We returned yesterday from our annual week in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. There is always a bit of culture shock as we re-integrate into the civilized world, and this year was no different.
I took a walk this morning. On pavement. I was not navigating a boulder-riddled portage trail under the weight of packs and gear, swatting incessant mosquitoes and ironclad deer flies, nor was I paddling my way through crest and trough, sun and rain, to the end of a lake. I was just taking a walk. On pavement.
I’m not sure how I feel about the shift in my motion paradigm; the conclusion is addled.
I long for the wilds of the Boundary Waters. The deep silence. My body is sore, but there is a fragment of me that aches to paddle, to portage, and to paddle again. To meet the challenges of the day ahead unbridled by any worldly care. For this is just one of the things that the wilderness offers: respite from the whir of civilization. No matter the car troubles, the court battles, the horror on the news, or even the disastrous political climate swirling around our heads in bottomless eddies, when I enter the wilderness, the wilderness demands my attention in a fashion that leaves little room for anything else.
The birds off the beaten path sing the same songs of freedom and adoration, but the wilderness tunes me in to hear them in ways unknown to civilization. The wind, blowing just as faithfully through the trenches of our urban and suburban existence, even my blessed countrified existence, tugs at the ragged shirttails more urgently when I am surrounded by nothing but wild.
The body, in the wild, tunes into the earth. It is keyed up for adventure, and rolls with the punches naturally, as it should, unencumbered by the softness of our couches and ergonomic hipster camp chairs. The rock and root, no matter how uncomfortable, engage with me and offer a healing presence. They are capable of this because I have no options, and therefore I choose them for my repose. When options abound, my soft body chooses the comforts. The luxuries. And my soft body softens even more. I long for fewer options, or at least the will to choose wisely between those in front of me. I need to choose the pine duff more and the rocker/recliner less. I need to keep my feet on the earth, even when there is the option of concrete, floor joists, and plush carpet tempting me from the insides of my cozy home.
In the wilderness, the spirit rushes with the waterfalls and mourns with the loons. (There is, after all, nothing more beautiful than the varied calling of the mid-lake loon in the evening.) From morning until evening, from horizon to horizon, we are confronted with unadulterated cathedral. Pure and perfect creation, with no veil nor screen between it and me. In the wild, God speaks through the wind and waves, and I hear. The hum of the refrigerator does not cover. The click of the keyboard is absent. The whine of wheels on pavement fades into memory, and the voice of God can be heard. Distractions are few and far between; the absence makes the Presence hard to ignore.
But at the same time, I am grateful to be breathing in the air of my home, hearing the familiar rustle of my trees and the song of my birds. Grateful even for the roughness of the gravel of my driveway and the weather-worn—though unnaturally smooth—pavement of my road. The wilderness will still be wild when I return, and if I am careful I can bring a bit of the wildness into the other 51 weeks of my year.
Dave and Amy Freeman are spending 365 days in the BWCAW, to help raise awareness and stop proposed mining along the borders of the Wilderness, threatening to destroy the pristine woods and water that are so rare, and that we are so blessed to have in our backyard. Turns out we were sharing Knife Lake with them as we passed through this year; too bad we didn’t cross paths. Thank God for the Wilderness that can home us both without any knowledge of one another. I cannot imagine the culture shock that they will be experiencing in September, as they portage out of the Wilderness and into civilization.
I encourage you to catch up with them in their 10th month in the wilds and sign the petition to keep Twin Metals and their toxins out of our waters. Check out their Facebook Posts, and be sure to take a peek at their winter days in the Wilderness. Amazing.
I hope that it is a safe assumption to know that the Wilderness will be there when I return, but nothing is ever certain. Thank you to Dave and Amy for fighting to keep the Wilds wild.