easier on others. I never eat chicken, cow, or pig. I do this because I believe that the world is a better place when even one person is taking beneficence to heart. However, I do eat fish. I was encombant upon the idea that I would kill a fish if I were to eat one. So, the first fish that was caught, I learned how to kill. I did not kill it myself but watched with a slight tear in my eye as its throat was slit and a knife driven into its brain before its eyes went dark and body became still. Life. Its everywhere and is taken often with a mask sheilding our eyes from the truth of how its life is ended. I skinned the fish and ate it with appreciation in my mind for the life taken. All life is sacred. I know what that means to me now.
That first night, Steven and I woke up at 3 in the morning to look at the stars with awe and amazement at the vastness of space just as our ancesotors did so many years before us. The Milky Way could be seen faintly. The moon shone brightly with its reflection seen clearly on the water below.
That night, we could hear the sound of loons in the distance. My what beautiful sounds they make. I learned that loons are paired with their mates and the sound they make is the sound of them calling to one another. In the dark of night, underneath a sky of white lights, they communicate with the most enjoyable sounds I have ever heard. We would eventually see loons and hear more of them throughout our trip.
Morning came and went with us moving on to a different camp site on a different lake. I watched my mind continually look for ways to fill the voids in the day. I had no phone and no camera. I did have my journal and a few books. I realized that, at times, I was reading not out of a love for reading but out of the need to feel productive. What the hell? I soon saw my problem. I am always trying to fill the voids in each day. Upon coming to this realization, I set the books and journal aside determined to get past my own habitual patterns of life and just simply be in the moment. Smelling the fresh scent of pine and lake water, seeing the trees before me, looking at my love and my friends, I soon realized that this was all I needed. Now and in life. How much time is wasted in looking for something to do? What game am I trying to win? What are my true intentions when I plan out each day? Where do I expect to get to? The truth is, the only place I will ever get to is right here. NOW. That is where I am content. That is where I can let go.
The next few days consisted of truly becoming interconnected with nature. I drifted my hands through the open waters, touched the soft earth underneath my feet, allowed the cool breeze to brush against my body, let go of my own bullshit, opened my heart to what truly matters, and I did what Ive been always trying to do. I lived.
One life. That’s all we get. How will you live it?