Fall is arriving, on the backs of the wind, breaking through the sunlight and scattering it more and more every day. The cool is exhilarating. The dry is refreshing. The breeze and the crispness of the evening make me pine for the North Shore.
How is it that such a place can become so precious? I dare say because we have made it so, and that every place has the distinct potential to be precious. For every place is holy and waiting to be discovered.
In a large way, here – home – is precious to us. We take it for granted, yes, but holiness does not wane even when it remains hidden. Thankfully, the sanctity of home does break through for me on a fairly regular basis. On days like today. On days when I have a chance to just be, to not rush, to climb out from under obligations. The sun shines brighter here in our world. This piece of land is indeed something precious to us.
But other places, how do they become precious to us? Is it just our repeated visitation? Often, for sure, there is a beauty that is inarguable. There are places where creation is painted in such bold strokes that even the blind feel it shining through. And we have been to many of them, many more exotic than Lake Superior’s North Shore. But we do not return, year after year, to any of those exotic places. We do not make them such an integral part of our lives.
Gooseberry Falls is where Scott and I began our journey together. Thwarted in our efforts to make a Boundary Waters honeymoon into reality, we settled for some hiking while camping at Gooseberry Falls. I do not know if there has been a single year we haven’t returned. It has become for our girls – and for us – what my grandparent’s cabin was to me as a child. A haven. That place where the imagined veil between heaven and earth is destroyed. We wait all year long for our autumnal return to the Gitchi Gummi, and we are never disappointed.
When pressed into the favorite place question, I often waver between the North Shore and the Boundary Waters (another place that we have been returning to for 8 years). The BW gets all the hype. It is the adventure. It is the wilderness experience that I do believe forms a good part of who we are. And, let’s face it, it is the trip that most elicits the awe factor from those who are asking the question. That primal experience is one that only a very few are privileged to partake of, and one that many are jealous of. And with good reason. It is amazing, from start to finish. In the good times and the bad, that paddling and portaging, uninterrupted wilderness, is intensely rewarding. The silence and the wildness are rejuvenating. The sheer withdrawal is essential to our being.
But if I examine very closely, I find that the North Shore is such a close second that it may not even be runner-up. Our trips to Lake Superior are not primitive camping. We shower. We live in a tent bigger than our living room. We eat like kings and live out of a well-stocked trailer. But they are also not like any of our other camping trips, from homey Wisconsin campsite weekends to far-flung tenting adventures in the Tetons or on Cape Hatteras. Our Superior trips bring with them a magic, a mystical quality, that we don’t find anywhere else. There is adventure, yes. There is physical and ethereal beauty, without question. There are treasure hunts and bonding moments and good times. But all of these things happen on any given camping trip. At Superior, there is also a certain quietness that is reserved only for Gooseberry Falls. Some unmistakable sublimity that is particular to Lake Superior and its primordial design. Perfection in every imperfection. A certain oneness with the universe. A subtle slowness, even in the midst of fall-color tourism mobs, that cannot be pinned down.
It is at Gooseberry that we melt most completely into our campsites, our trails, our rock beaches. It is the North Shore’s rivers and falls that beckon to us most strongly. It is the Gitchi Gummi herself that draws us near, who whispers to us and roars fiercely, bringing comfort and peace no matter the voice.
And that might be it. As Aslan, in his quiet and in his ferocity, brought forth the image of Christ in Narnia, Lake Superior mirrors that same image in our world, for our family.
Fear. Reverence. Awe. Comfort. Love. Peace. All in one.
I believe we may have come to the crux of the matter.
“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
~ C.S. Lewis
26 days and counting…