The other night, Wednesday I believe, we were out at Picnic Flow enjoying the waves on the basalt and the dancing moon in the ‘tide’pools.
The Flow is this amazing tilt of lavarock, just shoving out into Lake Superior, and a favorite place of ours at Gooseberry Falls. We’re especially drawn out there at night, when the crashing of the waves is crisper, and there is less interference from all the sounds of the day. Less commotion of the birds and the beasts and the rest of humanity. Just us and the big lake. Sigh.
It was lovely out there that night, but for whatever reason I decided to head back ahead of the girls and leave them to some alone time with the lake. I navigated myself back along the rocks and ruts, through the blackened paths back to camp, and halfway there I realized how very comfortable I was. Totally at peace not being able to see my feet, not having a clue what was in front of me or behind me. Completely found in the labyrinth of trees and shrubbery and multiplicity of paths.
I’m not afraid of the dark, but I don’t generally venture out into the wilderness without a headlight or a mighty full moon. Back home, send me out to the chicken coop to dump a honey bucket in the woods at night, and the adrenaline surges into my ears, even the tiniest bit. Sometimes the biggest bit. I’d never head off into the woods of my own home without light enough to see clearly.
Not because I’m scared. Only because I’m irrational.
Wednesday night along the shores of Lake Superior I had about two-thirds of a moon, but he was hidden behind the rushing clouds more often than not. It was dark. My night vision was fully attuned, but still I was mostly blind.
Why was it that I was there, on that northern shore of the largest freshwater lake in the world, doing the very thing that I would never do at home? How was it that I was wandering around in the tar of night, without a care?
Over the years, we’ve had many a late-night walk on these same paths, but I was traditionally with and led by my clan. I honestly rarely thought about where I was. I followed my kids’ internal synchronicity with this place (for they’ve been rooted here since the beginning), and wound up where we intended to go. I followed Scott’s lead as we ventured out into the night to seek out the northern nights, or get a better view of the Pleiades. I walked beside my leaders, but I never once was actively in the driver’s seat of the navigation, and yet there I was Wednesday night, wandering through the darkest of dark root-paths, and not even giving it a second thought. No concern about where I was or where I was going, or if I would get there. Not once did I worry about the critters alongside my feet, or above my head. Never did I think someone might be behind me, or about to jump out in front of me. Oxytocin (strangely) seemed to be flowing freely, but nary a drop of adrenaline.
This wasn’t the me I was accustomed to, and halfway back to camp it hit me how comfortable, how peaceful I was in this place where I spend only a few weeks of each year–on a good year.
How could that be?
It just might be because this place is as much my home as the house at my address.
Mathematically it doesn’t add up. It can’t. But in my heart, it is true. It’s one of those mystical realities we’re better not to question.
But me? I still dig. I still wonder.
What is the reality beneath the surface here?
The best I can come up with is that there is no house up there where we pitch our tents each October. There is no easy warmth, no easy shelter, no easy life there. Lake Superior is the place where I’ve spent this tiny portion of my life, but that entire tiny portion was 100% engaged, feet on the earth. There was nothing between me and life. No means to distance myself from the experience, from the grit of the land. No doors to close off the thick and the thin of life on earth.
Of course I step into the showerhouse a few times a day, and the warmth is sometimes seductive. But there is only so much time you’re going to spend in the company of sinks and toilets; you’re headed back out there, even if you stick your numb face under the hand-dryer a few times first.
And it is true that we settle into the car every day or so, to take ourselves to the next intimate experience with the land. There is undoubtedly a relaxing of the outdoor muscles that occurs there atop the spinning wheels, especially when the winds howl and the snow flies, but then we get back out and we huddle up next to the fire once again. The car separates us from the ground only for a short period of time.
The only reprieve from the unadulterated On The Ground life up there in the tent is fleeting; it’s the exception to the rule, and the rule forges a different sort of relationship.
What about when I’m home?
As much as I claim to love being outside, I spend an unholy amount of time on the other side of the doors and windows. I get out there, but the getting out there is the exception. The rule is life under the roof. The bulk of time, the bulk of life, is spent in comfy chairs, in relative cleanliness, with climate control and running water and microwave ovens. The mud is isolated to ‘out there.’ The wet is just a mood through the window. When the weather misbehaves, I don’t engage it, but I shut it out. I regulate how much is allowed in, and how much I am allowed out.
And at the deepest heart of the matter? On any given day, my feet traverse the smooth, groomed surfaces of my house and the rest of the civilized world. Day in. Day out. Even though I work to take my bare feet out onto my lumpy, bumpy lawn as much as possible, most of my waking hours, my body is not in contact with the earth from whence it came. I don’t feel the rocks under my soles. My ankles forget how to articulate natural surfaces. Roots. Potholes. Hummocks and tufts. My toes are warm and dry and frankly bored.
How could I ever grow comfortable, intimate, with the land on which my house sits, when inside is the couch on which my butt sits?
I may only spend an inkling of my life there on the Gitchi Gummi, but that inkling is All In, and the resulting relationship with that place rivals even the place where I spend the other 98% of my life.
Crazy math. In the stark world of quantity, 1+1 still equals 2, but when we’re talking time, quality messes with the equation every time.
So back to Wednesday night…
It hit me there on the stretch of darkness between the CCC showerhouse, all locked up for the season, and the road to Loop 2—while I was straining to bring into focus the water pump I knew was coming, and I knew would knock me cold if I didn’t sidestep it—it hit me that Gooseberry Falls is more than just a place that I love. It’s more even than my favorite place. It really, truly is a piece of the vibrant collage that makes Home.
I’ve known this for a long time out there at the surface of things, but it took that blinded stroll this Wednesday to show me, viscerally, the truth of that I’ve been knocking around for so long.
Later that night…